Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reflection on the Past

I'm not sure why, but I was thinking back to a time when I was in Middle School. One of the darkest times in my life. I was in the 8th grade, and had been bullied on and off since 6th grade. I was not a thin child. I was overweight, and in the cruelty that is children, I became an easy target for mean girls to pick on. All of the bullying began in P.E. And after experiencing the inattentiveness of my teachers, the lack of supervision in the locker room, and then witnessing some of the same scenarios played out in the school I taught at, I am almost glad that P.E. is one of the first things they cut in education. I said almost, because I do believe in teaching our children fitness, and about different sports and activities.

Maybe because Father's Day is this Sunday, but thinking about my Dad always brings me back to the day I saw him from a different light. The day he became human to me. The day my English Teacher agreed to drive me home after I begged her to take me because some of those bullies were waiting for me on my walk home. Those bullies wanted to "kick my ass." I'm sure today those same girls have very little recollection of the torture they put me through. Of the concocted reason to be mad at me. I remember it distinctly. I can still see the locker room clearly in my mind. See the unlocked locker against the far wall near the doors leading to the bathroom. Me, asking "Whose locker is this? Did someone leave it unlocked?" You see, the year earlier my locker was broken into. All of my clothes were stolen, including the $20 I had for lunch. It so happened on that day, out of the norm, my Mom did not pack me a lunch, she gave me money, and all she had was a larger bill. I remembered that feeling of having to walk around all day in my P.E. clothes because my Mom was working and they could not get a hold of her. I remember not being able to eat lunch that day because I had no money. And I remember the shame of having to tell my Mom and know exactly what girls did it as "revenge" for them getting caught ditching. (That's a whole other story). So I opened that unlocked locker, in my mind to find out whose it was so I could tell them. I pulled out a shirt, read the name out loud and asked if anyone knew her. Another girl from class just told me to "leave the locker open, because maybe they wanted it unlocked."

Later that day, the same girl approached me, and told me she was told that I broke into her locker and stole her stuff. When I tried to explain what happened, she pushed me and told me she was going to "kick my ass. And to mind my own business." I later learned that her and her friends left the locker unlocked because they shared P.E. clothes. A whole other kind of gross that I can not fathom why you would do that....but that is really the reason they were angry, they thought they would get caught.

The tormenting began. The girl and her friends would show up at my locker and threaten me. They even threatened my friends. There was a lot of pushing and mean words spoken to me. I played a Cat and Mouse game. I would change my route to get around to my classes. I would try and walk near teachers. I would even go late to classes or hide out in bathrooms. One day the girl and her friends accosted me on my way home. Thankfully the boy I grew up with and lived down the street from happened to be walking with me. He was pretty popular, so they just threatened me. But I knew my time was limited. Somehow someone got word to me that the girl and her friends would be waiting for me on my way home. That they were going to fight me. I was a good girl. I didn't believe in fighting. And more importantly, my family was going through a rough time. My Paternal Grandmother had just passed. My Dad was home and the idea of having to explain to him that I was in a fight was more stress on my parents. Something I keenly did not want to give them.

That day, I timidly told my English Teacher what would transpire if I was allowed to walk home. I begged her for a ride home. I only lived down the street. She agreed. I followed her to the office while she "finished up something" and she drove me home. I keenly remember the awkward silence. And I remember as we approached my house, seeing my Dad at the mailbox. As I got out of the car, he spoke to my teacher and as he turned to me. I started to cry and then so did he. It is the first and only time I have seen him shed tears.

As all things Junior High, the situation eventually was resolved, thanks to my big sister, who happened to know where the girl lived. When I confronted that girl in 0front of her home with her big sister and not her friends, she was forced to listen to me. And accept my apology for whatever she perceived I did.

As a Middle School teacher, one of my goals was to mitigate the kind of bullying and treatment I had experienced. I can give examples and stories about how I think I helped, but in life's weird twist of fate, I ended up helping one of those bullies, returning the favor that my teacher had done for me. I can still vividly remember the boy. He was from downtown L.A. and a real tough kid. He was big, he was mean, and I think he really was just a scared kid from the hood. He had been kicked out of our school, sent to three others, before according to district rules, sent back to us for his 8th grade year. One day he hung back in class at the end of the day. Which, for him was out of character. He was a bully to others and my class was always a safe zone. No one was allowed to be disrespectful of others. And no one was allowed to bully. I asked him if there was something wrong. If there was anything I could help him with. He told me that there were some guys waiting to "jump" him at the bus stop. He was going to his Aunt's house and was taking the city bus instead of the school bus. He informed me that if he got into anymore trouble, he'd be kicked out of the district. I was thinking, more like reform school or Juvie. He asked me for a ride to his Aunts'. The last thing I wanted was an adolescent teen boy in my car, let alone this one. But instead I agreed. You see, I remembered my 8th grade teacher, the risk she took for me, and I thought "Universe you suck", but I have to do it.

I took every precaution I could. I called his Mom and his Aunt for permission. I spoke to the Counselor and told her. I had him call his Mom on my cell while we were en route, and then confirmed with her when we arrived at his Aunt's house. It was the longest 15 minute drive of my life. My palms were sweaty and I was more nervous I think than when I first brought Cookie home from the hospital. I have always wondered what happened to that boy. He was one of those whose future had one of three possibilities; murdered, jail, or professional athlete. I hope he has ended up closer to the last.

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