I am a bully

by | Sep 29, 2022 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

It breaks my heart now as I am remembering…that little 6 year old boy cowering behind the coat racks, his small arms literally covering himself like a little spider, elbows everywhere as if bracing for an attack. While I wasn’t about to physically attack him I did so  with my unkind words. 

I can’t remember exactly what I said. My words now feel like a halfhearted repetition of what other children had said to him… shaming him for having eczema, a bad skin condition where his body was covered in a scaly pinkish itchy looking rash, which he scratched  continually. I believed the teachers telling us there was nothing wrong with him and that his condition  wasn’t contagious. We were supposed to hold hands with him as we did with experience the students when we played games   in  gym class that required us to be in a circle holding hands. 

One time I was next to Ian and I refused to hold his hand, not quite as vehemently as other children who squirmed away laughing and going “eww eww” with their voices. I delicately proffered my little finger so that Ian could hold it without contaminating the rest of my body with his essence. I thought it a pretty good deal really, and Ian seemed to agree. 

But hello no,…..that’s not right. He didn’t agree. My stomach sinks now as I write this. Ian didn’t agree. He wasn’t happy with his prize of my little finger. He cried. Shit. He cried. How could I forget that? How could I have made up another story to suit my vision of myself as an angel? A holy relic?. I get it now. It was Ian who was the angel. And then one day Ian left us, left our little school full of “angels” because we bullied him to death. Poor Ian. Poor I. What a fuck up.

There’s roughly fifty years between me and Ian and the incident(s). I can feel Ian’s 6 year old heart. I can see and sense and smell that sweet little boy and the love with which he was ready to shower upon anyone who was kind to him, who welcomed him, who allowed a friendship to blossom. I could have been that child. I was, for an instant or for some days or weeks. And that’s what makes it even worse. Because I was nice to him. I liked him. And I only started bullying him when the other children bullied him. My betrayal was worse. I didn’t have to listen to the other children.Some part of me knew better.  I could have found the courage to be Ian’s friend. I wish I had. 

I have carried this pain and remorse for fifty years, most of the time not knowing. It’s crossed my mind a few times. I did always feel guilty about it, or healthy shame. I liked Ian. But I was afraid. Afraid of not fitting in. Afraid that it would be me and Ian against all that vitriol— all that juvenile malice. I was afraid that I would be bullied for being friends with him. 

I remember asking about Ian a couple of months after I hadn’t seen him in school. “When’s Ian coming back” I asked. The teacher looked at me sideways, as if to ask “why do you care now?” And she said flatly “Ian’s not coming back.” I’m wondering now if she said why. I vaguely remember a lecture by a teacher to our class? I see a fuzzy Mrs. Nelson and a portly Mr. Keating looking stern and sad and saying we were hurtful to Ian and that his mother took him away and that it was our fault. I remember a pang in my gut, a pang of guilt. 

I quickly put Ian out of my thoughts after age 6. Or did I?  Perhaps only in my consious thoughts. It has always been lurking there in the background.  But it does strike me now, that I reflect that I have dedicated my life to making a very labor intensive fresh plant extract healing balm that is particularly good for eczema. Oh shit. I really did dedicate my life to you, Ian. 

I realize now how painful it is to be shamed. Typically, when I think about shaming incidents my mind goes to times when children or pre-teens shamed me about having my period or for not smoking cigarettes—or all the times in elementary school when I was shamed for wearing hand-knitted school sweaters and second-hand navy skirts instead of the more expensive school uniform clothes. I was shamed frequently for having a big nose. I was shamed for being tall. I was shamed for being “posh” and speaking in the “correct” queens English in my British school instead of a regional English accent.

 I have stressed and cried and had nightmares over my mother’s inability to be there for me consistently. I feel the excruciating shame of being beaten as a child and abandoned as a teenager. I have distracted and comforted myself with addictions. But never did I consider the bullying behaviors of my own. 

We can’t change what we’re done in the past. And we’re all human. But I’ve been learning to do my best to be more kind with everyone I encounter. .

I’ve recently wondered if Ian, who is hopefully alive and well, might have looked me up on social media and had the thought: “There is the Monica who was cruel to me. I wonder if she ever felt remorse  for what she did.”  Yes Ian, I really do.