A women is driving down a residential street in the winter. The kids on the sidewalk are walking home from a nearby elementary school. She sees a girl thrown forcefully into a snow bank by another kid. She stops the car and dashes out to help to help the girl. To woman's surprise and horror the girl in the snowbank is her own daughter.
The woman was my mother. The girl was me.
We didn't have much money in those days. My dad worked in a factory and my mom did what she could while trying to be home with us including having a home daycare and being a part-time church secretary. It made very little difference to me. My childhood was great for the most part. I have wonderful memories of climbing up trees with the neighbours, going camping with my dad, visiting my Nanny's cottage and our yearly trip to Canada's wonderland.
My parents had purposely moved to the fringes of the school district of Cameron Street School which was meant to be the best school in town. Unfortunately it was also the school where a lot of children of wealthier parents went and my hand-me-down clothes and DIY hair styles were not up to their standards. The day I wore a second hand cape to with my dress for Grade 5 picture day I was on the receiving end of such verbal abuse from "rich girls" at school that it even got the attention of the teachers. My first attempt with a hair krimper met with a similar response. On one occasion I remember being worried about getting blood on the principal's car as he drove me home. I'd been hit in the head by a piece of sharp piece of ice, courtesy from a boy with a hockey stick taking shots at me as I stood against the red brick wall of the school.
At the time I did not identified as being bullied. My report cards would say something like, "Christa is shy and having a hard time making friends." I just thought I was weird and different and there was something wrong with me. I've buried these experiences deep down, with some effort in the years since. It actually wasn't until recently when I saw To This Day that I actually sat down and realized I'd been bullied.
I'm not telling you this so you feel sorry for me. Pity is a horrible side effect of bullying. I'm telling you because my past has haunted me in subtle ways for a long time and I feel like this is a step towards becoming clean. And if writing about my experience helps anyone at all, then it's worth the embarrassment. I don't know what the solution to bullying is, but I know it is not silence.
The problem isn't so much the immediate bruising or tears. Its the buried long term effects. The voice inside that tells you that you're boring or ugly or gross. It tunnels inside of you like a parasite, it makes you wary. You see hidden taunts and disdainful looks everywhere.
A turning point came when I was 18. I was again thrown into a snowbank, this time by a group of four teenage girls from another high school. The reason? Well, they wanted gum and I wouldn't give them any. It wouldn't have mattered. I was beaten and my wallet was stolen. I never hit back. For several months after, I was afraid to go out at night. I eventually decided I'd had enough and attended some kickboxing classes with my brother. In college, I took more self-defence classes. I gained some confidence in my ability to defend myself. I made a promise to myself that if I was ever attacked again I would defend myself with everything I had.
My bruises healed. I started lifting weights. My parents got me a weight bench for my room and a punching bag for the garage. I became physically stronger. I have never been physically attacked again. After college while working at a newspaper I even earned the nickname "Crusher" because of my interest in kickboxing and self-defence.
The emotional scars are more tricky to deal with.
I've heard the comment that I'm very quiet around new people. There is a reason for that. Every time I was taunted, kicked or shoved, my self-confidence took a hit, and those hits are difficult to repair. I've spent years re-inventing myself, trying to overcome my gut feeling that I'm not good enough, that people don't like me and that they are laughing at me behind my back. I have a carefully constructed a bullet-proof shell around myself. It takes a long time for me to trust other people.
I've developed emotional self-defence strategies. I learned to embrace the parts of me people once mocked. I am a geek, a Trekkie, I'm a computer nerd, I'm awkward, I have a big nose. I shout it to the world. It's a defence. I can't be mocked for being a geek if I'm the one who says it first. At the same time, in other ways, I try to fit in, to wear the same clothes other people wear. Maybe that's why I love jobs with a uniform, no one can see that I'm different. It's part of my camouflage.
I'm older now, I have my own amazing child and a loving husband. No matter what happens, I know I am loved by my family. I know I am lucky. When I'm home I feel secure. It's when I'm in the world, out of my element, that the old fears still haunt me. Every time I join a new crew on an airplane I see myself through the eyes of the bullies of my past. I worry the passengers think I'm awkward, the other flight attendants think I'm too quite or dull or useless.
I still encounter adult "bullying", it's just more passive aggressive, less blatant and it bothers me less the older I get. I think the change is not so much in other people, as it is with myself. There are snobs and mean-spirited people everywhere in the world. They are probably struggling with their own demons. I'm embarrassed to say there are times in my life I know I've been mean-spirited or snobby myself. I'm working on being a better person. I can't control what other people do, I can only change myself.
People throughout my life have helped me redefine my image of myself. My husband, my family and some fantastic friends I've made over the years.
It's much easier for me to make friends and see the best in people now. I can see positive aspects of myself through the actions of other people, even people I've just met. Just last week, Katie told me I did a good job on my first Boeing flight, Miriam smiled encouragingly at me when I was stressed during drink services, David gave me a warm hug, Naomi and I shared an obscure Star Trek joke and even a passenger who discovered I was new, reassured me I was doing a great job. They may seem like small gestures, but they mean a lot to me, in just because of the act itself, but in my ability to recognize it.
My childhood experiences do not define me by any means, but they have affected me. It has been a long road to get to where I am now. I have belief in myself stemming from my family support, positive feedback from friends, and my own ability to create art, to write, to inspire my son and to love.
How can we stop bullying in ourselves and our children? I don't know the answer but I have some suggestions.
See the best in people.
Be a good example to your children.
Embrace the differences in people.
View others with affection.
Be the person who steps in and stops bullying.
Believe in yourself.
If you see something worthy of praise in someone, by George, tell them!