She was all arms and knobby-kneed legs. Skinny as could be, although she could eat like there was no tomorrow. Sure she was little; but this was back in the day when they still accelerated children by advancing them a grade in school. So there was a reason that she was small, with no hint of puberty yet in sight. She was all of ten years old. But she was nervously excited, to be boarding that school bus. The bus that would take her to middle school for Grade Seven and Eight. She'd have her own locker; she would move around the school, a different class room for different subjects. She was in the big leagues now.
She was voted class representive for her Grade 7 class. She didn't really want to 'run' for it, but her parents thought it would be good for her, to get her out of her shell. She was smart, she could do it. Her teacher thought she could do it. And it was easy for the kids to vote her in, nobody wanted to do it, it was such an uncool thing to be on school council, and hey, the skinny kid with the polyester outfits, that would be a great joke.
Gym class was horrible. In the change rooms, she couldn't even fake that she could wear a bra. The biggest girl in the class, who was taking grade 7 over again, would call her out.
"Look at the skinny one, look at her in her undershirt!!! Who still wears undershirts? That's so GAY!!! You're so gay! "
And things got better once in the gymnasium. She got used to being the last one standing, the loser prize for whichever team had the misfortune of having to include her.
There was a new girl in school. This large, blonde Texan Tara. All brash, she walked with a swagger, spoke with a drawl, and she loved to follow the skinny girl through the halls. Walking closely behind her, kicking at the heels of her class rep. Waiting for the little one to break.
The skinny one who now wore glasses and who couldn't wait to get braces to straighten out her crooked overbite. The little one who was now showing signs of puberty, but not the pretty ones. The hormones were doing a number on her nose, with little spots cropping up on the tip. She was now wearing a Mona Lisa style held back with bobby pins, to help clear her forehead from cropping up the next set of blackheads. But she didn't wear a Mona Lisa smile.
She endured the daily harassment, not saying a word. Although most times she wished she could grow a huge superhero arm and give Texan Tara a huge whollop on her head. Like she deserved.
Grade 8, senior year. She had made it through that first tortuous year. And she had even done the unthinkable before the summer broke; she had turned around and demanded that Tara stop with her harassment. Surprisingly Tara did; she gave the little Chinese girl props for standing up to her... they even became friends of sorts, before Tara moved away again. Things were starting to look up.
The mid-year joint class project was to put together a book of puzzles, games, articles about the students in the class and memories of the school year. The girl was so excited about this, and she worked hard with a couple of her classmates to do her share of the project. Everyone was so proud of their accomplishments, and couldn't wait to see the final published copies as they landed on their desks.
Flipping through the pages, she could hear some quiet murmuring in the classroom, and some shocked gasps. And then she got to it. The page that was put together by three boys, jokers of the class, if you will. Only what she saw wasn't funny. The boys had compiled a list of nicknames for each member of the class. Some were very cool, clever even. And others were not.
Little Chinese skinny girl with glasses and braces, who was now suffering from severe acne around her nose. You can just call her Rudolph now.
As it was the end of the school day, she just gritted her teeth, held back her tears, and made her way quietly to where the buses were. After she boarded the bus, she sat down, leaned against the window, let it all go. Sobs wracked her frame, as the burden of not talking, not saying anything, just holding it all in, became too much to bear. She could hear the voice of one of boys in her class just behind her, apologizing for his part in that project. But the damage was done.
I attended a presentation that L's school had brought in to deal with the subject of bullying. Through skits and interactive discussions, the actors demonstrated the different types of bullying, from the physical to the verbal. They wanted to drive the message home about safe schools, and that even if you're a bystander to this abuse, you are no better than the bully. The main message was to tell someone, your teacher, an adult. Someone who could empower you.
When they asked the kids at the outset to raise their hands if they'd ever experienced bullying, I saw my little boy's hand go up. And I knew what he was talking about. Because he had told me and his father, and then with our support he had told his teacher. I promised myself that I would do everything possible to try to protect my children and help them protect themselves from this type of abuse.
But my heart still ached that he had held that information inside for over a year.
And as she vowed, never again, the little skinny girl's heart cried a few more tears for her own unspoken years.