Lately a school reunion was held and I contemplated going. Then I pulled myself in from disillusionment and called up some friends who i met at university and went out with them.

After all, reunions are for reminiscing about the good old school days, the fun we had and the girls we used to spend every day with who we grew up with and learned to love.

But what if it was not any fun? And what if you didn’t love those girls? And what if they did not really love you?

I started my secondary years in a new school. I had skipped year six and went to form one, because that is where there was a vacancy and when I came from Canada, in my previous school I was placed in a class too young.

Things with my peers were ok. It was a teacher who was being a bully. At least I wasn’t singled out, she bullied everyone. Once she walked into the room early and I was reading a Reader’s Digest magazine and I was so enthralled by one of the stories that I did not notice her come in. She grabbed the magazine from my little hands, tore it to shreds and threw the pieces out the window. I was 11. And shocked that this woman could have such a violent reaction.

The violent reactions did not stop there. I once accidentally put in a black ink cartridge instead of a blue one and I had two-tone homework. She wanted me to re-write the entire thing. When I had had enough, I said no, I would not do it. She brought down her hand to slap me and when she saw me wince, she did not follow through and sent me to my seat. I was shaking.

In our class we had a girl who had some learning difficulties and she had a helper. One afternoon, her helper was sick so she joined us for reading and I shared my book with her. She could not follow and started to quietly fidget, I hardly noticed. Suddenly, this teacher SCREAMED at this girl mid paragraph, giving me the fright of my life. This girl cried and buried her face in my sweater. The teacher screamed again ‘DON’T COMFORT HER!’.

One morning on the bus stop, I guess I was looking quite glum and one of the form five girls, her name was Justine asked what was wrong and I told her everything. She gave me a hug and told me not to worry: when you are sixteen, that teacher will just be a distant memory. You will be too busy with o levels to care.
God bless her.

She had a few good points. She did correct all homework thoroughly and she was passionate about her subjects.
She died some years after I left school.

When I was thirteen, the problems really started. I was skeletally thin, greasy and curly hair and the worst case of cystic acne of the entire form. I once got on the bus and a new girl told me ‘why don’t you cure the shit on your face?’ I told her ‘why don’t you get rid of your shit for brains?’

Big mistake. This girl became the bain of my life for three years. She was a master manipulator, a tremendous liar and not very bright to boot. She managed to turn many people against me and took innocent and innocuous things and turned them into melodramas. I once hit her in the face with a basket ball. I swear, I was passing to someone else across the room and she came out of nowhere. I think she intercepted on purpose to villainise me. She came to school the next day with a humongous black eye, telling everyone I did it on purpose. And of course she became quite the object of pity and got loads of attention. Then I caught her touching it up with make up in the bathroom. The psycho.

Unfortunately, being a bully is contagious, if everyone is making one girl’s life hell, let’s all get on board because this is the trend and the done thing. Girls I hardly even spoke to thought it was ok to disrespect me and believe that I was just the greasy nerd who still wore a training bra and was always saying something weird, who wore the wrong clothes, who was an Oasis and Suede fan which made me even more unpopular because Liam Gallagher is ugly and you weren’t allowed to like a band unless the lead singer looked like Peter Andre or Ronan Keating.

I had homework stolen or destroyed. I had books defaced. I had artwork ‘accidentally’ destroyed with a pot of glue. I remember one incident of sabotage really clearly. I had home-economics for o level and unfortunately, not the most academic girls would take that subject. It was not a particularly challenging subject, therefore I used to do extremely well and get the prize every year for it. Of course, that made me the uber nerd of that subject which lead to the worst of pranks and psychological torture. I had my oven turned off while making cakes, recipe cards magically disappearing and utensils constantly missing. However, this incident really was the absolute pits. The task was to make a Christmas cake and a Christmas craft to put on display at school. One girl presented an obviously store bought cake and a store bought craft. The teacher got angry, and told her that as punishment she had to clean dishes and act as a kitchen aide.

In the meantime my cake was going along swimmingly. I made springs out of wire and attached little stars at the ends to be my cake topper. I started to make the icing, when this girl came along and out of nowhere dumped an entire bag of icing sugar into my kenwood. The stuff ended up everywhere, all over my clothes and hair and of course ruined the icing. The teacher intervened but I still had to start over. The girl with learning difficulties gave me all her extra ingredients, the angel. In the end, I had the best cake, in spite of the sabotage. For my Christmas craft, I made a wreath out of polo mints and ribbons. It was really delicate and everyone thought it was a really original and intricate thing to make. I left it to dry and I went for break.

When I came back, it was smashed, hanging on the door knob with a note: ‘SORRY! :)’

I was not friendless. I had a few very good and kind friends. They stuck by me and saw the real me. But it was not enough to obliterate all the negativity I suffered.

Maybe it was my own fault. Maybe I should have tried to fit in more. But at the end of the day, I had to be true to myself. If myself was not someone acceptable, then well, so be it. I was kind, good and naive, believing that people always acted with the best of intentions. Talk about a bubble burst. However, trying to be someone else would have made me more miserable anyway, so what would I have really achieved?

I suffered in silence. I got good grades and I was functioning so nobody knew of my hell. Or perhaps people who could have helped did know but did not want to bother to address it. I was not the only one suffering. I went to a reputable school, bullying simply would not keep it from stain and blemish. I made sure to make school just a necessary stepping stone for the rest of myself. And although I went through all of this, I am not damaged or bitter. I consider myself a successful person. I went to university, got my masters, I have a steady job with many options, got promoted rather young and I am in a loving relationship with a man who also sees the real me. I have a lot of good friends. I may have not been acceptable in that scenario, but I am definitely a valued member of society now. And it’s not about how you start, but how you finish.

And I actually want to thank those who tormented me because one thing is for certain: you were the ones to show me exactly who I don’t want to be. I was always very brave. You, my darlings, were not.

So that is why I would not go to my reunion. I simply can not walk through the halls pretending that I’m thrilled to be back or that I missed the place. I know many will not agree with me and had a wonderful time at school and I thank God for that. I do not wish what I went through on anybody.

Like all stepping stones across a stream, you need to move forward from one to the other quickly, without looking back because you will slip and fall.

And this is a beef stew, because the little bits of meat remind me of stepping stones.

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