Monday ripped open some old emotional wounds. I had always viewed them more like scars, but I'm fairly certain now that they've never quite healed.
Without getting into the nitty gritty, I ended up having an epic meltdown at work---in front of my boss no less---and in that awful moment I had a terrible realization. Underneath it all, I'm still that 9 year old sitting in a principal's office being blamed for the latest beating from fellow classmates, and what I had thought had healed into hardened scars was really just waiting to bleed raw. I suppose part of why this is coming out is due in part to the awful shooting in Newtown, but I don't know for sure.
I refer to public school---or at least mine---as dog eat dog. With good reason. Either you were the bully and asserted yourself over everyone else or you were the bullied beaten and taunted into submission. I know, it's not a unique scenerio. A lot of schools are like this---there are bullies everywhere. But somehow, I think WHO enabled and did it matters---and it was NOT just the students.
I really never had a chance if we're going to be real. I was small. I had lazy eye. By the time my two front teeth fell out and adult ones grew in I had a massive overbite. I was genetically, it seems, destined to be a prime bully target. And it started early. I think the only year I enjoyed school in any capacity---at least with my classmates---was kindergarten. No one seemed to judge or care then that one of my eyes kinda did whatever it wanted. No one cared that I was in the 5% smaller side for my age. We got along rather well.
First grade changed that. It seemed over the summer everyone was replaced by cruel pod people---at least it did to me. Suddenly I was being taunted almost constantly---four eyes for my glasses (not original, I know), told to eat carrots due to my teeth (again, can't you do better?), and more. And my last name was endless souces for taunts.
Whomever came up with the phrase "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me" is full of shit.
Unforntuately, I managed to find out what the sticks and stones felt like, too. Being as small as I was (and largely still am) I was easy to attack. And lucky me, I managed to attract more than one at a time. Recess was looked forward to in terms of not being in a stuffy classroom doing stuffy things, but it was dreaded due to the beatings I KNEW were coming. And of course as the other kids---mostly boys---beat me, they taunted me, too.
So, where were the teachers and the principal in this? Oh they were enablers all down the line for it. We'd get called into a meeting with said principal and he would look between me and whomever had been beating me last (many times a repeated offender) and he would utter a phrase etched so deeply in my brain I'm not sure what I'd do to another person if they ever said it again. He would say, "I love each and every one of you," and then he wold level his gaze upon me and blame ME. I had provoked my bully, after all. I must have done something, said something that made the bully angry enough to lash out violently. Something about my apperance made them inflict this upon me, so it must be my fault. After all, why would anyone just randomly beat up a fellow student?
One time, in third grade, I had been caught, after trying to make a big break for it, by three or four boys, shoved down on the ground and viciouslly kicked and taunted---directly in front of a teacher. My father happened to be at a store nearby, saw what was happening, and charged over to scream at the inactive teacher. She smugly told him, "What? It'll make her stronger down the road."
Oh yes, we had the "I love each and everyone of you" speech for that one, too.
No matter what my parents did, the school and other authorities refused to step in. Thankfully I got out of that principal's elementary schools when they had two grades at each building in town. 5th and 6th were spent at a school not under his control and things got slightly better, but only marginally. For once the principal wasn't totally against me, but still little to nothing was done to prevent more beatings. I spent most of my recesses huddled against walls--or worse running from just about ALL the boys on the playground.
By Junior High, the insults had gotten wittier, darker, and crueler. I'm rather "fond" of the one boy always telling me that I shouldn't have been born or that I should be dead. I can throw off his taunts now because I know he's where he belongs---prison.
But what I can't seem to shake is that somehow all of these things WERE my fault and it's carried with me for so long that I didn't even realize I was doing it. Hence Monday's meltdown. It's not so much that other students attacked me with verbal and physical violence that bothers me. It's that the people in authority, the ones we're told as children to trust, didn't bother to stop it---and went as far as to blame me, the victim, for something I never wanted. No one should be told that they're at fault for someone else's violence against them. No one should have to carry irrational guilt, knowing that it is irrational, but emotionally unable to shake it. My authority figures weren't interested in protecting me from other individuals that made it their pasttime to hurt me.
For years, after I left that principal's school, I refused to forgive him. Not for what he had done to me. No. For what he was doing to another student just like me, one that might not make it through his "I love each and everyone of you" speeches after going home with a back so bruised it was turning the various colors of the rainbow and crying themselves all the way home, one that might decide enough was enough and do something drastic---like turn to self harm or worse. I feared for them, knowing the dark path they walked, having sat in those meetings where by the end you were certain of one truth: you did something to deserve it.
No rational thought could truly wipe that away.
I told myself I'd forgive him only when he retired. He did so two years ago. Finally no more students would ever have to endure what he might do to them. Of course the paper wrote up a glowing farewell article about how all his students, past and present, loved him so much. They talked about how long his career was, how he brought his love for children to his work, how he was easy to work for, how he put "children and family first." No one mentioend the one truth that hung in the air for me: he blamed the bullied. Repeatedly.
I did forgive him---a little.
What makes it harder is that sometimes he comes into the store I work at. I freeze the moment I see him, and while in my head I have all these things I want to say to him screaming inside, I revert to that 9 year old. I become quiet, withdrawn, cold like I had been in high school where I wore armor so thick no one managed to get inside. (For you Supernatural Fans, the girl in Mannequin 3 tricked into a date through a "secret admirer?" Forget that. Anyone does that I will automatically be suspicious. You can thank my childhood for that) I would become the little girl who had asked for the beatings---simply by going to school.
He doesn't seem to recognize me---and if he does he never says anything.
He stands usually by a group of other people in the store, all smiles and getting fawned over for being such a former "pillar" of the community. Part of me sees red and wants to scream, "He's a MONSTER" but I can't or face getting fired. Part of me wants to tell those that are so enthralled by him, "He's horrible. Can't you see he's FAKE?" Part of me wants to cry and ask him why. What did I do to deserve this?
I hadn't really realized until Monday's meltdown that this man, now old and retired, still held that type of power over me. I held onto my anger for the others who would go through what I did. And yet, without knowing it, he still made me feel like the little girl with the lazy eye and the buck teeth and the tiny frame that was useless to stop the boys oh so much bigger than me.
I remember a couple of my bullies names by heart. Isaiah is the worst. He was the main perpetrator in elementary school, and already at 9 a large boy---three to four times my size at least. To this day I know I can spot him in a crowd, the eyes give him away. But for whatever reason he's not the one that I fear the most or the one that plagues me.
It's the principal. He was the bully leader---all without ever laying a hand on me. It is his actions---and inaction---that have scarred me and wounded me in ways I'm not sure I'll ever heal.
And of course in the process of my meltdow and the calming period after, I felt that nagging voice rear up and scream, "It was YEARS ago. Let it GO already." It seems silly to let something so old come back and bite me like this, to let something I can't change---the past---haunt me like this. I know that other people have it harder and have fresh emotional turmoil happening right now. It makes what I went through EONS ago seem trivial in light of that.
And yet it's like a loose tooth right now. Maybe it's because I tend to put immense pressure on myself not to screw up, to not fail, to be perfect. Maybe it's because lately I have felt---no matter how irrational it is---somewhat like a failure, spinning my wheels to no where fast. Maybe it's because of the Newton tragedy. As selfish as it is, one of my first thoughts about the principal being shot to death in defense of her students was, "Huh. My elementary principal would have NEVER done that. He would have blamed the dead kids first."
Maybe, and it's the hardest thing to admit, it's because despite liking to think I've healed from what happened, that I have risen above and become stronger---as that teacher so callously predicted---for what happened, that I am a better person for knowing such adversity, that underneath it all I'm still that little girl sitting in that stuffy office being told, "I love each and every one of you," only to be blamed in the end for the dark bruises on my back or the tears on my cheeks.
There doesn't seem to be an easy answer for this.
I remember my first year out of highschool, going to college. It took me a solid year to come out of my shell, to become bold enough to speak my mind in front of more than just my parents, to not just be a wall flower. I wanted, more than anything, to strip the ice princess mask I wore all through high school to insulate myself from the bullies still around---now playing a much more psychological bullying game than physical. I was quiet---not out of shynes but out of sheer survival. I knew if I opened my mouth and exposed one truth about myself it was check mate and they'd have me cornered. So I kept it shut, rebuffed everyone and watched everyone with such mistrust. Out of that environment, I knew I wanted to be anything but that.
I think I've succeded, and I suppose that means I've made progress in healing.
It just doesn't seem to be enough. There's that wound, rubbed raw with salt now, throbbing and calling out for attention. How I go about healing it is in many ways beyond me.
Somehow, without my ever realizing it, I let him still have power over me.
I often wonder how many others are like me out there---in the adult world, adjusting more or less to adult world politics---yet still carrying the awful scars of being bullied not just by peers but by the authority meant to protect them. How many have it come back to haunt them this way? How many survived it, but still find themselves powerless to a past they can't seem to outrun?
Most of all, I wonder why. How can anyone in authority ever stand by and allow it to happen---knowing full well it'll stay with that child for the rest of their lives?
Far Away Eyes