Fourth grade. Waterbury, Connecticut. I’m back at my old school. Construction paper animal cutouts pinned to the hallway walls. Stinky multi-color cubbies. Cafeteria tables stained with grape juice spills. I’m in the bathroom, peeing, when I hear a door slam against a wall, the squelch of my usual tormentors’ Mary Janes as they find their way towards me.
The lights are off. Loney. Loney. Loney, they sing. I quietly rip off a tissue of toilet paper, wipe myself, and wait. They begin banging on my door, a steady rhythm that escalates to rabid chaotic beats. I know I am safe in the locked stall, but my mind sees a different scenario: the door falling down, me facing death while sitting on the toilet with my pants down. But, eventually, when they don’t hear me cry, the girls grow tired, and they file out, leaving me alone, breathing heavily, still in the dark.
I return to the class and sit down, my legs trembling. I sit across from the pack leader who often liked to kick me underneath our desks. I don’t look at her face, but I watch her hands, folded innocently on the desk. One hand goes up when the teacher calls on her.
I am fascinated by bullies. What leads them to hurt others. Even today, when I know how to stand up for myself, I tell myself to feel sorry for them, because it’s most likely that they act in such a way because they have witnessed it, or they have had it happen to them. Sometimes, bullies just want to fit in, too.
Then again, it would make them a better (stronger) person if they resisted such a temptation.
Back then, I couldn’t stop my bullies by myself. I was quiet and friendless, and often wanted to melt into the walls whenever I was around people. Depending on the company today, I still have the feeling. So I didn’t say anything back then, not until I was almost attacked at recess, not until my sister stepped in to confront my most-feared bully, whose name escapes me now. Next, it was the principal’s office. Then our mom had to come in. The next day, I talked to my teacher after that, just the two of us in the classroom. She knelt down beside me, asked why I didn’t come to her. As I stared at her lipstick-stained teeth, I lied and said I did. I did tell her. But she just shook her head, because she knew that all of this could have been prevented.
It sounds a bit odd, but I credit my love for books and writing to these days of torment. I turned to books to find refuge. In these books, I delved into the minds of characters good and bad. I tried to find reason in these imaginary characters. Most of all, from these times of being a victim, I understood, and still understand, that actions speak the loudest. Their impact can stay with you long after.