A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the happy and fun memories posted in the Facebook group “You Know You Grew Up in Danvers, Massachusetts When….” I really enjoyed reading most of the three thousand or so posts and comments.
A posting thread was opened to address the issue of bullying in Danvers over the years. It attracted a lot of responses, including some from me. You see, I too was one of those who were bullied in my youth. It gave me a sense of comfort to realize that I wasn’t alone, and I wished I had realized that at the time.
Eventually the thread escalated in the volume of posts as well as the contentious nature of what had become a debate about how to deal with bullying and the effect of being bullied. The thread was eventually removed, and while I didn’t see all that went on before it was taken down, I understand that it deteriorated into naming names and assigning blame. Yet, the thread had served its purpose of bringing some dark subject matter into the light.
I handled my own situation in my own way, chiefly by keeping my head down and my nose buried in a book. I also learned to avoid the girl who bullied me as often as possible. Frankly, I was smarter than she was and easily outfoxed her by changing my daily habits and walking routes.
Apparently, others reacted in the same manner, but some people allowed themselves to be picked on continuously and it seems to have left them with emotional and perhaps physical scars. I can only say that I hope that airing the issues in the online group helped some people feel at least a little bit better. Getting things out in the open often does that, in my experience.
Having been a year younger than the other kids in my high school class, I was both smaller and still more timid and shy. Perhaps I wore a “pick on me” look on my face. Whatever the reason, there was one girl who really had it in for me, and I allowed it to go on for too long. Eventually I found a group of nice people to befriend and stuck with them at school. The bully’s attention turned elsewhere and I was fine.
Many years after high school graduation, I had the occasion to see this person again. She came to shop at a yard sale where I was working as a volunteer. She had a little girl with her- she was a mom. Her daughter wanted a particular toy, and it happened to be one that I had donated. It was a little wooden replica of a playground for mice, complete with little toy mice dressed up in school clothes. The bully wouldn’t buy it or couldn’t afford it, and her daughter looked heart-broken, but seemed to accept “No” for an answer, as if she heard it frequently.
The mouse playground didn’t sell, and rather than have it end up in the trash, I took it back home. I thought about it for a while, and eventually got out the phone book to see if I could find out where they lived. They were listed, so I put the toy in my car and drove to their house. For the briefest of moments I felt a twinge of apprehension. How would this woman react to me? Would she even remember me?
As it happened, mother and daughter were outside in the yard and saw me drive up so there was no real chance for me to chicken out and change my mind. I got out of the car and then got the toy from the trunk and approached them. The child’s face lit up. The mother looked a little puzzled. I explained that I wanted the girl to have the toy since she was so obviously taken with it. The mother nodded and I handed the mouse playground to her daughter. I smiled and asked her to take good care of it, and to see that the mice played nicely together, with no fighting or picking on each other. She nodded solemnly. I looked at the mother again, and I saw the flicker of recognition in her eyes. If she hadn’t remembered my face, she had known my voice at the very least and I suspect she recalled her own treatment of me.
I turned to leave, having not exchanged any conversation with the mother--the woman who had been my own personal tormentor at school. She didn’t even open her mouth to thank me. I’ll never know if she hadn’t changed enough to learn some manners or if she was simply too stunned by my actions. I felt a sense of closure and was proud that I had been able to rise above and do something nice for her daughter.