I don't remember ever being bullied. I'm not sure why I wasn't bullied because I certainly had a lot of the traits that made me imminently bully-able material - I wore thick glasses. I was short and weak. I wore my hair in braids coiled like snails up over my ears. I read big books. I wore mended clothes and shoes that were too big for me (I still do, actually). My father was not only dead, but a dead Indian. My mother didn't speak English well. I spoke several languages better than my classmates spoke English. I took science classes and did well in them. I was often the teacher's pet. I hung out with the "losers" (only I didn't think of them as losers back then, just as friends). I wasn't into sports. I never wore fashionable clothes or cared about my looks. I never had money to go do the stuff the "in" kids did. I was the kid who stayed behind in study hall during class field trips because I couldn't afford to pay the fees or my mother wouldn't sign the permission slip. My mother worked in a bar and a greasy spoon restaurant while other kids' moms stayed home.
But I was never bullied.
I saw it happen a lot. I would sit at lunch time with the 'losers". In gym classes, I picked the ones no one else would pick. I didn't care if we won or lost the games, I cared that we all got to play.
I remember Sonya. We were in 4th year. She had gorgeous curly auburn hair and chocolate brown eyes and could spike a mean volleyball. She was big. Not just tall, even though she towered over the teacher. She was big all over - as developed as a 16 year old when we were all still 10 year olds. She had serious acne, the kind that gets infected and leaves scars. And no one would pick her for their team, sit next to her at lunch, invite her to parties or to play with them on the playground. We didn't share gym or lunch and I never gave parties until I was an adult, so I wasn't much help to her there. But we did share recess together. I didn't always notice her or play with her - I was just 10 years old. But I loved her hair, so I'd sometimes sit beside her at recess and we'd talk - about the stars, usually, and who lived on the other planets, and dinosaurs. It was sitting with her that I first came up with Klumperdink Klink and his horse Sliver.
And sometimes, while we were talking, other kids would throw dirt clods at her, or run past calling her names. I didn't think anything about that back then, it was just those kids, you know?
Even though I was nerdy, geeky, weird, the other kids never threw the dirt clods at me or called me names.
I never stood up for Sonya. I never tried to stop the other kids from throwing those dirt clods, never told a teacher, never really did anything. We just talked once in a while at recess.
I don't know how Sonya is now. We lost contact as children do whose parents move a lot (my mother moved us every couple of years). I don't even know her last name to hunt her up and see how she's doing now.
I remember Robert. Today, we'd call him autistc, but back then, in the 40's, he was just the weird kid. He laughed at the wrong times, talked out of turn, had all these odd little twitches. He talked to me all the time and I let him. The other kids would steal his hat or scarf or hide his bike. They couldn't cram him into the lockers because he was too fat, but they'd trip him, steal his clothes at gym, and spit in his lunch.
No one ever did any of those things to me. I never tried to stop them from doing those things to him. If I was with him when one of those things happened, I'd wait for him to clean himself up or share part of my lunch with him or help him find his bike. I don't know why, but looking back, it all seemed perfectly normal to me. Those things happened and you just got through it and went on. We never talked about those incidents or why they happened to him and not to me.
We talked computers. Robert was the reason I took computer classes when I got to college. He helped me program my very first computer - I still have that very first computer - it runs on strips of punched paper and can only do a limited number of set tasks. I don't remember how to program it anymore, though. And I don't know where Robert is or what happened to him after we moved.
I remember Robin. She was loud, and funny, and one of the most imaginative people I ever knew. She had freckles and straight red hair. And the other kids would trip her, out glue in her chair seat, steal her textbooks, scribble mean notes and leave them in her desk, throw spit balls at her. I always felt I was in her shadow. She was also the first person I realized was being bullied. Until the day I saw the tears in her two-toned eyes, I never thought about the things that happened to people like her and Sonya and Robert as being bad things. They were just stuff that happened, like getting rained on or missing the bus. You just got through it and went on, bo big deal.
But that day, the day I realized she was being bullied, she took a spitball right in the middle of her forehead and it must have still had a sharp corner because it nicked her a bit and there was a drop of blood, and half the class was snickering. She didn't look surprised, or mad, or anything except resigned. She put her hand up to wipe the spitball off, and wiped her hand down her blouse, leaving a tiny streak of blood. And two tears fell. I watched those tears fall, and that streak of blood, and I knew then that it was wrong.
I don't know why no one tripped me, or threw spitballs or at me. I don't know why they targeted Robin, who was awesome. I'm still sort of vaguely in touch with her - she lives half a continent away and she's got a successful career and a family and isn't bullied any more.
I remember others, too, Steve, Mike, Gina, Kelly, Roger, Brenda, Lisa, Lee, and more.
The thing is - I was the exact sort of person I saw being bullied back then, and the sort of person who remains a bully target today. So why did the bullies pick on Sonya, Robert, and Robin, and the others, but not me?
I don't think I'll ever know.
I regret not noticing the bullying while it was happening. It's hindsight and years of maturity and awareness that lets me know all those children were bullied back then and nothing I can do to change what happened.
I can keep on talking about the need to respect others, to give the gift of respect. To be kind. To care what happens. To offer a helping hand without demanding the other exhibit any "worthiness" beyond being in need. And I can hope that others will also see the need to reach out, to pay atention to what others are doing and to advocate for caring and kindness, too. To give respect just becaue it's the right thing to do.