Bullying is a strange thing to live through. The years of accepting it as a facet of life is near soul crushing, and trying to lift the guilt and shame and humiliation of it all from your back is enough to send people crazy. The culmination of it all nearly was the end for me, but I am still here, so I guess I'm still alive.
A lot of it fades into the past for me, thankfully. But one day in particular stands out. It wasn't the daily beatings, emotional and physical. The betrayals of trust and confidence. The teachers who turned a blind eye or said it was a natural part of school life, and that it would pass and I just needed to stand up for myself. Or the teacher who would actively bully me for all of year 4 herself in front of the class, leaving me even less people to go to for help.
No, it was the day of my new haircut. I was 11 years old.
The night before I went with my parents to the local shopping centre. It was a Thursday night, which was the only night available for shopping after 5:30pm (it's Australia folks, what can I say?). My mum dropped me off at the barbers to get a haircut before the next day's school. Usually, she waited on the bench outside and read Australian Women's Weekly while the italian men in the shop set to cutting your hair. They knew their business, even if every hairstyle they gave you was rather conservative. But then again, I was a kid, I didn't get to choose my haircut, my mum did. Just like she chose my clothes, every damn year, which somehow always turned out to be the daggiest (Aussie for lamest) things ever.
However, this time was different. I don't know the circumstances, but she dropped me off and said to get a haircut, before hurrying off to buy who-knows-what. Left to sit on the cold but rapidly warming vinyl seats, I thought of many ways to have my hair done. Parted to the left? To the right perhaps? Rakishly combed from front to back? Or even the completely bogan rat tail?
No, I decided to get what is completely common around today. A crew cut. Number 1, all over, just like the US sailors that had come into Fremantle Port recently, which the media loved to make a scandal about, and the regular australian man hated.
When my mum came back to fetch me, she was in shock. I still remember her face now. Well, actually, it's the same face she always puts on when she is shocked. Anywhere from mildly to dumbstruck, it's always the same mouth open, eyes bulging "what have you done" face. There were no in-betweens for my Mum. It was either the worst thing in the world or not a big deal. Me falling off my bike and scraping the hell out of my legs? Not a big deal. Me coming home with a letter from my teacher? Huge freaking massively big "end of the world" deal.
So, I was standing there, recently shorn, my mother standing aghast and the italian men behind me smiling sheepishly. I had a grin on my face, and she berated me about how radical I had gone, how I would be teased etc, but I didn't care. I got to make this decision, and I liked it. Dad just laughed, and took us home.
But, by the next morning, the fear had set in. Every day was a new test in seeing what inventive ways the other kids could hound me, try to hurt me, or isolate me. It was standard by that time. I walked to school, not taking the open path across the big sports oval near my home, for fear of making myself an easy target. I took the long way out the back of the school where the teachers parked at the end of the day so I wouldn't be confronted out the front of it. Depending on how bad my day was, I strategised. I spent time in the library to kill time and let the majority go home, or at least have some parents around, so they wouldn't attack me in front of them. That was always the funniest, having kids act so sugary sweet to me in front of their parents, only to be abused once they had gone out of sight.
So, I made my way to school this morning. Now regretting my choice of haircut for the attention it would bring, I wore a cap on my head. A cap in late winter. Never before had I worn one to school. And it was not-inconspicuous either. Bright white with a red brim. Clashed marvellously with my dark green and yellow pinstriped school uniform. As soon as I got close to the school, I could already see the stares, and the other kids talking. Thought to myself that I should just bluff my way through, and try to make it into the classroom. If I could hold up there until class started, I could at least get some cover from my teacher.
"Hey idiot, why are you wearing the hat?" came the first call. I ignored it. "What's the matter, you lost your hair?" came another, followed by mocking laughter". Focus, just keep going, the ramp up to the corridor isn't too far away.
Another skidded in on his bmx bike and tried to snatch my hat away. I fended him off. Girls came up smiling to greet me and then tried to lunge and grab my hat. I put both hands on my head and held it on and ran, the stormy sound of pencils, texta's and books rhythmically sounding in my backpack against my plastic lunchbox.
I had almost made it up the ramp and inside before I was tripped. I fell, hard, against the door-frame, and I was knocked silly. I groggily got up, but was pushed over another's leg and landed on my face on the carpet. Still had my hat though, so I got up again and ran, trailing a legion of kids behind me.
I made it to the classroom. I thought it was safe territory. The classroom was always supposed to be a place of quiet listening, of order and planned methodology. It was to be my sanctum, my refuge, my bastion against them and their hate for me. Not today.
I was quickly corralled to the back of the room. The questions and accusations flying at me while my terror filled eyes sought a way out. Why was I wearing a hat. What was I afraid of. What couldn't I show them. Who did I think I was. The years of the hate, beatings and abuse began stacking high upon me. I was being shoved from all sides. Hands grabbing at me to pull me down and hands grabbing at my hat. I began to cry, tears streaming down my face and mucus running freely from my nose. I began scream and hyperventilate. My hat was torn from my head, but my hands still grasped onto it, holding onto it like it was my last shred of sanity. I fell backwards onto the ground, feeling like a trapped and tormented animal, pressing my back into the wall and wanting to try and escape or disappear or... anything. A large tortured cry escaped my throat and I felt my world collapse in on itself. It wasn't going to end. There was no escape. There was no one to look out for me. This was it, this was my fate.
It was at that time that the teacher came into the room and yelled out "what the hell is going on here?". Children, now come to their senses after their wild screaming stood silent, arms quickly going to their sides, their mouths open slackly as if wanting to offer an explanation but having none. And in the middle sat me, crying hysterically, hyperventilating and still gripping my hat in my hands, my face awash in tears and snot.
I was led outside and was allowed to go to the bathroom to clean myself up. I looked a mess. I was still in shock, breathing erratically and crying. I washed my face a dozen times until I calmed down. I was then allowed to sit outside on the bench under the pegs that we hooked our bags onto, and then I got to come back into the class. The teacher had asked me what was wrong, but all I could say was that they had tried to take my hat. I couldn't communicate the years of abuse at their hands, for fear he wouldn't believe me. I couldn't say what they had done for so many years, the myriad of tortures that ruled my life. All I could say was that they wanted my hat.
He patted me on my head, told the other kids during recess to knock it off, and the day progressed as normal. But not for me.
I had lost everything I had. Any shred of dignity I held for myself was gone. I couldn't fight any more. There were too many. It was too much. Lunch that day tasted like ash in my mouth, and I sat alone in the quadrangle, huddled in a corner. The other kids kept away from me, or looked and whispered before running off. The fight left my body and I sat broken.
After that it was just easier to take the beatings. I didn't try to defend myself, or say something pointed or try to deflect. I just took it. I now have a weird habit of smiling and laughing at spiteful comments thrown my way. It's just easier than trying to fight.
I often think back to that day, and wonder what I would change if I could go back. The thought of hurting those who hurt me enters my mind, but only briefly. If this has taught me one thing, it's that hate against any person, whether they deserve it or not is never constructive. But my present day self could go back to that day.
I dream of being able to storm into the room, bat away the pesky brats surround my child self, and gathering him up into my big arms before taking him away from that place. I'd hold him close to myself, letting him cry, while calming him down. I'd tell him it was ok, that I would never let them touch him ever again. I'd put his hat back on his head and press him into my shoulder, letting him cry out all the frustration of his short life. And I would hold him until he was able to put back together the part of himself that was broken.
It's never the one event by itself. It multiple. And it builds on top of each previous humiliation, every word and every hit. And you reach your limit and you just break, and you're not the same any more. The potential of who you could be is shortened and it affects your life for a long time. Potentially the rest of your life.
I am 36 now, and I am diagnosed with acute anxiety and long-term depression. I am trying Pristiq and Zyban, even though it's expensive to do so. The medication wrecks my body temp and I still find it hard to leave the house, but at least the crushing depression isn't as acute.
I am trying to get my own business running, but I am failing. I can't manage myself and feel trapped by my own lack of ability at functioning to get things done, but I don't want to give up. Problem is, I don't even know if this is something I really want to do, or something that I am just doing in lieu of not knowing what else to do.
For years I have been dreaming of just giving all of my old life up, donning some monk style robes, and walking across the world with just a staff and a small cart for what I need. China to Europe, across America, then across Australia, from Sydney to Perth. And coming home finally, a different person than I left.
I barely stepped outside my front door today.
6:24 PM PT: The rec list? I am honoured. First time for me. Thank you all who have read this, I really appreciate it. If you have a story to tell, feel free to tell it below or let others know of any diary you write.