“Spiral Speirsy.” “Specky four-eyes.” “Tell us that pirate joke again.”
I think I was six when it started. The name calling, the teasing, okay, let’s call it what it was, the bullying. We had a fancy dress day for Children in Need and I coloured the patch I wore for my lazy eye black and went as a pirate. The joke flopped and the teacher, Mrs Taylor, defended me against the jeers of my class mates. That was the day they noticed – the glasses for the lazy eye, the lack of confidence and the reliance on the teacher for approval and acceptance. I played almost exclusively with two other girls that school year and didn’t really push to try to make other friends. Bryony and Amy were enough for little me, although one other girl, NameFriend, who shared my middle name did try to build a friendship. Come Easter though Bryony had moved away, her dad was in the R.A.F and if I remember correctly it wasn’t long before Amy said she too was leaving. I never was much of one to push myself forward so when I looked around and the others were in friendship groups already I didn’t know where I would fit when we went back to school after summer and I didn’t have Bryony or Amy any more.
Then when the new school year started our class was spilt and my half, the older half, were in a class with the younger half of the year above. The older kids noticed me then and they seemed to decide I was the one they would pick on. For a while it was just the occasional ‘Spiral Speirsy’ and a selection of other choice phrases including the really original ‘Eurgh something smells around here, oh it must be you’. Things that I soon learnt to shrug off.
For a while I didn’t realise that this even was bullying, innocent little kid thinking it was what we would probably term ‘banter’. I realised later in life that no, that wasn’t what it was at all. At the time it was attention from my peers and somehow I thought that must be a good thing.
Then my life changed, got flipped right round, when my baby brother died.
“Your brother died because you didn’t look after him properly.” Words another child said to me on the day my parents, family and family friends went to the church to bury my brother. I had, apparently, chosen to go back to school.
The words people had said before were nothing compared to that one sentence. I knew absolutely that what this older girl had said was not true; I had sat and listened as the men from the coroner’s office explained to me and my parents that David Martin had died because he had a hole in his heart. I knew it was nothing to do with how well he had been looked after, but we had looked after him brilliantly, thank you very much. I got so upset and Mrs Dixon, the dinner lady had to look after me and take me back in to my class teacher as it had happened as we lined up at the end of lunch break. Of all the things that have been said to me those words are the ones that have stuck in my memory.
As time went on I guess I gave up really trying to make friends, even with the people who didn’t bully me. Brother was there in the playground most days and I could always chase NameFriend around the playground when she was in a grump. With my next teacher, Mr Eldridge, when I was 8 almost 9, I really wanted to impress him and do my best. He was a fun teacher and although that first year in his class was mostly my year of daydreaming the second year he was my teacher I did everything I could to impress him and, I guess, to make up for the first year. The other children noticed and they started to call me ‘Teacher’s Pet’ and to pick on me because I would always get good marks in tests and ‘Harry hedgehogs’ on pieces of work. The other thing they had started to notice was that I was ‘chunky’ and although the cheers on sports day when I was last in the race, again, were endearing the comments about my weight the rest of the year were not. Throughout my time with Mr Eldridge some of the older children had been bullying me too, some were older siblings of my class mates or lads from across our estate but some just picked on me because I was the fat kid that couldn’t run.
My last couple of years at primary school were marked with bullying. I was constantly teased and called names. Some of the lads started trying to trip me if they were ever in line behind me and in those years the physical stuff started too. We had eggs thrown at us one ‘Mischief Night’ and pebbles thrown. A certain family moved into our village and had started to spell trouble not only for me, Brother and our family but for others too.
Secondary school seemed worse. I walked into the classroom the day I started, two days later than the others and by lunchtime it was fairly obvious that some of the kids who knew me had been telling the others about me. It didn’t even take until Christmas for these new classmates in this much bigger school to start with the names and comments. Before too long it felt like my year was split into three groups, the ones who bullied me, the ones who didn’t seem to know I existed and the much smaller group, the ones who tried to be friendly. The split happened in the first year and the groups were pretty much defined from that point on.
Hearing every day that you’re fat, smelly, stupid, being called some of the most derogatory names I had heard, it doesn’t really boost your confidence much. I joined the junior choir, the bullies told me I couldn’t sing. I became a librarian and the bullies laughed and called me names because it was ‘sad’ and ‘nerdy’ being a librarian. My sporting prowess never appeared, my artistic skills were never given the space to bloom and being good at English, Maths and Science meant you didn’t fit in. I liked my teachers and always tried my best. I could often be found at Mr Tibbits office waiting to talk to him in my first two years at secondary school. Sometimes when other kids would see me outside Mr Tibbits office they would tease me for that and they definitely still teased me for being ‘Teacher’s Pet’. After Grandma died when I was 13 I would spend a lot of time talking to Mr Tibbits, Mrs Wood or Mr Kershaw about how I was doing, about my school work and also about the bullying. They never managed to do anything effective about the bullying. I had some older friends who I knew because Mum worked for the parents of one of them and they were my ‘best’ option for company at lunch time. A younger girl who caught the bus with me and who was probably as much of a target for bullies as me once asked me why I was bullied so much. I told her I didn’t know, maybe it was because I was different.
The bullies never really got all that physical with me but there was an incident once where my brother was beaten up by bullies and the police were involved. There were also incidents where Brother got physical with bullies. One time boys in the lunch queue behind him were giggling and because he had been bullied all through school he assumed it was him they were giggling about and pushed a pizza in one boy’s face. The other time I remember was on the bus when we were in foster care. One of the lads on the bus was being unkind about the way I was holding my in-ear earphones in and Brother saw red, quite literally after the scrap left him with a broken nose.
Bullying made my entire school life seem like Hell. On Sunday Fiancé and I were in the small market town where my secondary school was and he asked if I would go back to my school days if I could. There are so many reasons I would go back, the lack of responsibility, the learning new things (not that that has stopped), the opportunity to actually prove myself academically instead of letting a teacher I trusted convince me that I should let go of my best chance at GCSEs and A levels because my attendance the year after Grandma died was erratic at best. The main thing that would have stopped me was… wait for it… no, not the school dinners, the bullying.
Unfortunately for me when I sought out a nursery nursing course at college to try to bump my future back onto my choice of track I couldn’t escape the bullying. This time only two people with any prior knowledge of me were in my ‘tutor group’ and they had not been bullies. I walked in there hoping I could start with a clean slate. The problem was my confidence was shot, I was shy, quiet and from the country so not streetwise enough to fit in with a group of rough and ready girls, oh and when I did speak what I said was often peppered with talk of church. The advice the child psychologist had given me just over a year earlier failed to work. I didn’t make friends easily although there were 2 or 3 girls I would have given that label to in the first year. Again I was bullied because I actually listened to everything the tutors said and tried my hardest, I was bullied because of my faith and, when my first placement failed me after about four weeks because I ‘never spoke’, I was bullied because of that too. It was awful when we had music appreciation and I didn’t have an angelic voice or a sense of rhythm because they all wanted to know how I could say I was a Christian when I couldn’t sing. These days I would tell them I ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord’ but I didn’t have that one in my arsenal then. Many times I would be in tears because of things that had been said and I would tell the tutors, then feel let down because they had made idle threats to chuck any bullies off the course. I stuck it out for as long as my patience let me, and my patience can stretch for miles. My patience stretched almost to the end of the two-year course. I had missed an assignment from the first year that I could have caught up and I had quite a few observational studies to complete, as well as placement hours to make up, but I thought it was still possible for me to complete the course. The bullying had continued and, had the tutors been true to their word when they said bullies would be thrown off the course they would have only had one student, me. I remember one lesson maybe three weeks before the course was due to end when Meg, one of the nicest tutors, had us all in the art and craft room and she gave the others a lecture on how hard college had been for me because of them and their bullying, I never did find out how it ended because I left the room in tears. A week later I was in floods of tears again. Because we had been told that if we didn’t all finish together everyone would have to wait for the last student before the work went for moderation and we could qualify the bullying got really bad and they were all really nasty about the fact I was behind the rest of them and because I wouldn’t finish on time I would hold them all back. The last controlled test was on the anniversary of David’s death and that added another factor to my decision to leave. I stood in that classroom and told my favourite tutor that I couldn’t take any more, I knew I was close to the end and even she said I would be able to finish, but my mind was made up, I was going to walk away from the college that afternoon as an unemployed person, not a student.
Decisions I have made in my life have been influenced by other people more than once and I have let the bullies have things their way. My life could be very different now if I hadn’t bent and broken under the peer pressure of the bullies. Maybe then I should be grateful for what the bullies did in some ways, my church, Fiancé, wedding plans, dreams for the future might be positive outcomes of the bullying, but I don’t really think they are (although they are fantastic things). You see God has a way of taking us to where His plan was leading, even when we divert our own paths. I would have been in the right places at the right times still, but perhaps with a job, a car, smart clothes, maybe even my own flat. As it is I’m unemployed, I usually wear clothes that are at least 5 years old if not older, don’t drive and as soon as I finish my internship at church I’ll move back in with my parents. I sometimes wish that the me who Fiancé proposed to had been the ‘better’ version, one that had totally learned to be confident, to stand on her own two feet and not rely on things so much for security. One day I will be that person because I know she’s inside, hiding still, but for now I’m glad Fiancé loves me for who I am today.