It all began with my glasses and the two front teeth that jutted out of my mouth. These other tiny human beings hurled names at me from across the room.
They were such simple words, wielded like medieval swords. Every drop of blood drained into the well of poison they held close to their black hearts. It seemed so easy for them, as though the words were water pouring from their mouths instead of sharp objects. While they laughed, I felt the hot sting of tears pooling around the whites of my eyes, threatening to escape. After school, we’d pull up on the driveway, and I would turn to my mum and cry:
“Why doesn’t anybody like me?!”
She would pull me close to her bosom, the scent of her favourite perfume, Cabotine, as strong as ever. Brushing my hair back, she would kiss me and tell me that I shouldn’t worry. I’d forget for a while, escaping in fantasy books and TV. But, the sun would come up the following morning, and it would happen all over again. I was always the weird kid in the class, the last one to be picked for a game. And, I was somehow unaware of just how excluded I became. My parents tell me I would stand in front of groups of other children with my head down, waiting for them to welcome me to their circle. They never did.
I found an old school report from this time in my life, and the sadistic headteacher we had at the time wrote of my bullying:
“Courtenay has had to work hard to solve disagreements with friends this year, but I am happy it’s all over now.”
Disagreements. I distinctly remember sitting in her office with my mother, discussing how I felt and what would be done. When my mother tried to speak, my headteacher shushed her. All she cared about was the school’s precious reputation, not the well-being of the children forced to attend these institutions. There is a photo of us in the newspaper, portraying her false image of being a good person.
On my last day at primary school, we signed each other’s school shirts. One of my classmates, a belligerent boy who was always a pain in the neck, kicked me hard in the back. It transpired that he had written something which instructed him to do that, not forgetting that he had thick rubber shoes. The throbbing from where he had just kicked me made me nauseous, but I pretended I wasn’t affected by it, despite the moistening of my eyes.
I loathed my first day at High School. The teachers were like drill sergeants, and they began their mission to mould us into carbon copies of each other with the excuse that it was an act of professionalism, despite evidence to the contrary. Rules and regulations aside, some of the people I was forced to be in the same company with were insipid from the very start. Instead of getting to know me, they decided to throw pedestrian insults at me. I should say that I had braces, which added to the bullying.
“You’re so ugly!”
High School was five years of sheer hell, and I make no bones about that. Both boys and girls bullied me. They called me names, and some threw things at me. Others walked to my house and hung around outside, causing my parents to go out and confront them. When I discuss these experiences, the people I receive backlash from the most never experienced bullying.
“Shouldn’t you be over that by now? Stop thinking about silly things.”
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that bad experiences shape you as a human being, not always for the better. So, why is bullying any different? Even now, bullying isn’t taken seriously, despite the claims many schools have about having zero tolerance for that kind of behaviour. Case in point, a teacher, watched a group of girls surround me and back me against a wall while doing nothing to stop them. Instead, she told me that I should tell someone.
This lazy approach is a detriment to victims of bullying. My school punished me for trying to stand up for myself, and it still enrages me to this very day. When I acted on that adage of telling a grown-up, teachers told me to stop telling tales. Instead of preventing bullying, they were too busy trying to stop you from dyeing your hair. Feeling like an individual is far more abhorrent to them than feeling so bad about yourself that you cry yourself to sleep.
The most concerning thing about school bullying is that you are essentially trapped with your tormentors. Held there by law, victims like me were made to suffer seven hours a day for five days of the week. According to a study conducted by DT Dallas, school bullies are more likely to become criminals when they grow up. The notion that schools are letting these possibilities become true is terrifying.
My personal experiences have caused me to despise how I feel about myself. I have absolutely no shred of confidence due to what happened to me. Along with that comes the resentment I hold towards my school and the government for stunting my growth by forcing me to attend such a damaging institution that cost me years of my life. To any teacher reading this, I implore you to take bullying seriously and listen to your students when they tell you that they are being picked on. And punish those who partake in bullying because they must learn how vile their behaviour is and what harm it does.