Archive for August, 2012
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me
I wonder who made that up? Obviously someone who has been where I am at this moment. Walking down the avenue, with a rabble of taunting monsters behind me. They haven’t thrown anything (yet), but their words are having much more of an effect than any stick or stone. In fact, I wish they would throw something, or start a fight. At least that gives me the chance to either fight back, or run.
“You little pansy!”
“ Mamma’s boy!”
“ Why don’t you run back home – you little ____”
Hilarious laughter as the last remark runs out of steam and, momentarily, the taunts are directed at someone behind me. Then they start again
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me
I begged him to not make me follow his wishes and have the short back and sides. Everyone was growing their hair that winter, but he made me sit in the barbers and ask for and put up with that torture. To be ridiculed, even by the barber.
“Surely you want one of the new styles. Why, my own boy is growing his hair this season. This is an old man’s style.”
I dreamed of the wallabies again last night. At least I think they were wallabies. I was plying in this little clearing when I looked up and their were these three enormous creatures bounding, just on the periphery of my vision, into the surrounding bush. Their fat, bulbous tails jerked sideways and upward to balance them as they turned sharply. I wanted to run after them but my legs felt glued to the ground. I knew it was a dream then. Like rolling down a bank, toward a cliff, and clutching at vegetation, which pulls out in my hand. Rolling, inextricably toward the edge, knowing that I cannot stop myself from dashing on the sharp rocks below.
One boy has mastered the trick of giving me hard punches on my upper arm, which raises dark, spreading, bruises. My mother notices them and asks what I have been doing to myself.
” It’s Jimmy. He belts me all the time.”
She looks at me and pauses in thought.
“But he’s such a nice boy. I see him with his mother at church every Sunday. I can’t believe he would do such a thing. You must be making it up”
After a few weeks of this, I give up talking about Jimmy and invent sports grounds where I am tackled hard as I score the winning try. This meets with a much more positive response.
My father looks at the tears streaming down my cheeks, my bloody and snotty nose, my torn shirt and grass-stained trousers. He closes his eyes and I can read the expression on his face. Contempt, shame, disgust. It will serve no purpose to invent any game for him. He does not want to know. He does not want to believe that he raised such a son. He wants someone like Jimmy who can cork an arm, go to church with his Mum, and get away with anything.
Todays going to be worse than yesterday and a taste of what is to come. I know this because I have been told. Yesterday was just a routine beating, dispersed randomly between train stops. It was over in a matter of seconds and the pain was nearly gone by the time I reached school. I was guaranteed yesterday that tomorrow it will be systematic and I won’t be able to sit down until morning break. Then, the day after, there will be a team of them. A team so they don’t lose their strength and can keep on hitting me with a metal badge bent over and attached to a school cap. They then can take turns as I lie spreadeagled over a partially turned railway carriage seat. Then, on the last day of the week, the senior boys will have their turn. They tell me that last year, they even used bicycle chains instead of cap badges. That really tore up the old clothing and left scars. They tell me this as if I should look forward to it. Even if I try to escape by not travelling in on the train, they will get me at school. There is no escape. It’s an initiation ritual. I should get a life.
One of the other boy’s (poor guy) mother appears on the train platform as it pulls into our home station. She wants to confront the bully her bloodied her son’s nose the day before and demand some form of justice. As she stands at the platform and the train pulls in, she is showered with broken glass from one of the windows and sees her son being thrown from the slowly moving train onto the platform. I can see the horror in her eyes. I hope that my mother never turns up to do justice. The beatings are nowhere near as bad. That boy has his punishments doubled for the next two weeks.
In a perverse sort of way, I prefer this to the taunts and baiting as I walk to school.
It was probably my fault. What I mean is what would your reaction be if you went to swimming classes and after all the embarrassment of being unclothed in front of your female classmates when hormones were just starting tor age, you were confronted with a classmate emerging from the changing shed with a pink bathing cap? If it was me I would probably, at least, guffaw, and at most, point and stare and come up with some quick and cutting quip. I had a serious ear infection but loved swimming. I had a long and painful treatment of multiple penicillin injections, which failed to make any effect on the infection. The specialist now resorted to a poultice, inserted into the ear and, to avoid contamination by water, covered by a close fitting bathing cap when swimming. They didn’t make close fitting swimming caps in black with little silver ferns in those days. Swimming caps were for girls and women and came in pinks and whites with little floral patterns. Thus, I emerged from the changing shed, flushed with embarrassment, in my pink ensemble. When I look back on it, this was when the verbal taunts really started. Someone different. Someone who did embarrassing things in public and didn’t quite fit the mould. Someone who had been told that they were different. Not better. Just different.
The girls were the worst. Somehow, girls have a better repertoire in insults. They can cut right to the chase. They seem to have a feral ability to sniff out weaknesses and then exploit them for public gain.
And then there were the fights. Even watching fights makes me feel as though I am the one being bullied. And then, suddenly, someone punches you on the arm and within a second you are at it. Writhing around on the ground mock wrestling was the best. Standing toe to toe and smacking each other in the face, the worse. And if you ran, the taunts.
” The only ones you catch are the slow, the sick, and the stupid.”
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I suddenly recognised him. Jimmy! He pushed a nearly empty cart before him as he scanned a tattered piece of paper, which probably contained a shopping list. Looking into his cart, I could see he was shopping for one. He was dressed smartly – like an American tourist off a cruise ship – but on closed inspection, I saw the torn windbreaker, the tattered cuffs of his trousers, the hole in one shoe. Her didn’t recognise me and smiled coldly as I stared at him.
“Cold weather,” he commented as he threw a pack of topside steak into his supermarket trolley. I noticed it was heavily reduced and I wondered if he knew that it was probably ready to go over. He somehow hadn’t aged well. His face, always ruddy, was now adorned with broken blood vessels. His hair was greying and untidy, and looked as though he had cut it himself. And he smelled. Even from a metre away, I could smell the alcohol leaving his pores. And I had been scared by this. He was a pathetic figure. I recalled his boasts of molesting his little sister. I recalled his mates all not knowing if he was joking or if he was serious, but laughing anyway. I recalled the death of the same sister a few years after. Mysteriously strangled by a dig lead as she tried to crawl through an opening in a hedge. I wondered.