Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My own childhood bullying tale - or - I'm not fucked up because of how my parents raised me, but how other parents raised theirs.

Today I felt like crying.

No, no.  I'm okay.  Nothing to worry about.  Just feeling bittersweet.  Accent on the bitter, I guess?  

It started with a Facebook group.  *shakes fist in Mark Zuckerberg's general direction*  A group called I GREW UP IN AURORA.

I did, you know.  Grow up in Aurora, I mean.  Aurora, Ontario.  Some of those closest to me may be familiar with the sneer of derision that usually comes with mention of the place.

I'm not actually a member of this group (update: I totally lied.  I am).  My mom is, because she did too. Grow up there.  That may be too simplistic.  I think my mom merely lived there.  It'd be safe to say her actual growing up was done in the neighbouring town of Newmarket, which according to the stories of adolescence I have been regaled with over the years, was a far more rad place than it's neighbour to the south.

A friend of mine who lived in the area for roughly the same period of time (although we didn't meet until years and years later) once remarked that in Aurora, you'd drive down streets where people had paid tens of thousands of dollars on landscaping, only to find nothing but junk inside.

At the time it seemed an apt metaphor.

Gosh, I sound pretty bitter, don't I?  Why all the hate, you may ask?

Interesting question, that.  I'll get to that.

So yeah, because the Mighty Zuck seems to think everyone needs to see everything that everyone does, I caught a link through this group to a photoblog which had, amongst its many posts, photos of the school I attended from grade 1 to 3, which was shut down a few short years back.

It's a tremendous and beautiful building, having first served as a high school (where my grandfather attended) and later used as a primary school for grades 1 through 6.

Seeing the photos was a bit of a head-trip.  I, myself, have not stepped foot inside in over 20 years.  When they closed Wells Street, there was an open house to commemorate it's 100 year history.  The few photos in this woman's blog brought forth a rush of emotion - first, the visceral reaction I generally get when presented with classical architecture.  I'll be the first to admit, I have a bit of an obsession with older buildings.

Second was a flood of memories of the relatively brief but formative time I attended Wells Street Public School.

I was a painfully shy, and oddly intelligent child.  A little awkward, a little chubby.  More interested in the planets and ocean creatures than Barbies and My Little Ponies.  Eager to please, eager for others to like me.  A prime target for bullies.

Third grade was when the two 'popular' girls in my class decided that that year was the year I would have no friends, no fun, no joy whatsoever.  They began to taunt me, promising friendship then ripping it away, with mocking laughter and cruel, cutting, remarks.  They made it well known to all that I was social poison.  Not only would they not be my friend, but anyone who did befriend me would also be outcast.

Two of my best friends would whisper when no one was looking that yes, they were still my friend, even if they put up the act of shunning me as well.

I could hardly blame them.  I had already saw the devastation these two popular girls had wreaked in my own world.  I couldn't let that happen to my friends as well.   My third friend managed to escape the social stigma of being my friend simply by benefit of being a boy.  The threat of expulsion to loser-land was lost on the boys in my class... they were just happy to join in on the fun.

In the evenings, I would cry inexplicably.  I was always crying.  My parents would ask how my day was, what was wrong.  In a quiet voice I'd insist that my day was fine.  Nothing happened.  I was okay.  In tears, but okay.  My sister knew what was going on.. She wrote me letters from the exchange house in Germany where she was staying that winter, telling me she loved me and making empty but appreciated threats to beat the 'little bitches'.  My parents continued to wonder why I was upset all the time but refused to open up to them.

I guess that has just never been my way.

I have no recollection, perhaps I've blocked it out, but I've been told that it got to the point where I was skipping school.  This was how my parents found out about these girls and how they had been tormenting me for most of the school year.  The one girl lived down the street from us, with her grandparents and her mother who was single and worked full-time, relatively unheard of in 1980's Aurora.  Her mother was devastated and truly remorseful that her daughter was capable of treating another kid this way, and blamed herself.  The other child's mother, who had attended high school with my own mother, simply sneered.  She had taught her daughter to be tough.. it wasn't her problem if I was "such a fucking wimp."

I see these pictures of the school and I remember not just its immense empty halls, but I remember walking them, sad, and scared and angry.  The staircase in the second photo from the bottom is the same staircase where I would sit after being sent in the hall.   Heeding the advice of "ignore it and it will go away", I would close my ears to the whispered taunts until finally I would lash out in anger and frustration, only to be scolded and sent to the hall for causing a disturbance.  I'd sit out there and cry and wait until I was sure my face was no longer red and my breathing had returned to normal.

Even then, I had a tendency towards 'The Ugly Cry'.  Oh, look.  There it goes again.

I was lucky enough to change schools the next year after being screened for the region's gifted program.  My problems didn't end there, by any means, but they subsided for a good while.  However, by the time we moved from Aurora to the Midland area, I was good and ready to get the fuck out of there.  I never really felt like I belonged there.  I don't think my family did either.

You know, a lot of this seems trivial in retrospect.  So what?  Everybody had bullshit to deal with as a kid.  But it kind of fucked with me for a long time.  For years I had a difficult time making friend without falling prey to the suspicion that I was being taken for a fool, that I was being set up as part of some grand, Carrie-esque prank and I'd be the girl covered in pig-blood, only instead of wreaking my vengeance all I would be able to do is cry and hate myself a little.  I missed out on what could have been some wonderful friendships because I couldn't bring myself to trust.  That said, I'm thankful for the few long-standing friendships was able to forge over the years.

I'm not going to lie, I've let these memories color my memories of Aurora with a very dark brush.  I think sometimes that I would still like to go back.  To fight my way down Yonge Street where everything is so built up now that you can no longer tell there was ever any bordering area between Newmarket and Aurora.  I'd like to park at my uncle's house (which was the house where we lived) and walk the neighbourhood as I did when I was a kid - my parents were the free-range kid type.

There are still places I have fond memories of..


  1. I was bullied by a group of girls like that in high school. It really sticks with you. I still hate going back to that town.

    1. In a weird way, I'm glad this happened early in life.. as I said, I still had problems down the road and huge trust issues, but the bright side is that I learned at a young age that I can't spend all my time trying to make people like me. By high school I had kind of stopped giving a shit about making people like me or trying to appeal to the 'cool' crowd. As a result, the friends I DID make liked me for who I was, without pretending I was someone I was not.

      I think it would have been worse to deal with in high school, after years of getting along relatively well with people.

  2. Thanks for this post! What a horrible thing to endure at such a young age. Mine started later in life, and I still have nightmares.

    I absolutely blame the school who made no real attempts to stop it. And the parents who thought I needed to toughen up.

  3. Angie, I was bullied throughout all of elementary and middle school to the point that we moved somewhere else to get away because the parents and teachers saw nothing wrong with this behavior. I tell you this because I know what you are going through, and I HAVE been there. Do not give them the satisfaction of wearing you down. You are very clearly incredibly smart. Don't let them ruin your life. Empower yourself so someday you can have the fancy house, car, whatever, and see them on FB struggling to succeed. Trust me, it is Exhilarating!!


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