1991. Grade Six. Eleven.
Growing up in Aiyansh and going to school there everyday, for me, was a long fought battle. Since the age of eight, until I left the reserve when I was fourteen, I was a major victim of bullying. I had a group of older girls from another community claim me as their daily emotional punching bag. You know, the classic ‘Sally thinks you stole her best friend so now she’s going to torture you for the remainder of your days’ type bullying. Let me tell you that it was everyday, and I was terrified to go to school, walk in the halls, stand anywhere alone(I was usually alone), eat lunch in the mezzanine, go to the washroom, recess, even when the fire alarm went off, that was cause for a rise in heart rate…basically every part of school that involved minimal supervision, leaving me exposed to a possible mental beat down at any moment. I realize everyone has their own experiences with bullying growing up, but I guess I felt it necessary for me to share this with you at this particular time in your life, seeing as how you’re just about to step foot into Grade Six. Wow. What a trip.
I had worked out a pretty great system throughout the years. I was lucky enough to make a few friends, a couple close ones in my class, and a girl who was a grade above me(gold). From grades three to six I relied on two things: at lunch time, to avoid having to go to the mezzanine, I would tag along with my older friend to her house and eat my lunch with her and her family everyday. They were so gracious to me, it was my favourite part of the day, and I really got to learn the entire plot of General Hospital and became a huge fan. The few friends that I had in my class, they were my safe haven. I always found someone to stand with at recess, float around and linger between groups of people and I was quite content not being noticed and fading into the background.
That was my system – until Grade Six hit.
Grade Five was awesome. I had a great year, a wonderful teacher, passed with straight A’s(when you don’t have many friends to hang out with, school work is really all you have:) I enjoyed the process of school, the process of learning, and I excelled because of my quiet competitiveness. I had a mini core group of friends that I completely relied on, there were four of us, and we all lived in the same community. I thought to myself: maybe i’ll be okay after all? I’m surviving under the radar, i’m doing well in school. I actually still LIKE school. Grade Six…bring it.
I’m not sure what had happened during the summer of ’91 but when I returned back to school I was told that my mini core group of friends didn’t exist anymore, they decided they didn’t like me and we weren’t friends. My new ex-friends became the worst of my problems and made it their new mission to make sure that my life was miserable. They were mean, really mean. So, now on top of having a group of older girls who absolutely despised me for no apparent reason I had classmates who I had to spend every moment with. Since they lived in the same community there was no escape, I would have to see them at community events, walking on the street…there was no more relief when hearing the three o clock bell ring, knowing the girls were going back to their community for the night and I could leisurely wander home. Now it was a race everyday. It was not a great year for me, I started to act out in class, beating on the poor boys, I spent a lot of time in detention, my grades didn’t suffer too much, but I coasted by with minimal effort. I had also made the decision to keep all of this suffering and heartache to myself. Those weren’t the days when you involved parents or authority figures a whole lot, and if you did, it was the general idea that they would make it worse. This in class, out of class shit storm went on until I hit grade eight, and then I think my awesomeness finally wore them down -they got tired of bullying me and decided they liked me again.
Grade Six. Let’s just say I became the quietest, shyest, most frustrated eleven year old. It made me feel as though I had to do whatever was necessary to fit in.
Side note: I was about twenty years old, I was living in Vancouver enrolled at Cap College and I had returned to Aiyansh for my Godparents Anniversary celebration. The celebration continued into the night at my Godparents’ house. I was reminiscing with some old friends, having some laughs, and I was approached by someone that grew up with us and was in our class. This person proceeded to call me out in front of everyone, asking me why I was so mean to them in school? Why I was such a bully? I was shocked, I had almost no recollection of any of it. None. I said “I’m sorry but I don’t know what you’re talking about?” They said “How could you treat me like that? We’re supposed to be family.” (yes, we were related, which made it ten times worse) This was a pivotal moment for me and it was an excruciating realization…
When you’re in survival mode, your weaknesses become exposed and because of that I allowed myself to participate in the bullying of others. I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for others, I wasn’t strong enough to fight back. I became silent because it was easier for me. I’ve never forgotten the pain and sadness in their eyes, it was the same as mine, only I had become so good at hiding mine that I had numbed any memory of causing such pain in others. I’ve carried that memory with me and that moment changed me. Until that moment I was still quite shy, I didn’t think that I had much to contribute, my mind was still in a spiritual quest for acceptance. After that my path changed, it angered me that I was so oblivious to the harm that I caused to someone else, and it made me question myself, were there more? Who knows. I was silent for so long and I was only sure of one thing, that others were silent too. Others have hid their pain, their suffering. And worse, they’ve carried it with them, and I carried mine too.
That anger sparked something within me, it was a small fire that started to burn away my fears. Because I was bullied for so long, I became incredibly insecure, i’d always felt as though something were wrong with me and where there were no problems i’m quite sure I created them. This was finally my time to start thanking every mean piece of insecure shit that took out their issues on me, that picked me because I seemed weak. That pummeled me every day because they were most likely living an even more miserable existence than I was. So I did, I thanked them (not to their faces). In their moments of weakness they had unknowingly given me so much strength, and I was just about to tap into it. I did. I can also thank them for silencing me for so long, because of that I became an amazing observer, an amazing listener, and I like to think – a great judge of character. I can spot insecurities a mile away, only I don’t see them as flaws or weaknesses, I see them as temporary fears. God-forbid anyone try and bully someone around me…you’d get an earful of indisputable truth smacking you upside the head. Now I do speak up, I do feel that there is incredible value in what I have to offer, that my opinions do matter, and most importantly – I use my voice. I’ve had to work really hard to become the person that I am today, to be a confident woman, the strong mother that you know. It’s been a long shaky journey but I wouldn’t change any of it. It was all a part of my path, it’s my story.
I look at you Daughter, and I see your incredible strength your amazing compassion towards others. I know in your short eleven years that you’ve encountered your own experiences with bullying, sometimes we’ve discussed it, sometimes we haven’t. A few times there have been tears and the question “why?” You continue to keep me in awe because you are you, and you will never apologize to anyone for it. You wake up every day with a mission to be as different and as unique as you possibly can. People may make fun of you because they don’t understand you, but you simply don’t care. You celebrate everyone’s differences and you question why people would want to be the same? I’ve asked you about your bullies, and you would say to me that they’re not bullies, and it’s okay. With your incredible intuition and understanding you already know that people struggle, they struggle in other areas than school, that people have a home life and families and different dynamics and most times its not all love. I want to let you know that you have given me the most strength to be who I am. You have been my greatest teacher and you’ve taught me not to care what others think. Most importantly, stand up for others, stand up for what is right. Use your voice for good and spread love. I’m not sure who you are or where you came from:) I do know that you know who you are, and that’s all that matters. You are my greatest gift and I love you. Hami’ya.
So I say to all my bullies throughout the years, Thank You, and it’s okay – I know you had a rough go at it too.
And to everyone I may have bullied, I am truly sorry from the bottom of my aching heart. I hope to soon cross paths so that I may say this in person.