Everything had been pretty okay since starting Kindergarten at the age of five. Miss M was the most amazing teacher I’d ever had (also the first, but that’s besides the point) with her huge smile and her long, flowing auburn hair.
Grade One was fine, with Miss A, who was sweet as pie. Then came Miss W, who had the longest blonde hair I’d ever seen (down to her bum), helming Grade Two, which would have been a good year, I think, except it turned out to be a very short-lived grade.
I was finishing my work too quickly, they said, sitting around twiddling my thumbs and not being “challenged”. “She’s a bright kid; we want to bump her up to Grade Three.”
So I left Miss W’s class and the kids who weren’t mean one day, and joined Miss C and her Grade Three class the next, an almost-seven-year-old armed with nothing but the unconditional love of her parents and a nervous belly.
My differences – the only white kid in the class and one of about three at any given time in the whole school, bright and mature for my age, a good student – were always previously apparent but never much of an issue. In Grade Three, they became bull’s eyes.
This class was rougher, tougher, older, taller. This class came with a Queen B, and I’d never even seen a hive. She was wide-eyed, mouthy, conniving, obnoxious, and unpredictable. She would have been a Queen B in any school, in any part of the world, but the deeply entrenched culture of Yap, this small Micronesian island, meant an intrinsic caste system – and her lineage – worked in her favour. Every single kid in the class was wrapped around her little finger – boys and girls alike – even those who didn’t really like her, because they were bound by her high-caste status and their lower-caste parentage to kowtow. She was badly behaved and a poor student, but managed to wrap the inexperienced missionary teachers around that finger, too. She was a mistress of the waterworks and a pro at the fake smile. She got what she wanted, and apparently what she wanted more often than not was to pick on me.
Now, I will preface this by saying that the bullying I faced was minor compared with a lot of others’ experiences. It never really got physical, except for a little pushing once, and it could have been so much worse. I’m grateful it wasn’t more serious, and my heart goes out to the kids who endure so much more than I did. However, that said, everything is relative, and you only know what you know. Her level of bullying was all I knew at seven years old, and it was enough to ruin three years of my school life.
It was little things that added up, one on top of the other: Making fun of words I said or how I said them, the fact that I raised my hand in class. Snickering and giggling at anything I did. Snide comments day in, day out. Never talking to me or playing with me or including me and preventing the other kids from doing so, too. Smearing a Lip Smacker chapstick over all the movie star magazine clippings I’d papered the inside of my flip-top desk with. Trapping me in an outhouse bathroom stall. Tag-teaming with another, bigger girl to repeatedly block my path and make me late for class. Little things, every day, that piled up and up and up throughout the week, so that it became my normal to get in the car when Dad picked me up from school and, finally safe from laughing eyes, unload the tears that had amassed throughout the day.
I can’t say enough how grateful I am for my parents. Our stable home life offered a crucial balance to my school experience, their love and support a never-questioned constant to counter the pendulum of uncertainty and unhappiness on which I swung, Monday through Friday from 8 to 2:30.
Toward the end of my time at that school, we found out Queen B had a pretty awful home life of abuse and alcoholism, which didn’t excuse her behaviour, but did make it easier to understand. Hindsight 15 years later helps, too.
Bullies only hurt us because they’re already hurting more themselves. Knowing this doesn’t make what they do okay, but it does make it easier for us to forgive them. Bullies aren’t bad kids. They’re kids in need of love.