|Me(r) & my sister in braids|
My teacher was unconcerned. “You know how I feel about tattling,” she admonished me. My parents were concerned but didn’t want to start interfering in my school affairs so soon, so my mother sat me down and used the age-old rationalization that I just had to understand that my hair was beautiful and this girl was just jealous of me. True, the girl was cross-eyed and angry-looking and had very fluffy hair, and maybe she was jealous—but why did that excuse her of torturing me?
And let me be clear: this was torture. The girl was nailing me several times a day, in the halls, on the playground, always taking me by surprise, then laughing. I was getting severe headaches, mostly from the yank that was always hard and vicious, not at all playful. But no doubt the pain came too from the constant fear and anxiety of wondering when and where The Pain would crop up next—from behind her posse of friends, out of a lavatory stall, in a long line of fourth graders passing me on the way to the cafeteria.
On the bus ride home each day, I would tell my next door neighbor, a third grader named Bonnie Maurer, how often it had happened that day. She commiserated with loud indignation, tracked this girl down and told her to stop. But The Pain did not stop. Neither, fortunately, did Bonnie. I have to tell you that everyone in the neighborhood called her "Bossy Bonnie." I call her "Persevering."
One day on the playground, my tormentor nailed me good, pulled so hard I fell to the gravel ground where in those days we actually played in the teacher parking lot. My leg was badly scraped, and I asked to go to the restroom and clean it up, but no one asked how it happened, and I didn’t tell because when you tell and tell and no one helps you but tells funny stories about inkwells or scolds you for tattling, you stop telling. However, Bonnie saw it and reported it to the playground teacher, who said nothing and did nothing.
That evening, Bonnie marched over to our house with her mother in tow, and she told the story for the third time that day, this time to my parents. I have to say, the story had grown in dramatic effect, which Bonnie was Queen of, though all of it was true. She ended with, “Diane’s head was this far”--and she spread her thumb and forefinger as far apart as they would go to indicate a few inches—“from the bumper of the car. Is everybody going to wait till she needs stitches in her forehead to do something about this?”
No, indeed. My mother went to the school next day, and this being my self-effacing mother at Whipple School in 1957, she did not yell, threaten, nor talk of suing. She just calmly told the Principal how long this had been going on, how it had escalated, what had happened on the playground, who had witnessed it. I don’t know whose solution it was, but it was agreed that the child would not be allowed near me. The Pain was called in and told she had been seen repeatedly hurting me and that she was not ever be within arm’s reach of me.
And she never came near me again. Ever. I don’t know if teachers kept an eye on her, if the principal put fear into her. But she stopped. Oh, she stuck her tongue out at me every time she saw me, but really, having been physically hurt over and over by her, I saw her facial antics as a pathetic come-down.
It’s true what we are telling children these days: they can help bullied children by speaking up: to the bullies, to the other kids, to teachers and to parents. They may have to speak up more than once, speak up as often as they have to, to as many people as they have to, until the pain stops. Some child may be grateful forever, as I am grateful, 55 years later, to Bonnie Maurer.