Bullies   3 comments

Being Mean Stinks

Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe,
and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
                                  Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh


We welcomed any new kid to our small class at the Catholic school and that September we had a new girl in sixth grade. I do not remember when we lost every positive thing the nuns taught us about loving your neighbor or do unto others… or when our mob mentality developed. The new girl, Jane, only attended our school for one year, maybe not even a full year. I hope she escaped in less than nine months. Her nickname, Pig, was used by the boys to her face. I don’t remember the girls calling her that when she was in earshot but the name was used if she was talked about among us. One day on our way out for recess, one of the boys who was already outside with football in hand, threw the ball with all his might at Jane, his target. It hit her hard in the side.

Over the years, I’ve thought about her and wished I knew where she was so I could send her a letter telling her that I am sorry for our behavior the year she spent with us. I moved from the town where we attended school and someone told me she had moved, also. Mostly though I forgot about her, unless I heard a bullying story or watched a movie like Flatliners. In the film, medical students created near-death experiences and saw their lives replayed. I did not need to nearly die to be reminded of something that I should have confessed in my weekly required confessions to the priest before Friday mass every week of my life until eighth grade. I just had to make a trip to the local Safeway Store last week.

I went hoping to the find the vegetable chips that I’d tried at a friend’s house.  Grapes, coffee, maybe some dog treats and almonds crossed my mind as my cart rolled down the aisles. I wondered about the cost of a cord of wood and who might have some, thought about how I hated the skin on cooked pudding that mom used to make. As my mind wandered around these thoughts and after I successfully rolled my cart past the ice cream only half-checking on the sale of Ben & Jerry’s flavors, I saw her.  How I recognized her is beyond me. People change a bit from age 12 to 54, and there had been no contact during those years since sixth grade. Maybe it was my sorry gut telling me it was my classmate from 42 years before. Some things our bodies just do not forget like riding a bike, knowing how to swim or the way I still respond on the street or in a store when I hear a child call, “mom.”  That day I discovered another thing easy to remember – the face of a schoolmate – a schoolmate who must have begged her mother not to send her to school each morning. I turned my cart around and caught up with her.

“Did you go to the Catholic school in Chadron for a short time?”


“Are you Jane (not her real name)?”


“I was in your class. Mary Jackson. Do you remember me?”


“It seems that you were not treated very well when you were there.”

She hesitated for a few seconds.  It seemed Jane was deciding whether she wanted to admit and return to that place even here in the safety of the Safeway store but with a stranger privy to her past pain.  “No, I wasn’t treated well.”

“I just wanted to say that if I did anything to you, I’m sorry.”

“You must not have, because I don’t even remember you.”

“Well, that’s good, but I know some kids were pretty bad.”

“Yes, they were.  Steve Roberts (not his real name) was the worst. If I saw him today, I’d punch in him in the face. He was horrible. Him and his buddy.”

I did not tell her that Steve is my cousin and he has become a nice man who cared for his dying mother with such tenderness it amazed me.

“I’m sure if they were here, they would all say they are sorry for how they acted.  I’ll say I’m sorry for all of them.”

“Thanks.” Her eyes became a little teary. But she shook off the emotion and

said, “They probably have kids now who tease other kids.”

“Maybe. Good to see you.”

“Thank-you” she smiled. We turned our carts in opposite directions.

That I ran into this woman and that I recognized her astounds me. What a gift that chance encounter was to have the opportunity to apologize. Even if she did not remember me, I was complicit in her miserable year.

How many kinds of encounters have occurred in grocery or hardware stores while someone searches for peaches or weather stripping? How many of those reaching for a container of milk are fighting cancer, or trying to stretch the grocery money, or worrying about a sick child, or the bullies at school who are making their child’s stomach hurt every morning and damaging their self-esteem.  We all need reminding that we must speak up for the underdog. One brave voice might halt the suffering of another.  As Christopher Robin told Winnie the Pooh, “You’re braver than you think.”


Posted February 5, 2011 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Essays, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Bullies

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  1. Mary, when reading this post it brought back memories of my high school days. There was a fellow a couple of grades below me and my friends. He had the misfortune to appear effeminate to we who were the “studs” of the senior class. We were merciless in our treatment of him. I, too, wish I could meet up with him in a grocery store and apologize. And unfortunately this behavior is still with us. Is there any hope?


    • Hi Kirby,

      Good to hear from you. There is always hope, right? I think schools need to talk about these kinds of behaviors from kindergarten on and how one should respond. Practice might remind when someone is being picked on, and if we can just exalt those who are brave enough to stand up for others, change can happen some of the time.



  2. Mary, for some reason my complete name didn’t appear on my first reply.


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