Penny head shotI read an article about bullying today that I really liked.

“The world isn’t neatly divided into bullies and the bullied; all victims conceal sins, and all villains carry sorrows and scars.”

I try to write about characters who sometimes do genuinely crap things because I have done crap things that I regret. I was a nerd at school, and people were mean to me. But equally, I was mean to other people. And at other times I did nothing while things I didn’t agree with unfolded.

I was lucky. I was never physically hurt and on the whole I enjoyed school and had good friends. But there were still some experiences that are hard for me to think about now.

Looking back on my time at school, I’d say I need to forgive and be forgiven in about equal measure. Below is a selection of incidents I remember but there were others too.

Bad things I did

  • In Year 8 I told a boy with a ponytail that he had to cut his hair or he couldn’t keep sitting with our group. People were teasing him for being different and I didn’t want that to reflect on me. Luckily, he didn’t listen to me. He didn’t cut his hair, he kept sitting with our group. I have apologised to him.
  • In Year 7 I told girl we didn’t like her and we didn’t want her to sit with our group. I felt bad when I saw I’d hurt her feelings but I convinced myself that being ‘honest’ was actually a noble thing to do. She left our group. She is an hilarious and clever person who I realised too late would have been an amazing friend.

Bad things done to me

  • On the bus to school a girl and a boy regularly sat behind me and shook the seat while discussing how ugly I was. It was very hard to keep reading Middlemarch while that went on.
  • Another girl on the bus threatened to bash me up every day for a month. I knew she had a horrible family life and pretty grim prospects. Feeling sorry for her made it a little easier to deal with, but I was still terrified. She never touched me.
  • On multiple occasions I was kicked out of a group. In Year 7, three of my friends ran away from me. Literally ran away. They might have had their reasons, but I refused to let them escape. I chased them. When I caught up with them it was a little awkward because they wouldn’t acknowledge they’d been trying to drop me. We all panted for a bit until we got our breath back then they’d bolt off again with me in close pursuit. Ultimately, I was too quick for them and stayed in the group.

Times when I did nothing

There were times when I wasn’t the victim or the bully.

  • A girl at our school was sexually assaulted. I overheard two boys discussing it on the bus. One of them said, ‘It must have been dark’, and they both laughed. I was furious. I wanted to turn around and yell at them. I said nothing.
  • In Year 8 people would routinely taunt one of the unpopular boys until he snapped and got angry and violent. I felt uncomfortable but I watched and maybe laughed and did nothing to stop it.

Something I’m proud of

  • In Year 9 some girls started teasing me about being a lesbian. I refused to respond, which made it worse. A friend said, ‘Why don’t you just say it’s not true?’ I said, ‘Because if I deny it, I’ll be saying there’s something wrong with being gay.’

That’s character. Shame about the other stuff.

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