You Never Forget Your First Bully

Happy, early days: Christmas, 1960s

Happy days: Me at Christmas, 1960s

Her name was Suzie Q*, and she was button cute: big dark eyes, the kind of hair which would be called “glossy” if she were a Labrador. Dimples.

Life can be good when you’re button cute. By the time you get to junior high, it can help you get a cheerleader’s jacket, pleated skirt, and friends. Plus, the kind of middle school kudos that goes with all that.

I don’t really remember. By the time Suzie was in 7th grade, I was in 8th. In children’s terms, we’d long since parted ways.

Looking back after nearly fifty years, I can make a few educated guesses about Suzie. She was the middle child, with years between her, and the eldest. Given that gap, and Suzie’s looks, I imagine she was as spoiled as I: possibly, even more.

A few years later, Anna* was born. Putting, perhaps, Suzie’s little nose well out of joint.

Anna was under Suzie’s control before we moved in, and I became Suzie’s next victim. She already had another: Patsy*, a friend who was older than Suzie, but under her thumb, nonetheless.

With my lovely Grandfather: 1960s

With my lovely Grandfather: 1960s

Patsy was a bully whilst in Suzie’s company, but could be quite pleasant when Suzie wasn’t around. As for Anna, I remember Suzie sharpening her claws on her, whenever Suzie wasn’t busy manipulating me.

There were no punches, no hair pulling, no pinching. Suzie’s weapons were verbal, not physical. She enjoyed playing with Kiddles when she wasn’t bullying Anna, Patsy, or me.

She kept me under her little thumb for more than a year: a lifetime, when you’re a child. Then suddenly, one day when we were walking home from school, she told me it was over.

Perhaps she got bored.

I spent the next summer vacation from school alone, in my basement, drawing every illustration from the Marguerite O’Henry “Album of Horses”, then painting them all with watercolours.

These days, I photograph birds, instead: blackbird, July 2015.

Nowadays, I photograph birds: blackbird, July 2015.

I never told an adult, least of all Mum and Dad. Not until I’d married, and moved countries, when our contact consisted of weekly phone calls, in which my folks talked at me about what was going on in the old neighbourhood.

Suzie and her sisters had long since moved, but their parents were still around. Every so often, my mother would tell me that Suzie had been visiting, and about Suzie’s children, and her dog.

One day, I snapped. I don’t want to hear about Suzie, I said. Or her bloody dog, or her kids.

The kids are all right: starling family, May 2015

The kids are all right: starling family, May 2015

The inspiration for this blog came from an old public advertising campaign: “You Never Forget a Good Teacher”. In the adverts, various British celebs said the names of their favourite teachers.

I still remember you, Mrs Shearer, Mr McSween, Mr Kopnick, Mrs Kelso, Ms McGlade, Mr DeShantz, Mrs Ferency, Mr Z.

You comforted us; taught us important lessons in life, as well as literature, music, and the like. And yet, who truly lingers in our memory: a good teacher, or an efficient bully?

Whilst I feel no malice toward Suzie, as I write this, I realise how very glad I am not to have to hear all about her wonderful dog, or her lovely children.

And that there’s a huge ocean, and several thousand land miles, between us.




*Note: The kids’ names have been changed. The teachers are real, though I’m unsure about the spellings.

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