One upon a time, there was high school located in a prominent neighbourhood in west Vancouver. It was an older school, opened in 1925. It had all the character of an older school with dated lockers, grad class pictures spread out on every wall on every floor, and that “old house” smell. There were about 800 students that attended there during that period. It was difficult for a student to hide from anyone because it wasn’t very big. In British Columbia, high school serviced grades 8 – 12…a very long five years.
Every morning a young boy would get ready for his twenty-minute trek. The walk was uphill the entire way there. He had his Adidas book bag thrown over his shoulder lugging various heavy textbooks and binders back and forth, everyday. He wasn’t particularly special, good looking, and had a bowl cut for hair that made him look like one the Beatles. He was pretty skinny weighing in at around 125 lbs. for most of his high school life. He didn’t like high school. Quite frankly, he hated it, but never told a soul.
As he walked to school, he would always think about what might happen to him, that day. This meant, who would pick on him, hit him, berate him, belittle him, tease him, or anything else his imagination could come up with. “I will just keep my head down and avoid those people”, he thought. It was well intentioned, but seldom helped.
As he walked through the halls, books in hand, he would keep his head down trying not to make eye contact with most people. He felt somewhat relieved to make it to his locker unscathed. But then, from behind him, he heard, “Hey, faggot…you avoiding me?” It was Greg…the local star hockey player. Greg grabbed this young man and spun him around and pinned him sideways up against the locker. He started punching his shoulder, over and over and over and over. The skinny kid was in agony but stood there terrified, and took it. Greg’s friend laughed as this transpired. It felt like an eternity, but Greg finally got bored, shoved the young man’s head into the locker and walked away. Sometimes, the young man was lucky and another guy named Nick would tell Greg to lay off and Greg would reluctantly comply.
Then, there was the time that someone put “fag” stickers all over his locker. Another time, when they decided to flagpole him. A practice where two stronger boys would grab someone by the arms and smash them into a flagpole. Then once, when this young man was walking home, some other boys waited for him. They surprised him and tackled him, emptying his book bag into a rain filled gutter, ruining virtually all of his study notes. They would say “good bye” by kicking him in the balls and leave him crying in the pouring rain.
He hated high school. But, this was his life. There were periods when he had some peace, like in grade twelve. However, for the most part, he was bullied a lot. He always kept quiet. He didn’t tell his parents. He didn’t tell anyone. He didn’t want to appear weak. He sucked it up.
That young man…was me.
A year ago, I was back in Vancouver and went to visit my old high school. It was lunchtime. The halls were filled with students. I walked into the main office to let them know I wanted to go up to the third floor to take a picture of my grad class that was hanging on the wall. They happily agreed. The halls still smelt the same but the students seemed so much younger than I ever was.
As I got to the third floor, there were four young women having lunch right under my grad class picture. One asked, “Are we in your way?”
“Not at all. I just want to take a picture of my grad class up there.”, pointing to the picture.
“You’re in there? Which one are you?”
I pointed to the guy in the blue suit, big smile, and bowl cut.
“That’s you?! Wow, you’ve improved with age, haven’t you?”
We all burst out laughing. I snapped a few shots and asked them what grade they were in. They were all graduating that year. They each told me and then asked, “What was it like back then?” They invited me to sit.
I sat down in the hall where I had been so many times before and we swapped stories for the next thirty minutes. We talked future plans, hobbies, interests, if drugs were still prevalent, and the topic of bullying came up.
As I shared some of my experiences, a couple of them teared up. Bullying had evolved so much since I went to school. Yet, all of them had been the recipients of bullying tactics. It brought back some very painful memories. On a positive note, their principal was a big anti-bullying advocate. So, it was on a major decline as it is talked about all the time with faculty and students. And, the students watched out for one another. I was so thankful to hear this. I could sense these four young women were good souls. And, I commended them for their character and allowing me the time to get to know them. Most importantly, for sharing their experiences with me, a complete stranger.
I don’t know what I expected when I entered that school again. I know I felt very anxious, even after twenty-five years. When I walked through those doors, I became that skinny young boy again. Shamefully, I felt scared. However, when I left, I felt more like a man than I had in a long time. I stood taller. I felt stronger. Four angels had assisted with that.
We all know bullying is serious. Perhaps, what we don’t think about is that it can affect us for years to come…both being a bully and being bullied. But, anyone who has gone through it, or is still going through it…keep your head up and have hope. Be strong. You have choices. I’ll go through that in more detail in my next post.
However, I would love if you would share your experiences. They could be from school, work, your children or a friend. It’s important to talk about and share.