Lately, life has reminded me a lot of grade school. Why, you may ask, has my life brought on these feelings of reminiscence? It’s because every BIG life lesson was first presented to me when the complexities of life were much less complex. When your place at the lunch table was a daily reminder of your place on the ‘food chain’. When the sunshine and solace of recess was the only freedom your little heart needed. When notes, journals and diaries stood in place of texts, blogs and social media as your relief from the unjust world of society. When teacher’s pets brown-nosed to academic peaks in the classroom… and bullies ruled the school yard.
I now find myself struggling with the glaring similarities between the school yard and the work yard, the same games are being played with much higher stakes. Popularity contests, constant self-campaigning, he-said-she-said gossip trails of ‘telephone’ and the ever present comparison to your peers. Are you smart enough? Are you fast enough? Are you funny enough? Are you pretty enough? Are you rich enough? Are you good enough? All of these simple truths carried on from childhood have created a foundation of principles that have followed me into adulthood.
I don’t need to be popular. I don’t need to be the class president. I don’t need to hear the latest gossip. I don’t need to constantly compare myself to others. I don’t need to make a habit of seeking outside validation. Self-confidence doesn’t come from your title in the yearbook, your place at the lunch table or the label on your clothes. Self-confidence can only truly come from within ones-self.
We instill this value within ourselves by harboring healthy habits and producing healthy actions. Praising others, making no place for jealousy, following our truth and dealing justly. But what happens when we are met with someone who isn’t exactly harboring these values or reciprocating these actions? What happens when we encounter a bully?
In the 5th Grade I was faced with my first true blue, bad to the bone bully. Feeling no need to take rank in school yard society, I floated happily between the land of the popular, the land of the book-worms, and the land of the rebels. The popular children withstood me, the book-worms tried to reform me, and the rebels tried to break me. This seemed to work for me, I liked living the life of a social butterfly free of classist restrictions. I learned how to hold my own in each world. Small talking with the populars, theorizing with the book-worms and knocking the constraints of society with the rebels. I learned how to relate to a wide variety of personalities.
In the world of the rebels, one queen reigned supreme. Amy Barter, the trash talking queen of the neighborhood and the queen bee of the schoolyard. For some reason, Ms. Barter had taken a likin’ to me. While I didn’t understand this friendship fully, I embraced it with open arms; trust didn’t have to be earned in grade school. As the school year lead on, slumber parties and weekends brought us closer and I was sure we were on the fast track to being BFF’s. That was, until, one fine day when I almost met my maker on the hot black asphalt paving the back schoolyard of Grant Line Elementary School.
Amy had a very serious problem with jealousy. I overlooked this issue, because as a child I longed to see the best in each of my friends. Amy also had a very big tendency to crush, and crush hard! Her latest object of affection was none other than my desk neighbor and ultra-bad-boy Chris Gollard. I mean, if ever there was a match made in rebel heaven these two were it! Knowing my proximity to Chris, Amy had concocted this scheme to win his heart: I was to subtly drop her name in conversation between pencil passing and eraser sharing and Chris was supposed to bite on these tiny doses of intrigue and fall madly in love with Amy. The problem was, all the pencil passing and eraser sharing had lead Chris to become a little more intrigued with me, and Amy had noticed. However I, as a doe eyed school girl, was completely unaware of his blossoming affections towards me and I thought all was going according to plan.
One day, as we sat court side at daily the school yard pick up game, in a last ditch effort to win the love of the young rebel hearted basketball player, Amy said she had a plan. I was to stand up and yell out, “Chris Gollard loves Amy Barter!“, and a very coy Amy was supposed to blush in response and flutter her big lashes at Chris with a “Who, me?” response. I though the plan to be pretty hair brained, even for a 5th grader, but there was just no turning down Amy’s request ’cause when she had her eye on something, if you stood in the way, boy oh boy she was going to TAKE YOU DOWN. So after she whispered the grand scheme in my ear I looked back into her conniving fox eyed face with the fear of a rabbit in a trap. Out of fear, more than friendship, I sprung to my feet and yelled at the boys headed for a layup, “Chris Gollard loves Amy Barte…”, before I could finish everything went black.
Amy had sprung to her feet and pushed me to the ground before I could finish my sentence. Unprepared for the impact, my tiny little legs had slipped on the asphalt under her attack and my head had bounced off the hot pavement like a deflated basketball. I awoke to a playground full of sweaty 5th grade faces above me, all of them a hazy green blur until slowly I heard their voices through the buzzing in my ears. As the world lost its greenish hue and came into focus, right beside me kneeled Chris Gollard. Amy had fled the scene. Once again, her schemes had backfired. Shuffles and shouts seemed to move at a trance like pace and soon my teacher appeared above me. I spent the rest of the day in the nurses station being treated for a concussion, which I was told was lucky for such a fall.
With hours of silence to process the events, I slowly began to realize that Amy saw our situation less as a friendship and more as an advantage to her ultimate goal, the heart of bad boy Chris. When her plans had backfired, I had suddenly become a threat and she panicked. As the hours passed, shock turned to hurt which eventually broiled in to a full fledged rage. I saw Amy for what she was, and I was going to take her down.
I avoided Amy for several days plotting, scheming and regaining my strength. I stared steely at her across the lunch room, laser beams of anger shooting from my eyes. I sneered at her shrill voice and my stomach turned at the mention of her name. After about a week of wallowing in my disgust I was ready to make my move. The day went on as usual; angry glares across the lunch room, gnashing of my teeth at her voice and stomach flip flops at the mention of her name. I bore on through lunch, listening intently across the lunch table to her conversation. A pick up softball game was planned for recess and I was going to sabotage it.
When the recess bell rang my little body was practically vibrating with pent up anger. The energy was palatable and I felt a surge of adrenaline shoot through me. I laced up my purple velour tennis shoes and raced to the baseball diamond. The whole gang arrived and I shot a a steely glance in Amy’s direction and smirked, “I’m captain!”, I announced. I picked my team. All the best sports… except Amy. As Amy positioned herself at the pitchers mound, I took my place at home base, bat in hand. We smiled at one another, two sets of teeth bared like wolves in attack. The first pitch flew, nearly hitting my shoulder. I doubled back and composed myself. Chalking it up to bad aim I braced myself for the next pitch. This one zipped right past my forehead, I ducked as someone yelled, “Cool it Amy”. I was beginning to get the feeling that Amy’s terrible aim was less of a coincidence and more of a malicious intent to knock my lights out.
By the third pitch I was ready to blow one out of the park, and by blow one out of the park I really mean throw a blow right into Amy’s jaw and send her on her way out of the ballpark and straight to the nurses office. Unfortunately Amy had a pretty decent arm, and that third pitch zipped past my shoulder and hit the fence. “Three strikes, you’re out!”, Amy yelled as she grinned the evil grin of The Batman’s Joker. “I am NOT OUT! Your pitches were terrible, you owe me three fair balls!”, I yelled in the shrillest defensive voice my 5th grade vocal chords could muster.
Amy crossed the baseball diamond and pushed my shoulder up against the chain link fence as it rattled against the impact. “I don’t owe you ANYTHING!” she retorted, nostrils flaring wide like an angry bull. I looked her square in the eyes and rattled off something snarky about an angry Hippopotamus. To be honest I can’t even remember what I said but I think the vivid angry bull image in my mind somehow triggered my sharp witted Hippo diss. To be fair, this wasn’t even close to relevant, Amy was a twig. Whatever the case, her nostrils flared wider and she threw a punch. I jabbed to the left and her fist hit my arm. I threw both fists up towards my ears to brace myself against her blows and brought them down towards my shoulders in my best Rocky stance. By this time the entire baseball diamond was flooded with kids chanting “Hit her, hit the hippo. She deserves it!”. The crowd had garnered the attention of my teacher Mrs. Walters and before I could knock Amy out cold, the recess whistles were blowing and a pair of stout arms swiftly whisked me off to the detention wall.
Much like a P.O.W. I sat in the hot sun shielding my eyes, baking more under the anger of my situation than the punishment itself. I was in the right, everybody there knew it. I was defending myself not only from Amy’s latest attack, but even more vindicating myself after a semester full of manipulation. I was standing up to the girl who had pushed me down on the seething asphalt in broad daylight, in front of the entire 5th grade male population, and had gotten away with it. The girl who had given me a concussion and a solitary day in the nurses office. The girl who made the world go black for a good 60 seconds. I didn’t belong on this wall, SHE belonged there!
At the end of recess Mrs. Walters rose off the teacher’s bench and somberly walked over to me. She explained that if I apologized to Amy I would be forgiven and no further action would be taken. I pleaded my case, explaining that I was only acting out in self defense. I told her there was nothing to apologize for, that I was innocent of all guilt. Mrs. Walters replied that until I apologized to Amy, whether or not I was wrong, Ms. Barter and I would be spending our recess on the detention wall together for the rest of the school year. I thought the idea of an eternal recess detention with Amy to be my own private hell, but I knew there was absolutely no way I could apologize for protecting my own chin against her attack. How could I apologize when I had done nothing but befriend, care for and aide my bully in the plight to gain the love of the
young suitor bad boy she adored.
Our recess P.O.W. situation stood at a stalemate for three days straight, both parties making sure to stare off blankly into every direction but that of the other. By the third day my non-deodorized armpits were pooling with sweat. At the sight of my state I believe my teacher feared a possible mistreatment lawsuit. Mrs. Walters called me up to her recess bench on the fourth day and explained that if Amy and I shook hands, we would be free to join the rest of the 5th graders on the playground. I took inventory of my convictions and concluded that as long as she approached me, I would oblige her handshake sans an apology. Amy approached me and thrust her cold fish palm in my direction. Avoiding eye, contact I mirrored her gesture. One shake. Done. Mrs. Walters seemed less pleased than annoyed, but the situation had run its course. Amy and I turned our backs on the P.O.W. wall and sprinted towards opposite sides of the playground.
I remember little of what followed our last year of grade school. In retrospect it seems as if Amy slowly floated off into the background. That summer my parents decided to send me to private school and I never heard from Amy Barter again. I encountered many more bullies through middle and high school, even befriending a few reformed ‘ former bullies’ along the way, but your first bully always sticks with you. Much like your first ex boyfriend.
In 5th grade, I learned that not all is right in the world. Vindication is not guaranteed. Sometimes bullies win. Sometimes the innocent are punished. Sometimes turning the other cheek means gaining two black eyes. Sometimes there is no resolution. However, eventually, bullies will disappear in to the background. Jealousy, insecurity, strife and envy have no root in my life; but they are at the root of every bullying action.
When bullies win, let them win. Shake their hand and let them fade into the background. Go home to your loved ones, kiss their faces (whether bearded, furry, baby faced or wrinkled) and let yourself be reminded that bullying will never win a love like the love you share with those who feed your soul. Bullies may win a place of status, a big promotion, popularity, fame or fortune; but bullying will never win the love of another. At the end of the day, if you have found yourself in a place that is surrounded by love, YOU have won.
So when bullies win, let them think they’ve won. The prize they’re earning is far less valuable than the love you hold dear.
(All events recounted are 100% true, however the names of the guilty have been changed. I did some social media recon and was unable to find Amy ‘Barter’ on Facebook, you know, for research purposes. I’m pretty sure she and Chris never really panned out but it’s fun to imagine her somewhere out there in the great blue yonder indefinitely right swiping him on Tinder. He, of course, swipes left every time.)
Photos: My main gal Danielle Martin of Ch.25
Well spring has sprung both in a figurative and literal context. Much like a fledgling seedling I’ve spent the last half of winter slowly germinating in a seething hotbed of sheet. That’s right, you heard me. I was dealing with a lot of sheet.
I think theres a reason “In The Hothouse” is often used when referring to a state of anger, outrage or a highly stressful and pressure packed state of being. You feel bogged down by layers of nasty feelings, both towards yourself and outside influences and just as you begin to break through these layers of crud and find yourself in the sunlight, you meet the heat. Excruciating temperatures so overpowering that it takes your breath away and weighs down upon you like a searing wave of sticky fog. It envelopes you like a dark claustrophobic box, making it impossible to breathe.
Next come the showers, heavy and unrelenting. Bogged down, you begin to feel like you just can’t win. Then, just like that, you begin to blossom.
And so I’ve been planted in the sunshine of the summer. The soil and soot still surround me, the heat still beats upon me and the rains still break down on me but I am strengthened by them.
Ps. Totally had my first, and second, panic attacks while I was ‘living’ in the hothouse. Not fun. Plants DON’T have panic attacks. People do. Total sheet.
Recently I’ve had the pleasure (read agony) of dissolving a creative partnership. There are two ways I could go about approaching this very rocky time in my life. I could A.) Sweep the situation under the plush Persian rug and go on in a very Stepford Wife manner as I leave with nothing but the sound of my heels clicking in retreat through the back gate, or B.) I could address it as a grown arse woman and stand up for myself while approaching the situation with the upmost integrity (think the poignant tact of Condolisa Rice and the sharp whit of Amal Aziz-Clooney). I chose neither option, but rather I wish to address this subject as Leslie Knope, with a Pawnee sized dose of humor, waffles and self deprication.
I have found the old saying, “Nice guys finish last”, to be utterly false. The truth is, nice guys never enter the competition in the first place. We’re too busy organizing the main event. We’re the cheerleaders, mascots, yearbook photographers and prom committee members. We take it upon ourselves to make sure the members of our society have freshly baked cupcakes at club meetings and glittery signs boasting their name at the finish line. We are the hype girls, and god forbid a hype girl forgets her place. We belong in the background, lifting others up not sharing in the spotlight, because the moment we are discovered we become a threat. PEOPLE OF AMERICA: THIS MUST CHANGE, LIKE YESTERDAY!
Elementary school was my first introduction to the hype girl turned fifteen minutes of fame scenario. It was the 3rd grade and I was fresh off the seclusion of a two year stint on the mission field in Mexico with my quirky do-gooding family. I was formerly the only blonde girl in my entire village, I was completely unfamiliar with the competition and constant comparison that flourished amongst the society of traditional elementary school. I was completely unaware of the need to stand out because, frankly, I was so busy just trying to figure out what the heck and where the heck I was. I had learned to embrace the fact that I was different without flaunting it. My complex was less of a need to be popular as it was a need to just become a part of the culture. That was, until I returned to my hometown.
My welcome back to the states was one for the books. On the first day of third grade I was thrilled. On the second day I was in full blown culture shock. Other kids weren’t interested in my homeschool-free-study inspired pre-flood theories of the garden of Eden. Nay, they were more interested in the plot of latest Rugrats episode, Jack’s death in Titanic, and the impending outcome of their MASH games. I was doomed. DOOMED, I Tell You! I wasn’t allowed to watch Rugrats because of their ‘rebellious spirits’ (due to the fact that they were constantly escaping the safety of the playpen by jigging things open with Tommy’s diaper screwdriver). Titanic, FORGET IT! As for MASH, I had been taught that such fortune telling was ‘witchcraft’ and should be avoided like the plague. I was overwhelmed, how-ever was I going to fit in?
By October I had figured out the system of the American elementary culture via a series of covert operations. 1.) I would sneak in to the living room after school and just as my grandpa fell asleep I would turn the volume down to a low humm and flip the channel to Nickelodeon, catching every Rugrats episode sans parental guidance. 2.) My cousin and I discovered that HBO alowed us to continually replay not ONLY Jack’s death but also Kate Winslet’s iconic portrait sesh. We became tata experts in no time. 3.) I grilled my mother on the occult, dark magic and witchcraft relentlessly until I finally decided MASH was nowhere near the witchcrafti-ness of the ouiji board or the post-cafetiria “Bloody Mary” mirror games. I caved and learned a bit of entry level origami in the process.
A few weeks into my American education I was set for a semester of success. That was, until our 3rd grade play auditions.
One fine day in music class, our teacher announced that the 3rd grade would be conducting the Autumn portion of the school wide ‘Play of Season’s’. She described our portion of the play and split us up in to pairs by height. Once we were seated in little couples, she played ‘The Turkey Tango”; a very catchy song about a Turkey named Fred, from Durango who liked to tango. We were then given red paper roses, to hold in our tiny 3rd grade mouths, as we learned the Spanish Tango. This all sounds pretty hilarious to me now, but to a child in culture shock it was no laughing matter.
My tango was less of a dance and more of a foot squashing session. No matter how hard my poor teacher tried, I just refused to be led by my partner. I mean, why did HE get to lead just because he was a boy? Why, I was a much better dancer and I had a much greater affinity for the Spanish culture. Red hot tears began to stream down my face as my entire American dream began to crash down around me. I threw my red rose on the ground in protest and sat huffing in my grimy mave plastic chair. I will never know what lead my teacher to her final decision, but I can only guess it was my sudden flair for the dramatic and unintentional-feminist ideals. She pulled me aside and told me her plan. I was a little unsure, but I knew it was a whole lot better than a months worth of toe crushing tango routines.
On the day of the school play I was horrified. I looked down at my wobbly little yellow stockinged chicken legs through the peep holes of my costume and gulped down my pride in defeat. The floor was full of Spanish Señoritas and dapper Spanish Gentlemen. I stood by the gymnasium doors, wobbling beneath a cardboard refrigerator box turned turkey costume. I panned the audience and stopped on the third row. There it was staring straight back at me, my aunts camcorder. The one device that could immortalize this moment for all eternity. The song started, a streak of fear ran through my wobbly little yellow chicken knees and I took the floor. I tango-ed to the right, I tango-ed to the left and I made that floor mine. Solo American turkey on a dance floor full of happy ‘Spanish’ children. It seems I couldn’t escape may past, no matter how hard I tried.
On Monday, I dreaded facing my peers. Sure, I received praises and accolades from my adoring family on my expert tango-ing skills. Yes, I felt a little turkey sized rush of adrenaline surge in to my neon turkey limbs. But this was the 3rd grade lunch room, where pizza was as square as my comrades. We didn’t dance to the beat of our own drum, we didn’t even dance (aside from the tango); and then I go and light up the floor like a turkey in a fryer. As I approached my lunch table I contemplated dropping my tray off at the dish counter and making a quick exit to the nurses office. Right before I could make my move I heard a whisper. “Turkey Girl.” I froze, the blood running to my tiny cheeks. “Turkey Girl!” This time it was louder. “TURKEY GIRL!” By now it was a full blown chant and just before the tears filled my tiny little eyes something wonderful happened. The table burst into applause. I was met with high fives and smiles of acceptance. I was the “Turkey Girl”.
It turns out, I learned A LOT in 3rd Grade.
#1- The Rugrats were rebellious, but so was I.
#2- Kate Winslet’s tatas weren’t all they were cracked up to be. Also, Jacks death made no sense (there was a whole door, ONE ENTIRE LIFESAVING ISLAND OF WOOD!)
#3- MASH was not an accurate form of fortune telling, but “Bloody Mary” was true witchcraft and my cousin Laura had the scratches to prove it.
#4- You don’t need a partner. You can tango alone.
Some of us weren’t meant to be lead by partners, and we weren’t meant to be chorus girls either. Some of us were meant to be soloists, learning how first to lead ourselves before teaching others how to dance the solo tango. Some of us are just neon stocking-ed soloists. Sure, sometimes you’ll partner up, but if you rely on the support of a partner or thrive on their accolades you’ll never find your limelight.
From now on, I tango solo.
P.S. Incase you are questioning the validity of this story, I have done some googling and have come up with the ORIGINAL ‘Turkey Tango’. You’re welcome…