I was considered a smart kid in grade school. I attended a Chinese Christian school in Kindergarten, but was transferred to the Catholic University where my Mom taught so that I didn’t have to pay tuition. As a newcomer, I was placed in the third section, the last section, in first grade but in the same year I received the highest honors. It was an enjoyable time and I made some friends with whom I’d exchanged stationery and played jack stones on the school grounds.
It was during my second year in the new school that I was transferred to the first section where they say all the smart ones were, and I started getting bullied. The bullies were not only boys, but girls too. The big girls in class who seemed to have reached puberty early were not so nice to me. This was around the same time that our adviser would assign me to write down the names of those who disturbed the class by talking whenever she would leave the room. At first I enjoyed the task because I was a stickler for rules, but later on I realized that the other kids were calling me the “teacher’s pet” and the bullies were starting to notice me more and more. I felt their stares on my back each time I’d write down a name for breaking the rules, and they would make snide remarks that made the class laugh. That year, I only got the second highest honors.
Bullying on my third year got worse. I was a small girl and on the slight side, and the bullies were, to me, very large people who can easily break my bones with a flick of a finger. I started to fear them, especially because they always traveled in a group. A group of 3 boys and 2 girls – all huge. I was torn between doing a good job on the task that was assigned to me and fearing for my life. Somehow I think they knew that I was scared of them. My ranking slipped further that year to third honors.
Fourth grade was when I started to become more confident around them, even as the teasing continued. I stopped being the teacher’s pet though, because I was no longer the top kid the teacher always asked to guard the class. That was a big relief to me. However, one big boy, whose name was Paolo, started singing “teenage mutant ninja turtle” whenever I passed by. Paolo was not in our section, but all the big kids seemed to gravitate toward each other and would hang out together. One day, during our Sportsfest, a bunch of us were lounging on a large mattress that was set on one side of the corridor. The mattress was going to be used for the high jump competitions. Paolo, upon seeing me seated on the mattress, suddenly rushed towards us, held his arms out and started singing out loud to me as he flung himself on the mattress where I was seated. I was able to get up before he hit me. Paolo’s body landed on the mattress, but his face hit the concrete. He chipped a tooth and his mouth was bloodied. That was the happiest that I’d been in a long time. Paolo did not make fun of me anymore since that day, and the other big kids gradually stopped too. By then, I had stopped studying and only received 4th honors that year until I graduated.
I was still getting teased during my 5th and 6th grade but only because the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” song stuck. They’d teased me that because my last name was “Mahinay” which meant “slow”, and turtles are slow. It makes me laugh now, but I used to get really annoyed. Rolan, a small guy, liked to sing that when he sees me, but somehow he seemed pretty friendly even with the teasing. He teased a lot of other girls too. It was Harold whom I was really annoyed with because he would not let up even while in class.
One afternoon, in 6th grade Music, Harold started chanting “turtle, turtle” while he walked by me in the classroom. I decided that I had had enough and, without even thinking, picked up my aluminum pencil case and flung it at his back as he walked past. I saw him jolt forward and that put a smile on my face. Everybody stared, and Harold told the teacher. I felt like a winner. For the first time in my life I was sent to the Principal’s office (with Harold), but the Principal was not there so we were sent back to our class adviser to deal with us.
This was the funny thing. It was obvious that none of our teachers knew that bullying happened in the campus. In fact, I don’t think the word even existed at the time. Our class adviser did not have a clue how to handle our case.
This is what she did.
She placed us inside a classroom with all the windows shut, and she had Harold and me face each other, stretch out our arms and put either hands on each other’s shoulders. Then she made us stare into each other’s eyes for a few seconds. I had to keep myself from laughing. She then said the most ridiculous thing: “You know, there are always two sides to things. There are two sides to a coin. Where there’s hate, there’s love. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year (when we’d be freshmen in high school) I’d see you both walking around, holding hands”. O-M-G.
Maybe that trick worked, because that was the last time Harold had teased me. He had also left the school after that year.
It’s strange though how empowered being not bullied had made me because I had almost become those that I didn’t like. During our Sportsfest in 6th grade, I had entered the 400-meter dash competition which required us to run around the entire oval surrounding the football field. I finished 7th as I recall. Somebody had told me that this 5th grader whose name was Karen (or Caryl?) had said as I crossed the finish line: “I’m not surprised at how she finished, she’s Mahinay (slow)”. Call it pride or blame it on the adrenaline rush, but I marched right to the girl’s classroom, called her out and shoved her against the wall. I then demanded that she take back what she had said. She did not deny it and she apologized. It was when I saw tears streaming down her face that I felt so remorseful and I was so ashamed of myself. I had become a bully. I apologized and she and I became friends after that.
I never received any apologies from my bullies. Now that I think about it, I think that they felt entitled to bullying others, and it made them feel good. Nevertheless, we got along pretty well after grade school.
I had grown several inches when I came back for freshman year, almost as tall or taller than the girls who bullied me. While I had not been tempted to bully anyone ever again, the biggest bullying I ever experienced was actually in high school. But that’s a story I may tell in another post.
My experiences taught me a few lessons from bullying:
- nothing good will come out of it (unless you want people to hate you)
- karma will get you (with a chipped tooth as an added bonus)
- grades do not matter, you have to be street-smart to survive!
What about you? Have you ever been bullied?