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(elisha lim/Elisha Lim for The Globe and Mail)
(elisha lim/Elisha Lim for The Globe and Mail)

I saw my childhood bully again Add to ...

My parents told me that kids were just jealous of me, that I should ignore them, that things would get better.

I was in Grade 7 and going to school was akin to enduring a living hell. My parents’ words, while quite accurate, did nothing to change this fact.

My tormentor was a big-boned girl with short hair and bad skin. “Kelly” had taken an instant dislike to me for reasons that were never made clear. She possessed some sort of charisma that drew the other kids to her, despite the fact that she wasn’t especially attractive, she wasn’t athletic, she didn’t get good grades and most teachers were annoyed by her antics.

She used her charms to turn the other girls against me – girls I had been friends with since the first grade.

One day, she commented that the paperback I was reading seemed interesting. I eagerly asked her if she wanted to borrow it when I was done. Months later, she returned it to me, ripped to shreds.

She told other kids that I had body odour and bad breath. During band practice, I averted my eyes from the kids who plugged their noses as I played my flute.

Another time, I opened my locker (which we were not allowed to actually have a lock on) to find a bottle of deodorant tucked neatly into one of my winter boots. I quickly shoved it to the bottom of my school bag and hoped no one had noticed, even though I’m positive all the kids around me were watching and waiting for my reaction.

On another occasion, I had finally convinced my parents to allow me to ride my 10-speed bike to school. When the dismissal bell rang, I ran to the racks to find that my narrow front tire had been stomped into a pretzel.

I had no choice but to drag my bike the one kilometre back to my house. Several cars passing me along the way stopped to make sure a vehicle hadn’t hit me. I was forced to explain each time that I hadn’t been struck by a car – that someone had physically done this to my bike.

Of course, I have no proof this was all the handiwork of Kelly, but her smirking face is what I still see in my mind whenever I recall Grades 7 and 8.

Upon entering high school, I discovered a sanctuary. I was free to make new friends with people who didn’t know me as the ugly girl with B.O.

Losing her big-fish-in-a-little-pond status, Kelly floundered. I don’t even remember her after Grade 9, and I’m pretty sure she never graduated.

As the years passed, I pushed junior high to the back of my mind and revelled in high school. I’m ashamed to admit that I partook in many instances of bullying myself – the underhanded, conniving variety that is just as bad, if not worse, as the kind I had once endured. The pointed glance and then whisper in the cafeteria; snarky sarcasm that would be misread as sincerity until the group of us would dissolve into laughter. I recall a younger girl who wanted to attend a high-school dance with me and my friends. We told her to meet us on the street corner at 7 p.m. and that we would all make our way to the dance together. My friends and I went straight to the dance without meeting her and never gave it another thought. Kids can be cruel.

The fact that I could turn the tables so easily gave me a high. Only afterward did I feel ashamed and appalled. It’s amazing how easy it is to allow the promise of popularity thwart you from what is right and just.

Some years later, while standing in the checkout line at a discount department store, I saw that Kelly was the cashier. Whereas I felt that the years since junior high had done me well, I noticed they seemed to have had the opposite effect on her. Her body, once pleasantly plump, was now scrawny. She seemed a decade older than her 24 years.

I’ll admit, I felt empowered standing in that lineup and handing her my purchases. She glanced up at me briefly, a flicker of recognition and then embarrassment on her face. She didn’t make eye contact afterward.

And just like that all the rage I had built up deflated and turned to pity. A couple of months later, I saw her standing at a bus stop screaming at her children.

Recently, while thinking back on this time in my life, I recalled an incident buried deep in my mind. At 13, it had seemed insignificant – just another part of Kelly’s mean and spiteful shenanigans. Thinking of it now, it rocks me to my core.

In Grade 8, Kelly confided to one of her minions that her stepfather abused her. This juicy tidbit was passed around from kid to kid, all of us relishing the news until it made its way to a school aide.

The aide confronted Kelly and she vehemently denied it, saying she had never stated such a fact, and later saying she had been joking and had made the whole thing up. Just like that, the case was closed.

It’s taken me 25 years to realize that her living hell didn’t end at 3:30 p.m. every day like mine did. And it probably didn’t get better once she reached high school.

I often wonder what a difference it would have made in her life, her children’s lives, if this school aide would have reported the abuse. I wonder what kind of difference it would have made in my life, too.

Tanya Kuzmanovic lives in Oakville, Ont.

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