The hate club

Melrose High School (1932-1974)

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The thought my sister gave me this week asks about the eternal destiny of a person who made my teen years… well, if not hell, exactly, then certainly more difficult than they already had to be.

Sometime between 6th grade and 11th, I became the target of what I’d have to characterize as a hate club.

It’s taken me until today to call it what it was: I was being bullied.

Even today if I look back and try to figure out if there was something I did that made me their target… Some way that I had offended… Some way in which I could have earned their ire…

… nothing. I honestly have no idea.

There were 5 or 6 of them, and the ringleader was a girl who was a year behind me in school. That’s part of what makes it so weird. I wasn’t even in their grade. They didn’t have to interact with me at all. I was a quiet kid in another grade, in some years another school. Her little brother was in my sister’s grade, and gave her a hard time for no reason either. I don’t know. Did he start picking on my sister because his evil bugger of a big sister had targeted me? Did she target me because her brother was an evil little bugger who had targeted my sister?

I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. Either way, these kids were bad news for us. And were it not for the thought for this week, these are not people I would choose to consider at all.

But back in the day, I needed to consider them, because they never seemed to stop considering me. A couple of the girls in their circle lived farther up the street from us. And the ringleader… well, she lived beyond us.

Which meant, their crowd walked right down our street to get home from school…

… down that last stretch of my walk home, when all my friends had turned off to their respective streets, and I was the last one left…

There’s not much rhyme or reason to it, I don’t give it much thought any more. But I remember, now that I stop to think about it, how it felt to watch over my shoulder on the walk home, to be nervous in the hallways at school. How prank phonecalls started coming to the house, with female voices rendered falsely low and threatening, repeating endlessly “Gringita sucks. Gringita sucks. Gringita sucks.”

Click.

Ring ring.

Ring ring.

Ring ring.

Don’t answer the phone.

I don’t know how it was for my sister, being in the same grade with the bratty brother, having him always around. But I remember the pit of fear in my stomach, and the way I just wanted to make peace, and that peace was not something they were willing to make with me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want an enemy; I had one. Heck, I had a whole pack of them.

I remember the day I forgot my house key – a huge mistake for a latchkey kid – and waited on the porch for my sister to come home, only to see that the next person coming down the street was… oh no, not herOh yes. And so I rushed back to the door, practically climbing between the screen and the door, rifling through my bag for a key that I knew with certainty was not there, in hopes that she would just pass by. That maybe she wouldn’t notice me there. That maybe if she did she wouldn’t bother me, knowing I was on my own porch.

She walked up… slowed… stood at the end of the walkway and started talking to me.  I was not doing more than glancing in her direction, just so I would know where she was in relation to me. Hands on hips, all attitude. Someone told me you said you were going to beat me up, she informed me. I don’t know who told you that, but I never said anything like that, I told her, shaking my head in denial, still rifling for a nonexistent key. I was the smallest kid in my class, and to this day I don’t like conflict. There was no circumstance in which I would have threatened her. Not only that, but she was usually in a pack, and I was usually alone; I would have had to have a death wish to threaten her. My heart was pounding through my chest, my hands were shaking, and all I could think was Please go away. Please go away. But she wasn’t going away. She was standing on the walk to our porch, cool as a cucumber, no intentions of ever moving on and going home. Come down here. We’ll just see who’s going to beat who up, she said. She had taken that one step onto the walk, but didn’t seem to be coming any closer. Yet, anyway. Probably she was just enjoying how scared I seemed. Whatever, there was only one escape that didn’t involve me getting in a pointless fight; I rang the upstairs doorbell for the landlord’s unit. They would have a key; in any case there would be a witness to whatever might happen next. Another time then, she said as she walked away. By the time the neighbor kid came down I was an inch from crying, limp and noodly as all the adrenaline of my flight response ran out of my body.

There was another time, that I stayed after school. I don’t know why. I wasn’t in trouble; I was never in trouble. I had been helping the teacher or something. Erasing the boards. Talking about the reading assignment. Something like that, because that was the kind of nerdy kid I was. A threat to no one. And the next day I got called to the principal’s office because one of the cars in the lot had gotten egged and the bratty little brother said he’d seen me walking home around that time and that I’d done it. I remember crying when I got accused. I remember admitting that I’d left school late, and telling why I’d left school late – really you can ask my teacher – but that I hadn’t seen anything and why would I do such a terrible thing, and where would I even get eggs…  The more obvious thing, in retrospect, was that the brat was involved somehow and hoped to pin it on me – heck, for all I know he could have been the one telling his sister that I wanted to fight her. Again, to this day I have no idea why I would have been singled out for his attention. At the time, I wasn’t even sharp enough to make the counter-accusation, only to proclaim my innocence.

Fortunately the principal had no experience with me, and my teachers did; no one ever said another thing to me about the egging incident.

And through all of it, I never told my parents. Not when the crank calls were coming. Not when she stood there and threatened me on our walkway. Not when I was accused. Not when we all got to junior high and I ended up in the same gym class as her entire crowd. (That was a fairly sucky year, all in all. Because, you know, if you’re not feeling insecure enough as a teen, the best thing to cap it off would be to have to share a locker room with a bunch of people who seem to want you dead. And if you’re not feeling threatened enough by a hate club, the best thing would be to have to be in a state of vulnerable half-dress around them. I got very, very good at finding a tucked-away stall and changing incredibly quickly.)

No, I didn’t tell my parents. My sister knew a good bit more of what was happening – at least what happened near home. But I didn’t tell my parents what was happening to me – to us – as if I thought I would get in trouble if they knew.

The first inkling my parents had that anything was wrong was the pleasant afternoon when I was sitting on my porch, reading quietly, and their mother drove up, jumped our of her car, and started screaming at me for running down her son on his bike.

Now, first off, I didn’t know who she was, until my enemy and her bratty brother climbed out of the car too. And then I realized that earlier that day I had seen him on his bike. He had been riding in the cemetery at the end of our street – where all the kids rode. But I hadn’t been riding that day. I don’t remember even wanting to go riding that day… but in all honesty, I wouldn’t have chosen to go into the cemetery to ride once I knew he was there. The kid was trouble, and I didn’t need any more interactions with their family. As much as humanly possible, I was giving them a wide berth.

In any case, this woman pulls up, jumps out of her car, and starts screaming at me for attacking her kid and running into him with my bike and causing two flat tires (an accusation that still makes no sense to me even today) … and at the time I am shocked so stupid that I just ask dumb questions. Like I’m trying to make any sense of this insanity. Run into his bike? In the cemetery? But he was riding just this morning? And she is screaming how my knowing where he was when it supposedly happened is proof that I did it… and my parents are coming out of the house, confused as heck because some crazy woman is screaming out front and what could this be about and holy crap she’s yelling at our kid! And I’m the the kid in the neighborhood that doesn’t say boo to anyone, so this is so out of left field… an alien landing might have seemed more plausible. Even more so because they’ve never even heard before this moment that my sister and I were having problems with these nutjob kids before, as all kinds of accusations are now flying around willy-nilly about me attacking the son, and threatening them, and how I have been making crank calls to them and God only knows what else…

And through all the yelling and crying, I have a sort of vague sense of my sister urgently trying to tell my mom and dad that NO they’re the ones who’ve been making crank calls to us, and one of the neighbor boys speaking up to say that they saw the kid in the cemetery earlier too but his bike was fine then and that I’ve just been sitting here reading all morning…

There’s a lot of noise and conflict and crying (on my part) and it’s all a nightmarish blur to me. I remember being sent inside. I don’t know what happened outside after that. I don’t remember the conversations when they came back inside…

Later we ended up having a tracer put on our line (because those were the days before caller ID) and the stories started to spill out, and I felt guilty for not telling my parents before, but then I’d felt guilty when it was happening, which is probably why I didn’t tell them in the first place.

Guilty for what, I’m not sure. For not knowing how to handle it, maybe? For not being able to defend either of us from this gang of haters?

Or maybe just because I don’t need to be guilty to feel guilty.

And so my sister asks me this question about what I think will ultimately become of this horrible girl, and their horrible family, who made both of our lives so difficult once-upon-a-time. We moved away some years later, and so I wouldn’t know (and didn’t really care) what became of them.

So now I stop, and remember them. And I wonder a bit.

I don’t know what kind of things were going on in their lives to make them the way they were… I would like to think there was some reason for all that hatefulness that needed to go somewhere, even if it was at me. At us.

I dunno, Sis. God’s grace in Christ is amazing. It’s redeeming. It’s transforming. I’m thankful for it in my life, because for all I was “a good kid” I wasn’t that good. Certainly not good enough to meet the standard of holy perfection required to stand in God’s presence.

I know my need for grace; I really hope they’ve experienced it too.

Maybe one day I’ll know, if the Lord decides it’s any of my business. Until then, I’m not going to worry about it. Anyway, I’d rather focus on love than hate.

And Sis? I love you!

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About aka gringita
Flotsam generator. Amateur photographer. Avid traveler. Christ follower.

2 Responses to The hate club

  1. I was bullied myself growing up, and while I’d like to say there was no rhyme or reason for it, in my case – both times – I was defending other people the bullies had targeted. Still, why they were bullying those people in the first place is an excellent question.

    Mean people suck.

    Like

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