The Late Bus (Thoughts about bullying).
The ‘late bus’ was exactly that: the bus that would take all the kids home who stayed after school to enjoy sports and clubs. I loved the late bus! I managed to need it every day, for chess club, Audio Visual Aid Society, office filing, ‘guitar friends’ and more. I strategically joined clubs that yes, did interest me, but also that protected me from the regular bus. I would try the regular bus at the beginning of every school year, optimistically (naively) thinking that this year would be different (or more likely because the late bus hadn’t started running yet).
By day three of every new school year I would be at the doctor’s office with an asthma attack, my particular brand consisting of real bronchial constriction accompanied by genuine panic. My trusty inhaler (yes, like the kid in “The Goonies”), gave kids additional fodder – twice it was stolen. Once after-school activities cranked up, the bus became a dependable respite from the fear. Sports kids had their own bus, and there were only about 10 of us on the long scenic rambling ride home.
Besides the bus there were other fearful times, like the 20 minute lunch in the packed, semi-supervised cafeteria, where I rapidly learned to hover near the lunch aide while she told me intimate, inappropriate details about her pending divorce. This was the welcomed alternative to having my food dumped on the floor or worse. After-school activities were the ticket to the late bus. Lest the activities sound like a magic carpet, there was a cost for this daily lift home. I would miss my beloved Dark Shadows during one whole school year. In exchange I was provided with safety and social interaction with other nerdy kids like me.
What did I do between 2:20 and 3:20 each day? I tried yearbook and newspaper, both seemed very cliquey. Um, no I’m not published yet, I’m in MIDDLE SCHOOL.
I was the first and only girl to be in the chess club, and while some of the guys were not happy to have me there, most were kind and wanted to teach me moves/show off theirs. What began as a clean dry safe place to go for an hour turned into a hobby that would bring me pleasure for many years.
AVA, as the Audio Visual Aid Society was known, had multiple risks and rewards. Like chess, there was the favorable balance of boys and girls, and I fancied that this would be good for a date one day (there’s that youthful optimism again)! I loved that it was boy laden, that there was somehow testosterone involved in having the ability to thread a movie projector. The risks included spitballs flying when the Dukane slide show was stupifyingly boring or worse yet, when 35mm film ran all over the floor when the take up reel wasn’t properly aligned.
Another favorite afternoon hideout was when the art teacher brought in his classical guitar and taught a handful of us a handful of chords in a sleepy, John Denver sort of way. We were never alone with him and he never tried to talk to us about anything but guitar, but somehow my father got wind of this and put a stop to it. Certainly a teacher that would stay after for a non-sanctioned school jam had only evil on his mind. While this makes sense in the present, post-Sandusky atmosphere, it made no sense to me and caused me to scramble for the last activity that would make me eligible for my 3:30 limo.
I knew it was unnatural to try and hide in the girls room and I knew it was unnatural to be afraid to go to the girls room because the restroom was filled with smoke. Teachers, who were supposed to watch the restrooms between classes, were in the teachers’ lounge for a smoke themselves. I am grateful for my band director who let me hide (and cry when needed) in the band room, under the guise of organizing sheet music (yet another reason for staying late!).
Of the many themes surrounding bullying today, three resonate with me personally. One was that I thought I deserved it. Let that roll around in your marble a bit. I thought I did not deserve to take the regular school bus for seven years.
Secondly, it was the early 70’s. Alice Cooper was the sound track. I was playing John Denver on my guitar. I was, perhaps, acoustically asking to be bullied.
Finally, I always believed that that some clergy, teacher, angel or trusted adult was going to come along any day and make it stop. Faith /mustard seed that. If these adults were too busy smoking in the teacher’s lounge to even notice me, how could they be trusted to help me?
I did have friends, kids who stuck by me even though they may have paid for it by being bullied themselves. There were teachers who stayed late and appeared to be cleaning up their desks, most likely chaperoning me and a few others like me.
One particularly fun activity was filing the notes parents would send in explaining their child’s absence. They would let them pile up and then allow one lucky student (me!) the opportunity to file them. I am pretty sure that I wasn’t supposed to read them, but oh, what fun! [At our house, my mom had a very hard line on these notes, and due to my asthmatic attendance record, there were plenty of them! She felt that my absence was none of anyone’s business but hers, and would always write the exact same thing: To whom it may concern, please excuse my daughter for being absent (date). That was the total note. When I got the job filing these notes I of course looked up my own file first off, only to see a big thick wad of identical notes from my mom.]
I explored some more unique notes written by the parents of the very kids that were taunting me. Reading them, I realized the irony: I missed school because I was afraid and your mom had to write a note about it.
Pease excuse Harry for missing 3 days of school. He had an unexplained nosebleed.
Dear Assistant Vice Principal,
Please excuse Theodore’s (date) absence. The dentist was replacing his tooth.
I began this post because of several events. I saw Anderson Cooper’s show about the film Bully. I visited the website and learned some things I didn’t know about current bullying and anti-bullying practices. While I’ve always felt that more needs to be done by adults to create a safe environment for adolescents and teens, new information has changed my attitude about the bullies themselves. There are hundreds of websites to sort through for more information, I direct you to The Bully Project. While the project is a here and now kind of thing, understanding the mind of the bully is a lifelong endeavor for some (me). This post is to add my voice. Here is one place where you can add yours: http://www.causes.com/causes/654364-the-bully-project/actions/1628010