I don’t like to air dirty laundry like this, but I feel that this anecdote is particularly important because it extends past bullying and moves right on into harassment territory without stopping.
When I was in the fourth grade, my mother was finishing up her prison term for domestic abuse (out early on good behavior). I had been the target of bullying ever since she lost control of her drinking problem when I was seven years old and the other parents decided they didn’t want their children exposed to that. Now, I realize that things like “You’re trash because your mother is trash” aren’t phrases that schoolchildren make up on their own; it starts in the home with the (vindictive, frightened, ignorant) parents who don’t understand the situation at hand one bit.
I was in the lunch room one day—I’m pausing here to note that every single day in school, from grades two through twelve, were hellish—when the girls at the next table over started whispering and looking at me funny. It wasn’t long before I learned that one girl, who I had been friends with since kindergarten, had started a rumor that my mother was in prison because “[my] mom tried to kill [her] mom.”
In reality, all I know for certain is that my mother had frequently taken me over to their house to play and gone off to hang out and drink with the girl’s father, which (knowing my mother) meant that they were likely having an affair. The only way I can wrap my head around this grade school viciousness is that perhaps, once my mother had gone to prison, the girl’s mother had found out about it and said something particularly off-color, which my classmate then overheard.
This is pure speculation, of course; I’ve been the target of some unspeakable things over the years at the hands of my peers, and it helps to at least speculate about why people are so damn horrible. (Since becoming a misanthrope and existential nihilist, existence is much easier because I no longer feel the need to find logic in the terrible things other people do.)
When I went to my teacher to report what had happened, she told me it wasn’t her problem and that I had to deal with it on her own. A nine-year-old was expected to deal with a vicious rumor about a supposedly homicidal mother that everyone in the grade (which was a decent number of people) believed. I had spent a lot of time crying over being bullied in the past, but this is the first time I can remember that I was actually afraid of what my peers might say or do to me, and by extension, my family. I didn’t want their parents to find out and start shit with my aunt, who was stressed out enough trying to provide for us, and my grandmother, who had enough on her plate with raising a child and having a daughter in prison.
Sidenote: While the teacher was reading us The BFG one day, a book I had previously adored, I found a paperclip on the floor and began nervously unwinding it. When I approached her to ask a question later, she responded by saying “Don’t you come at me with that thing.” I’m guessing she thought that because my mother had supposedly attempted murder, I was a particularly evil child with purely malevolent intentions rather than an unfortunate kid who was fidgety because she was a goddamn nervous wreck by that point.
There’s really no point to this, other than sharing one particularly horrendous scene from my grade school days. I have countless others, but none are quite as terrible as this (other than the time a classmate with some behavioral disorder beat me over the head with a backpack on our way out of school; when my mother called to complain, the teacher and principal insisted that I “must have done something to provoke him”).
When I confronted by mother a few years ago about the special hell her bad decisions had created for me, she refused to acknowledge it and retorted, “You think you had it bad?” and went on to rant about her experiences in prison. We’ve since developed something of an uneasy friendship, like a cobra and a mongoose (I like to think that because she’s getting on in years, I am more like the mongoose, having learned how to quickly detect someone’s weak points and be vicious when absolutely necessary; those times are few and far between). But we have never discussed those years since.
And it still hurts.