Once upon a time, long ago and not so very far away, there was a young girl and her name was Tracey Hanratty.
Tracey lived with her mom, dad and sister and had a happy home life. Back in the day, as with many families around where she lived, Tracey’s dad worked full time and her mom worked at home. Her dad came home everyday shortly after 5pm and supper was placed on the table. If they were lucky, after supper they’d get to go out for a drive. They’d go downtown to count the buildings and make sure nothing was out of place. They’d talk about their days and maybe play some little games while on their adventure. Then they’d head home for some family television time before she and her sister went off to bed. Tracey held these times fondly in her heart.
School was another story. Although Tracey loved school and always enjoyed learning, what went on for her first ten years of being at school will always remain in her heart, but for a completely different reason.
Tracey was, for ten years, teased, tormented and picked on. Today the term is bullied. It wasn’t called that in the mid 70’s and 80’s.
At first it was nothing major. Tracey was teased because of her last name. Hanratty was shortened to Ratty. Not a big deal, but it was the way they snarled when they said it.
As the end of elementary neared, Tracey and her family moved which meant she had to change schools. By this time her sister was ready to start school. Tracey was excited, hoping that she’d finally be able to make some friends. But that wasn’t meant to be. She was the ‘new girl’ and rather than being viewed as the ‘cool’ or ‘popular’ new girl, her fellow classmates saw that she was easier to pick on, tease and torment than include her in their circle. Why? Why was it easier for them to tease instead of embrace? She was friendly, if only they would have given her a chance. It was easier to see the skinny, lanky, uncoordinated girl who was a little bit shy going into new surroundings. It was easier to see the girl who had a no defined jaw line that made her look like she didn’t have a chin. It was easier and funny to nickname her Beaker (from the Muppet Show). That was a lot more fun for her classmates than getting to know who this new girl really was.
The name calling continued and expanded. Douche Bag became a true term of endearment. Beaker the Douche Bag. She soon longed to be called ‘Ratty’ again.
Through all this her mom and dad encouraged her to just ignore it – or call them names back. She couldn’t. Tracey’s downfall was that when she was called these hurtful names, she cried. She couldn’t help it. As much as she tried to be strong and ignore them, she just couldn’t. Her feelings were crushed and she couldn’t understand what she ever did to be treated this way.
There came a time when the name calling was replaced with more physical ways to pick on her. Walking to and from school became almost unbearable. Even though she’d try hard to dilly-dally at lunchtime or the end of the day so she didn’t have to walk home at the same time as they did, they’d wait. Throwing snowballs and rocks at her as she walked home was much more enjoyable for them. If they were really wanting to show her the love, they’d spit on her some days. It became a game. Let’s see how quick she’ll cry today. It didn’t take very long. She was walking home with copious amounts of someone else’s saliva rolling down her cheek and all over her jacket.
She often wished she had the strength of her sister. One particularly bad day, she had barely made it off the school grounds when she was being pelted with snowballs as her sister existed the school next door. Nothing doing, her sister put the run on about four of them. Tracey’s hero came to her rescue. There was only one problem. Tracey’s sister was almost five years younger than her. As much as it meant to her, having her sister pick up for her only made things worse, as you can possibly imagine.
They were on a mission after that. One night, upon returning home from a family drive, Tracey’s dad slowed down as he approached their home. Something didn’t look quite right. All over the front of their house and dripping down their front window was easily one dozen eggs. Similar events played out a few more times and always by the next morning, the mess was cleaned and Tracey hoped tomorrow would be a better day.
In the classroom, it was always much the same when the teacher wasn’t looking. One girl in particular taunted Tracey beyond words. If someone did actually want to speak to her or ask her a question, the minute Tracey opened her mouth she was interrupted by a loud “Ssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” every single time. And it wasn’t bad enough that she was shushed, but it was at such close range that again, she was often covered in spittle. More than once her mother suggested that Tracey offer a comeback. Stand up for herself. “Do you supply towels with your showers?” was what Tracey’s mom encouraged her to say. Could she? Could she be so brazen as to stand up to this girl? She waited and her heart pounded. It didn’t take very long for Tracey to be shushed again. With her heart beating in her ears and her face turning read with fear she echoed what her mom told her to say. But she screwed it up. “Do you supply showers with your towels” broke the classroom into choruses of simultaneous laughter. That was the last time Trace ever tried to defend herself or come back with a smart-ass comeback. It was easier to stand there and cry.
During that grade six year the class started public speaking. They had to memorize a passage and stand in front of the class to recite it. The teacher taught his class how to speak confidently, with conviction, in a way that they would be listened to. Many students in the class clowned around and laughed during their presentations. Tracey was finally allowed to talk in the presence of her classmates without being shushed. She enjoyed public speaking. She enjoyed having her voice heard and she longed for Friday afternoons to roll around so she could stand up and look them all in the eyes while she delivered her piece. She felt free. Her teacher encouraged her to continue public speaking and later that year she was chosen to be MC at her school’s Christmas concert.
While she spent most of her time trying to stay away from those who tormented her, there was one girl who genuinely offered her friendship. At first, Tracey wasn’t sure whether or not this was another trick but soon enough she felt comfortable enough and trusted this person enough to look forward to spending time with her. So much so that she joined an extra-curricular activity with her friend. Navy League Cadets was a precursor to Sea Cadets which allowed Tracey a place where she could be free of the torment. Much to her surprise, each year the cadet corp held public speaking competitions with other corps in the area. Working with her teacher, she decided she would enter. Her dad was always a dynamic speaker and she always admired him for that. Within the year Tracey excelled in the corp and led her squad to first place in the drill competition and she walked away with first place in female public speaking.
It was like she lived two lives. While junior high school saw many of the same games during school hours, she held on until it was cadet night. It was there she could be free. She could lead and talk and teach without being shushed.
For a while it almost seemed as though some of the more popular girls were starting to come around. It was during her grade eight year that Tracey hoped her longing for friendship would be realized. The girls paid attention to her and suggested she start wearing some make-up and buy some new clothes. She was so excited when her mom was able to order her coloured denims and a “cool” matching shirt from the Sears catalogue. Maybe by dressing ‘right’ and wearing lipstick, they’d stop tormenting her. It seemed to work. Those girls wanted to nominate Tracey for their homeroom Winter Carnival Princess. With a few days to go before the vote they were anxiously trying to set her up with one of the cute boys to be her date for the Winter Carnival dance. Two of the boys seemed to be arguing with each other over who was going to be Tracey’s date.
Finally, the day of the vote arrived. Tracey made sure she wore the new outfit she was so proud of. At lunchtime she snuck to the washroom to put on some lipstick. Sitting in her homeroom, her heart was pounding and her palms were sweaty, but this time it was for a good reason. She was going to become a princess and the popular girls were the ones who wanted to make it happen. There was only one other girl who was nominated but she told everyone to vote for Tracey. How nice was that? Maybe they were trying to make up for all the years they were so mean. Everyone voted. Tracey’s name and the other girl’s name were put on the chalk board. The teacher started counting the ballots while Tracey sat on the edge of her seat. The first few votes were for the popular girl. Tracey was confused. Finally, there was a vote for Tracey. Then back to the other girl. Vote after vote after vote. The pounding heart full of excitement was replaced with horror as Tracey sat there with the final tally showing one vote to twenty-six for the popular girl. The only ballot with Tracey’s name on it was the one she had written herself. Again, she heard that uncontrollable laughter that some nights woke her from her sleep.
Why were the kids so mean? Why wasn’t Tracey able to stand up for herself?
Was it a bad upbringing? Was it lack of discipline? Was she not taught to be stronger?
The answer to all of the above questions is, for the most part, no.
Tracey and her family knew many of the kids’ parents that picked on her. Many lived in the same neighbourhood. They were good families. They all talked and did neighbourly things together. The kids never tormented her when the parents were around. And if they ever did get out of line, they didn’t have to wait long before they were suffering the consequences. Tracey was raised by parents who encouraged her to stand up for herself yet she still couldn’t dig deep enough to find the courage she needed to be seen as an equal.
Grade ten meant high school. Grade ten meant a new school with the opportunity to attend Holy Angels. All girls. Hardly any of the popular girls were going there. Maybe, between cadets and a new school with none of the tormentors being there, Tracey would have half of a chance at spreading her wings from the depths of her cocoon.
This is where the nightmare stopped and the fairy tale began. The butterfly that emerged from the cocoon was free to fly. What should have been allowed to happen many years before transformed almost over night. As Tracey excelled to heights she could have never imagined, high school came and went in the blink of an eye. Her final three years gave her what she longed for during the first ten years in school. She didn’t want them to end. It was there that she made life-long friends and learned what it was like to be accepted for who she was. She was finally an equal and was encouraged by her peers, as well as her parents.
And, for the most part, they all lived happily ever after.
Some story, huh? In all actuality, I really wish I had never had to write it, read it, or especially live it.
I was that kid that was walked all over while everyone else looked on and laughed. Fortunately, I got through it.
There was no internet, there were no cell phones, there was respect for authority and one’s self (or at least more so than today). It truly was a different time.
Over the years I have been approached either in person or online by several of those kids who picked on me. I have been apologized to and told that if their children ever treated another human being the way they treated me when we were younger, there’d be hell to pay. They openly owned their part in making my childhood miserable. And I forgave them.
I don’t ever remember there being a blame-game. I don’t ever remember Mom and Dad talking down about or to the parents of the kids who tormented me. I don’t remember hostility, verbal attacks or an-eye-for-an-eye attitude from the grown-ups.
It makes me wonder how it was dealt with before everything that happened in everyone’s lives became so public and open for interpretation by people who know no one involved.
I was bullied, in today’s terms.
It was awful and my heart relives it every time I hear of another child going through a difficult time. I want to reach out to them and beg them to be strong, be courageous, and confident – be everything I couldn’t be until grade ten. I want to tell them that as hard as it is right now, it will all pass. When I think of the young people involved in hurting others I wish I could time warp them to the point in their life when they had the choice to be kind or be hurtful. I’d give anything to be able to show them a youtube video of what I went through then fast forward to the apologies I received.
Friends, we only get a chance to go through this life once. Our youth, our kids, our successors need our guidance, our strength and our support.
We all need to dig down and call on every ounce of courage and confidence that we have. We have to own our actions before we can expect our children to own theirs. We have to be accountable to ourselves and to our future generation. We have to be willing to stand together instead of spitting on each other as we walk through life.
By being the change we want to see in the world we give our young people the examples they need to grow into the adults of tomorrow who perhaps one day won’t have to apologize for the hurt and pain they inflicted on their fellow humans.
Told with thanks and respect for those who owned their actions.
Until next time…