Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I shall pray for you

I spent my formative years in a Roman Catholic Convent. As a direct result of that experience I have a vast knowledge of bullying behaviour. Unlike my own children’s enlightened school, there was no anti-bullying policy.

Bullying, like any other unpleasantness, had to be endured, a cross to bear for the greater good of our immortal souls. My immortal soul shriveled during target practice.

I was an ideal candidate, a head shorter than my peers, round and freckle faced. I made regular visits to the confessional on a Saturday morning to cleanse my immortal soul prior to Mass the following day. I would detail my laundry list of offences before the priest. At the end, he would often ask if there was anything else I wanted to ask. I took this as an invitation to moan about my poor benighted lot in life. I gathered that the priest had little experience of childhood or maybe it was just too long ago, but in any event, his advice was to tell my persecutors that I would pray for them. It sounded like sage advice to me and I took the first available opportunity to put it into practice.

I didn’t have to wait very long.

Sadly, the priest’s advice did not bring about relief. As I dusted myself off from my latest pulping, I decided that an alternative plan was required. I had tested my mother’s advice, ‘ignore them,’ but that had proved fruitless. I had followed my sister’s advice, ‘walk away,’ but ended up running at warp speed on short little fat legs. I ended up with a mentally satisfying option, whatever they said, I would agree with them, whole heartedly, good naturedly, enthusiastically, followed by a jolly good simper. The balm of sarcasm would maintain my sanity.

“Hey McEwen, come over here so I can join the dots on your face!”
“Oooo please do, that would be delightful. Do you have a pen? Here you can borrow mine. I wish I was as talented an artist as you are.”

It didn’t work at first, but I kept trying.

The leader of the pack was one wizen and twisted Geraldine, the bane of my life. A cross between Dick Dastardly and Cruella de Ville. I instinctively knew that if I could just get her to crack a smile, I would bend her to my will, or failing that, slip under the radar. Her torments were regular and unfailing. Apple pie beds, stealing tuck boxes, hiding mail, public humiliation of every kind devised by the truly unloved.

It wasn’t the pain of being tripped up in line and sprawling on the floor, it was the punishment that followed from the staff for this misdemeanour offence, “McEwen! Get up this minute and cover your embarrassment! This kind of wanton spectacle will not be tolerated. Go to the chapel and say twelve Hail Mary’s and pray for humility, modesty and chastity.”

The days passed slowly into weeks. One term followed another but I still bobbed above the Plimsoll line. During a holiday period I happened to break one of my arms, again.
“But I can’t go back to school! I can’t write!”
“You can still learn. You can learn to write with your left hand.” So returned to school with a cast. I was so miserable to learn that there was no escape from school that I hadn’t the will power to submit to Geraldine any longer. I kept a very low profile, lizard like but she still sought me out.

Triumphs when they come, are often small, not a fireworks display, merely an ever so slightly damp squib.

“So there you are McEwen. Licking your wounds no doubt.”
“Hardly, I don’t like the taste of plaster of Paris.”
“You look……grumpy.”
“That’s right I am grumpy. Very grumpy. Very grumpy indeed.”
“Good, I can give you something to be really grumpy about then.” I saw her take something out of her skirt pocket. My brother’s old catapault, purloined from my room! “Want it back?” she weasled, dangling it before my eyes. Lizards can sometimes move very fast. I snatched it back and shoved the single end down the cast to scratch the itchy bits, “ah that’s much better, how thoughtful of you.” I whipped it out with a cloud of old dried skin cells. “Here, you can borrow it for a bit if you like?” Geraldine didn’t sneeze but her nose wrinkled.

I should like to say that she stopped bothering me after that, that I won, but I think it’s more that she lost interest, or perhaps found a new and more interesting interest.

Now that I am a grown up person, I suspect that ghastly Geraldine was also homesick. For all her bravado, she had no friends, only cohorts. Perhaps our powerlessness in an adult world, provoked her to gain control and revenge. I often think that resilience and persistence are the flip sides of the same coin.

Maybe she did me a favour after all?

It all seems such a long time ago from my current "existence."


The Anti-Wife said...

Very interesting memory. It's odd the things that shape us as kids and how we choose to remember them.

Linda said...

I'm not sure if Geraldine did you any favors or not (I'm going to guess "not" to be honest) but I'm sure she taught you well the type of people to avoid. Children can be about as mean as they come but the saddest thing is when they never grow out of this sort of behavior and end up being adults with the same nasty habits.

Angela said...

It has always amazed me how much meaner girls can be than boys... just an observation.