My bully Araceli | Inquirer Opinion
High Blood

My bully Araceli

With so many stories about bullying surfacing lately, now we hear even the gorgeous model Tyra Banks admit that she was also bullied when she was a skinny 11-year-old. On the local level, we recently heard of the adult who pointed a gun at the head of a high school student inside a campus in an exclusive subdivision in Makati.

Sometimes, what begins as harmless teasing ends with devastating results. An Irish girl who had just moved to the United States and started going to her new school hanged herself because she was mercilessly teased by her American classmates for her brogue. It turns out that no country is exempt from bullying. A Vietnamese friend told me that school authorities in her country are becoming alarmed at the number of bullying incidents in their schools.

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Are we being overdramatic about this, or should we learn to accept it as a fact of life? After all, who wasn’t bullied in school? If you never experienced being at the receiving end of senseless teasing, you are lucky. Perhaps you were the principal’s daughter or you were generous with your baon. I was somewhat nerdy so I did not belong to any of the school cliques, nor did I have a network of countless cousins as a support group because my family migrated to this town from another province. Boy and girl bullies targeted me as the object of their sport and although I hated it, I shrugged it off as a mere annoyance and never told anyone about it. Perhaps at that time, we took bullies in stride and considered them as mere pests to be ignored and bullying as something that built character. Of course, this was a time before cyberbullies and the gun-toting kinds were around.

My first tormentor in first grade was G, a frisky prankster who was popular with both boys and girls. The boys admired him because he openly flouted the women teachers’ admonitions and sassed them defiantly. The girls loved his dimpled smile and his smart-alecky remarks, which always tickled them into suppressed giggles. One of his favorite pranks was to lie in wait for me on the steps of our Gabaldon-style school building, accompanied by his faithful cohort. As I ambled down, they would start intoning the song, “Hear my song, Vi-o-l-e-e-ta.” I did not know what it was about that song, but I hated it and could not bear to hear even the first measure without breaking into tears, which is what the boys gloatingly waited for. I would make a motion to run after them with the intent of hitting them, but like flies on a pile of poo, they would scamper off in all directions, leaving me in a futile rage.

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In second grade, we were still all together and were assigned to the school’s sternest teacher. She was like an uncompromising drill sergeant who brooked no mischief inside the classroom. Thus, unless it was absolutely necessary to move, we sat almost immobile in fear lest we draw a sarcastic remark from her. Alas, on one occasion, I had the misfortune of needing to go to the bathroom. Before I could raise my hand and say, “Ma’am, may I go out,” my bladder gave and I had an accident in my seat. No sooner was the incident over than the whole class knew about it. Full of evil glee, at every opportunity they had, the same terrorist and his followers reminded me about it for the rest of that year. Fortunately, the following year my tormentors discovered the pleasures of chasing girls and dropped the silly pranks directed toward me.

G’s departure did not end my problems because Araceli, the town’s girl bully, bumped into me. During the rainy season, the grounds around our schoolhouse became slippery and treacherous, especially when one was wearing bakya. I don’t remember how I earned Araceli’s ire. We always gave her a wide berth, wary as we were of her broad shoulders and strong arms that powered her well-known flair for pulling hair. In addition, she did not hesitate to unleash a list of invectives against anyone who dared cross her. She had inherited this vocabulary from a mother known as “kunsintidora.”

I do not recall what provoked her that day except that she must have slipped and fallen in the muck and I, seeing her in a humiliating position, joined the crowd that had gathered around her and started laughing. All I remember was that I was pushed on my back onto the muddy ground, helpless and defensive like an overturned cockroach. Luckily, the older kids around us knew that I was a wimp compared to Araceli, and they intervened before she could get her hands on my hair. From then on, I made sure that I put a lot of distance between Araceli and me.

Even in college, I could not escape from Ms. Cheeky Bully, but that story is for another time. What I want to end with is a confession that I was not always a victim either. I’m ashamed to admit that there were a few times when my good sense took leave and a mean streak took over, aimed at causing my hapless victim much distress. I hope she has forgiven me.

Violeta P. Hughes-Davis, 73, is a “balikbayan” who retired from The Ohio State University.

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TAGS: bullying, education, Philippines, schools, students
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