Bullying and worms | Inquirer Opinion
Young Blood

Bullying and worms

/ 12:22 AM November 24, 2016

When I was in grade school, I was bullied relentlessly for the following reasons: I wore huge glasses, I had a big, blue left eye, and I had a strange last name. I discovered these because my classmates passed notes around and sometimes, while picking up after myself, I’d see them scattered on the floor. It hurt me a lot to read these things, but I didn’t understand why it ought to hurt. I mean, they were just glasses, right? I needed them to see stuff, and they didn’t stop me from seeing the sorry, ugly faces of my detractors, anyway.

Because I was hurt, I turned to books. I lived inwardly, tucked away in a corner of the library for a good three quarters of the year. Once, I wanted to get even and so I inflicted the Dewey Decimal System that I had learned by heart upon an unsuspecting classmate. In a Reading class where the mean girl sitting next to me could hardly make out the categories, much less spell the word “philosophy” (for shame!), I raised my hand and asked if I could recite it from memory. I went from 000 to 999—General Reference to History—all under three minutes.

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I felt triumphant and my teacher was glowing, but of course, that just intensified the bullying. I stopped speaking up and spent P10 every day on the pay phone at lunch and recess to call my mother and ask her about her day. The routine was just an extension of our Fridays when she would take me religiously to see my ophthalmologist. We were hospital regulars, and because we got along so well, I forgot about how much it hurt to go to school.

Everyone needs a friend like my mother—to think we’re ages apart in human years! She would let me explore the corridors as long as she could see me, and it didn’t bother her that I spoke to strangers. We brought books with us to while away the time and she did not mind that I collected more rocks than friends, and could classify them as either sedimentary, metamorphic, or igneous.

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One day, we had to bring earthworms to school for Science class. I can’t remember what became of them, only that during my lunch break, I dug my fingers into the wet earth, lifted a patch, and watched in fascination as one little worm moved its entire body with such synchronized motion. The magnificence of that worm was so great that even as I got weirder looks around me—imagine being worm handler, too, on top of everything else—I could not help but share the moment.

I took a look at the girls surrounding me, grabbed the hand of the one who looked most unfazed, and passed on my little friend, with some hope that it would survive in someone else’s hands. “Eeew!” was the collective’s response, but the one girl in whose hands I entrusted my worm, that one girl—she was smiling. To think she was among those who gave me the most trouble. She led a small army of girls to think a certain way about me and, of course, because they liked the safety she gave them, they agreed to take part in the hating. Yet, there she was, enjoying a moment with my worm that I thought could only belong to me.

Life is not fair. Sometimes the people who hurt us most also take part in our joy, and because we are hurt, it’s so easy to just crush the worm. Why should anyone be happy if we are not, right?

But what if, despite the pain, we let it live? What happens then? In the small hours we would spend growing up, I soon learned that my bullies were just girls who weren’t comfortable in their own skin. They were products themselves of different types of violence, and because pain is always hard to deal with, it became much easier for them to just pass it on to others. Their followers are the same. In a false attempt to grow into their own person, they hide under the shadow of a bigger voice thinking it’s a safe space—until it no longer is because they can hardly hear themselves speak.

Many of you have asked me if I’m afraid of these times and cautioned me against speaking critically because the bullies are at hand and they are persistent. They employ a violent language and lie to us to feed our uncertainty and feast on our shame. Am I scared? Not quite.

I know what it’s like to be truly silenced, and if I can let you in on a secret, it wasn’t the bullies that got me. It was me. I shut myself up because I really believed that silence would keep me safe. Well, it did not.

It was my own voice that saved me, and I keep my worms alive—because out there, when you pass on a tiny thing that throbs with incredible life, you give small hands a chance at having real power, instead of the illusion of it. And the worms? Wow, the worms! They are nature’s engineers. They mix the soils of our lives so that good things grow. Good things can grow.

Nash Tysmans, 28, is a teacher and community worker.

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TAGS: books, bullying, mothers, Reading
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