One of my first kindergarten memories doesn’t have anything to do with school at all. It’s the walk home that vividly sticks with me. I didn’t live far from school, and I routinely walked home with the rest of the kids who lived in nearby. We weren’t exactly friends, just fellow travelers by circumstance, and after about a block or two, the group would start to disperse.
If you’d think nothing would happen in that short distance, you’d be wrong. We had barely taken a step off school property one day when the heckling began. The focal point was a kid whose only transgression was being overweight. The kids–even the big kids, third graders–called him names, and the more upset he got, the more they heckled him.
The kid began to separate himself from the crowd. In my head, it looked (and still looks) like a pint-sized mob scene. Pack of kids in the back, lone kid in the front trying hard not to flinch at the word daggers hitting him from behind, moving toward home as fast as his legs could carry him.
When the kid neared his house (or maybe it was just the corner where he would turn and the others would continue straight ahead), he turned around and yelled the worst insult his five-year-old self could conjure: “YOU F***ERS!” before he ran inside to safety.
Bullies. Jerks. Such cruel kids.
I was part of that group.
I’d like to say that I didn’t do any name calling–I don’t think I did, but maybe that’s just my memory smoothing things over. I was uncomfortable, that’s for sure. I remember going home and talking to my mom about what had happened, ashamed of the taunting and bewildered that lightning hadn’t struck the kid for saying that worst-of-all word.
Regardless, I was still part of that group.
I didn’t stick up for that kid. I didn’t separate myself to walk with him. I didn’t offer comfort. I didn’t leave. I didn’t have to say a word to be complicit, and to this day, I’m ashamed of myself.
I had to look at that kid in class every day; our last names started with the same letter, so we never sat very far apart. And though I was wracked with guilt and could barely make eye contact, I never apologized. Until we graduated from high school, I never apologized, although every time I saw that kid I would think about the kindergarten incident.
Eventually, time and distance put it out of my mind, but when a friend recounted a bullying scenario in which her young daughter was involved, that long-ago walk home came screaming back into my head. I shared it with her, and she suggested that I apologize to him. So I’m going to, through this blog.
And I’m going to use it to remind my kids, myself, and anyone who will listen that sometimes a person communicates more by where she chooses to stand than by the words she uses–or doesn’t use. Get out of the crowd and stand for what’s right, friends. The concept of “safety in numbers” doesn’t apply to your soul.
So, RH, I admire you for standing up for yourself that day. I wish I would have joined you. I’m sorry.