I don’t know what it was about me that attracted the attention of high school bullies. I wasn’t fat or short, I didn’t wear glasses or braces, I wasn’t odd-looking in any way. I was utterly ordinary. I was, in fact, exceeding quiet and went to great lengths to remain anonymous.
Maybe they sensed that if pushed far enough I would lash out, say or do something in a pathetic effort to defend myself, and give them an excuse to punch me in the face. I lost count of the times I would be standing with a group of friends and passing bullies would single me out as the one to antagonize.
It usually started with some ridiculous preliminary banter. They would say something like – ‘That’s a nice watch.” If I said – “Yes, it is, thank you’ – they would accuse me of being smart and stuckup. If I said – ‘No, it isn’t’ – they would challenge me for disagreeing with them. It didn’t matter what I said, within minutes I would end up in a ‘head-lock’ with someone punching me in the face.
During the middle years of high school avoiding the bullies became my primary objective. I avoided the school toilets (what is it about bullies and toilets!) and the canteen. Recess and lunch breaks were spent in the library. While before school I didn’t linger in the yard but went straight to class. The most dangerous periods were between classes when walking from one building to another. I soon learnt to know what classes the bullies had, and which route I had to take in order to avoid them.
I didn’t expect to have to worry about them in class, however, the climactic episode of my bullying experiences occurred in the middle of science lesson.
It so happened that one lesson I found myself at the back of the class on a desk adjoining another which seated a group of the worst bullies in my year level. One, in particular, seemed to have singled me out as a regular target. His name was Neville Camberwell. He was skinny and scrawny, had long stringy hair and a mean little face. He and the others decided to shoot spitballs at me. At first, I attempted to ignore them. But it was difficult to pretend that there weren’t great globs of spit clinging to my neck and cheek, and scattered across my workbook, and in the end I told them to ‘piss off’.
Of course, the teacher happened to hear me, not the spitting bullies, and made me move even further back in the room, actually behind the table of bullies. I was now completely out of sight of the teacher, and closer to the bullies. They continued their bombardment, until once again I reacted, probably with something ineffectual like – ‘Please stop it.’
The next moment, Neville Camberwell was standing in front of my desk. ‘Ya gonna stop me!’ he taunted. There was no way out of it. I had to do or say something. A string of suitable responses flitted through my head – ‘Fuck off and die’ and ‘Eat shit’ and others. But I went with, of all things – ‘Get lost, you skinny weed.’ It was enough. Neville hurled himself at me, overturning the desk, tipping papers and books onto the floor. We were a tangle of legs and arms. One moment I had my arm around his neck, the next, he was trying to wrap the power cord from an overhead projector around my throat.
The fight wasn’t stopped by our science teacher, who still had no idea what was going on, but a teacher from an adjoining area, who had noticed the commotion. We were both dragged to the principal’s office and interviewed at length about the incident. A note was sent home to my parents, but beyond that, I wasn’t punished.
There were other bullies and other incidents after that, but nothing quite so ridiculous. Thankfully, by Year Eleven, most of the bullies had left school or had been expelled, and I was finally able to breathe easily. I was even eventually able to use the school toilets.