Short Story – Painful Memories

writingThis second short story formed the other half of by Year Twelve CAT submission for creative writing.

It’s my seat!” shouted. It was the last day of primary school, a day had been looking forward to for months. The classroom had been given a fresh coat of paint applied recently and it smelt of shellac. My class was now midway through preparations for that evening’s Grade Six farewell dinner. I was fighting over one seat out of twenty-five which were laid out for the occasion. It had to be this place. I wanted to sit next to this girl, not just any girl, but Jane, one of the few close
friends I had made throughout eight years of schooling since kindergarten. I wanted to be with her on this last day, but here I was fighting over the seat with John, a person I disliked intensely.

The commotion attracted the attention of John’s friends, Peter and Michael. They surrounded and outnumbered me. I felt threatened and thought desperately, “Where are my friends when I need them?” Then the taunts came, painful to my ears: “Get ya own seat, loser! Get lost! Loner boy!”

The tension and frustration built up during all those years were ready to explode as painful memories of being teased returned. Gripped with anger, I grabbed a glass on the table and flung it across the room where, upon impact with the wall, it shattered. There was a
hush. The silence unnerved me, as I suddenly became the centre of attention. The wrong kind, as the teacher advanced on me with an expression like that of an angry bull about to charge. “Outside, now!” she barked.

With temper flaring, I kicked out in childish anger only to make contact with the teacher’s leg. She half-dragged me out of the building, across the schoolyard to the Principal’s office. The signs were ominous and I yelled out, confused and frustrated. I felt as if the whole world was coming down on me, and for something that wasn’t even my fault! As I was marched towards the Principal’s office, curious students from the lower classes rushed into the main corridor, wondering what all the disturbance was about. My years in primary school flashed before me, a collection of wild images and fears racing through my mind. “What a stupid thing to do!” cursed myself. “Am I going to miss this evening’s event?” I worried, in tears.

The root of the problem had begun some seven-eight years earlier in kindergarten. I was the youngest boy in the class and the others dominated me in size. Though I made some friends, I had also made enemies. The fact that I was the only Asian and physically smaller only made matters worse; the circumstances conspired to make me an introvert. Over the years, I had been picked on and bullied unmercifully by John, Peter and Michael. During those times of need, my friends never seemed to be around. It would appear that mob mentality took over in the school yard – I had some friends but even when faced with a gang of 4-5 bullying individuals, they would go silent and join in only to avoid the persecution. Each time, it was the verbal taunts, not physical blows that hurt. So much for the saying:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

The victimization persisted throughout primary school because the teachers treated the incidents as part of the “growing up” process. During the later years after my best friend and neighbour changed to the local private school, I started attending the After Care program held at school, instead of returning home with my neighbour. I remember the times when John, Peter and Michael also had to stay back and the hard time they would give me. There was one particular occasion when I had been working tirelessly on some artwork and one of the boys decided to steal and hide it from me. Treasuring it, I demanded its safe return. One thing led to another and we were yet again in confrontation mode. Eventually, having “dobbed” on the culprits, I got it back. From then on, John and his gang would use this against me:

Dibber-dobbers wear nappies!

Running to the teacher for assistance didn’t seem to work. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work, short of physical violence but it wasn’t in my nature to resort to fighting. As time passed, I realised that John and his friends were fighting a lost cause and that I could beat them in my own way. Mentally challenged by my teachers, I excelled in academic work and was recognised for these achievements during my last years of primary school. John and his gang had no reply to these successes, so their only form of retaliation was to increase their ridicule. I had thought that this no longer troubled me but obviously I was wrong.

So here I was in the Principal’s office which felt like a courthouse with the curtains drawn and the fluorescent lights reflecting off the morbid grey walls behind me. By now, I was sobbing, blinded by tears of self-pity. This was always the case after a dose of teasing, but now it was different. had kicked my teacher, although without meaning to do so. My childish innocence made me unaware of the gravity of my rebellious actions against the adult world. Despite a stern lecture by the Principal, I stubbornly refused to admit to any wrongdoing, so my father was contacted at work. For me, my mindset was from the angle of being the victim. My dad arrived and, having heard the full story, sided with the Principal. Expecting his support, I was shocked by his reaction. It was only later back at home that he was able to convey the seriousness of my behaviour.

Now in the final year of secondary school, I look back on this earlier turning point in life. I reflect on two aspects of the event. One relates to the tactics of a group of bullies and the other focuses on my lack of self-control that led to my kicking at the teacher. While I should have been reprimanded for my act of disrespect to my teacher, at the time I felt that had suffered a great injustice: the perpetrators had escaped scot-free. Their misbehaviour had been completely overshadowed by my temper tantrum, so my ordeal was partly self-inflicted. This incident has taught me to be more aware of my shortcomings so that I am able to exercise control over my emotions.

I’m pleased to say that I have left behind my childish behaviour and have developed more socially acceptable reactions to conflict. Peter and Michael appear also to have matured somewhat, but we have gone our separate ways. We have never really “made up” and perhaps I should let go of painful memories of my childhood and look forward to the future. In retrospect, I have mixed feelings about my primary school days. Apart from being the victim of a group of bullies, I did enjoy the company of other children who accepted me as I was. I guess that we cannot all be friends.


2014 update

I recently had some free time where I found myself driving pass my old primary school. Its location is off the main driving routes I take, and my only visibility of the physical school buildings & grounds is when I go to vote at Federal or State elections. – so every 3 or 4 years.

On this recent visit I learnt that the school is undergoing a major $4.6M renovation which, after the last decade of building works leaves the vast majority of the school building & infrastructure unrecognisable to people of my generation! During my seven years at the school there has been rumors in the early 1990s that a nearby primary school would have been merged with the school. This potential merger was part of the Kennett state government reforms of the education system and for various reasons both primary schools escaped the merger pathway.

My time at the school apparently was a down cycle for the school, although a few minor renovations were undertaken. The school direction changed under new leadership – both at the Principal level as well as School Council after my time. I remember my dad championing the then visionary cause that the school in the very early 1990s should modernize and introduce computing into its formal curriculum, rather than the hobby treatment it was given. I think this modernization only transpired years later in the mid to late 1990s when the advent of the Internet made it a clear shift in society beyond a mere trend. The school has grown since my time there and has been supported by a building modernization program – the latest being a ? fourth phase ? in this effort. The school definitely took advantage of the Rudd/Gillard School building program/infrastructure boost and this latest construction effort was only launched recently in 2014.

Until Grade 5 I was the sole Chinese Asian student. In Grade 6, a second student joined in a junior year level. This was the 1980s and since then the steady increase of the Asian population, reflecting the parallel increased presence of Asians in Melbourne – both of Indian and South-East Asian Chinese origin. When I entered high school the student population was 30/70 Asian/non-Asian and the student body was also much larger. This automatically allowed me to blend in more and not be such a visible target.

As documented in the short story, today we would consider the school yard incidents as bullying and potentially racism. Today our society has a clear position for addressing this issue and it has become systemic and cultural to NOT tolerate bullying. During the 1980s teachers were not equipped to effectively deal with and stamp it out. Being told to tough it up and bear with it was a woefully inadequate response. Ignoring bullies is also not great advice. Being the victim of bullying is in itself bad enough, but the moment your reaction to it makes the victim the one who gets in trouble is a huge injustice. We tend to lose sight of the original offense once another offense triumphs it. Taking the time to perform root cause analysis is healthy and liberating.

There was also the additional context that just prior to starting primary school/prep my mum had died after suffering for a year from cancer. In part, dealing with all the emotional trauma as a four-year-old kinda screwed me up to begin with. Whilst it did not get a mention in the original story, I think it deserves a small acknowledgement here. Do not get me wrong – my childish temper and reaction to the kids was in itself deplorable, but at no point in time was counseling provided to me to cope with all the negativity. Further, no one ever seriously attempted to stop to address the root cause – and get the bullies to

I remember the only hope that helped me endure the years of bullying was the teaching by the church and bible that Jesus suffered into the point of death for all our sins. Further, His example of forgiving the Romans and Jews whilst being mailed to the cross is a powerful example of the need to forgive. As part of my time in high school and developing my faith in Christ, I learnt to forgive those childhood bullies.

These events are now nothing but memories – painful but a vital part of my childhood which helped to form my identity. Whilst I would not want this experience for anyone, I am a better person for it. Since high school I have constantly pushed forward in living life to its fullest and not allowing these memories from the past