May 14, 2012

Brownie Scouts and Bullies

This is an essay I wrote on Open Salon as the response to an open call on bullying. This happened in 1967 and things have changed, and parental response might be different.  Unfortunately bullying hasn't changed much.

She looked angelic in her immaculate Brownie uniform, perfectly matching Girl Scout anklets and uniform shoes. She had a Julie Andrews pixie haircut.

But she had a sly, not sweet smile, for she was a demon in cookie-seller's clothing.

Every Tuesday afternoon about fifteen girls from my elementary school walked to the Town Hall from school to Brownie Scouts. It was less than six blocks and the walk took us through residentiual neighborhoods and our town's main commercial street. There wasn't any time to stop at the Rexall Drug Store for cinnamon in which to soak toothpicks.

We marched directly to the multi-purpose room of the Town Hall, adjacent to the town park and had our weekly one-hour meetings. We made crafts, talked about cookie sales, planned camping projects, and learned manners (of all things).

I was by far the tallest of the girls, but my coordination had not caught up with my height and I was the dictionary definition of the words "gangly" and "awkward."

My hair mimiced my own brunette Chatty Kathy doll, ringlets and colics going in every direction. I usually had two skinned knees, and God love me, there was that foot-dragging thing which required special shoes. Yeah, orthopaedic shoes.

Even though I had skinny legs, I had the foundation of the apple-shaped Bea Arthur body I still carry today, and my middle was pudgy. This affects my balance somewhat because my skinny legs didn't hold up the middle very well. Fourth grade was also the year I got the bands on my peppermint Chiclets front teeth, completing the picture. I was some beauty.

Sometimes when we were walking, the girl with the pixie cut would ambush me so I would fall down. I was horrified by this, and didn't fight back because I was afraid.

At Scouts when the leaders weren't looking, my bully loved to poke me in the belly, make fun of my hair, skinned knees, braces, or whatever was the joke of the day. Sometimes I went to the bathroom and cried.

When I begged my parents to let me quit Scouts, they wanted to know why.

Did we call it bullying then? I can't remember, but someone was always getting picked on.

My parents told me that I could not quit Scouts; furthermore, my dad  me that I had to learn to defend myself. He said that if I could take care of myself, no one would ever bully me again, but I had to put my foot down, even my left dragging foot.

He said that the next time the mini-Julie Andrews bothered me, I should just give her a little shove. Now my father is a peace-loving man, and I know he did not intend to bring us to fourth-grade fisticuffs. He just wanted to teach me about taking a stand, and not letting someone smaller intimidate me.

Apparently I didn't hear the same lecture my teacher father delivered.

The next time we had Scouts, I came up behind the girl with the pixie haircut, who was standing on a stepstool to get a drink of water from the water fountain. She was completely unaware that I was even near, let alone came bearing a vendetta.

As soon as she turned around and stepped down off the step stool, I beaned her right in the chin. With my ten-year-old fist.

I did not hurt her. There was no blood or gore or even bruises. I wasn't very strong.

But I delivered the element of surprise to my agitator along with my pasty white ten-year-old right hook.

I will remember the look of shock on her face until the day I die. About twelve other fourth grade girls were ringside as I completed my ambush on my bully.

Something changed in me at that moment. It was wrong to hit her, and it wasn't what my parents intended. But something inside of me changed.

No one ever messed with me again.