Here’s another little blast from the past. I hope you enjoy it and who knows, perhaps you yourself dear reader have had a similar experience.
When I was about 12-years-old my parents went to visit some old college friends of theirs and took me along for the day. This was sometime during the summer holidays and I wasn’t quite old enough to be left to my own devices.
Their friends (let’s call them Bill and Claire – not their real names), had two daughters who were older than me – probably late secondary school. In reality they were only four or five years older than me, but they seemed a lot older. They had very heavy local accents which made it hard for me at times to understand what they were saying.
At first things went okay. There was another lad there of around my age (presumably another visitor like myself), and we played boardgames in the back garden which was baking hot.
After lunch a group of us including he, myself and the two girls went to a nearby outdoor sports centre to play tennis or something.
Things didn’t go very well. I found the girls abrasive and rude. They made no secret of the fact they didn’t particularly want me around, regarding me as a nuisance they had to look after.
One of them verbally abused me, calling me ‘sweller head’ (whatever that is supposed to be).
I said I didn’t like being sworn at to which she smugly replied this was not swearing and basically told me to shut up.
To my credit, I didn’t just sit there and do nothing. I came home. Or at least, I walked back to Bill and Claire’s house. There was no way I was going to sit around all afternoon at the mercies of a couple of mean-spirited bullies who had nothing but contempt for me.
When I got back, the adults were all sitting in the backyard drinking coffee and reminiscing about their younger days. Nobody seemed to pay me very much attention or be very curious about why I was suddenly back home.
I spent the rest of the afternoon climbing the frame they had in the back garden and waiting to go home.
I thought that would be the end of it – but I was wrong.
As we prepared to leave, the girls brandished a wooden trinket (a boomerang) at me which they had brought back from a holiday in Australia.
It was allegedly ‘damaged’ although I can’t remember how exactly.
Needless to say, they claimed I had done it, despite my protesting (very reasonably) that I had never so much as touched the item and therefore could not possibly have damaged it unless I had done so via magic.
Furthermore, what motive would I have had for damaging it? The fact they had been unpleasant towards a younger child and allowed him to walk home by himself? I am not so petty-minded or vindictive, although judging by their behaviour on the day, casting baseless allegations about, they clearly were all too willing to put the blame on me.
The short version of the story is that we left the house and I never saw any of them again. Not Bill, not Claire, not the lad whose name I cannot recall and certainly not the unpleasant pair who had accused me of vandalism.
It’s now 25 or so years since all that happened and my memory is tantalisingly spare on details.
What I do remember is that nobody ever spoke up for me. Bill and Claire didn’t want to upset my parents, so even if they did suspect me of being the vandaliser of the ‘precious’ object (as one of the girls dubbed it), they didn’t say so.
My parents just seemed embarrassed by the whole débâcle and while they owed me sufficient loyalty not to question me in front of the others, I don’t exactly recall them leaping to my defence either.
Since reaching adulthood, I’ve seen a load of therapists for my anxiety and depression and one theme which crops up time and time again is that of feeling like an outsider. Like you don’t belong – like others are somehow ‘in’ the clique while you are invariably ‘out.’
There are plenty of incidents from my childhood which could be used to illustrate this theme, but this is one of the most vivid I can think of.
There are certain lessons you can learn from this. Here they are:
Life isn’t always fair. Other people (in this case the girls) don’t always play by the rules and will instead kick and stamp until they get their way.
False accusations hurt.
The above becomes worse if authority figures (in this case, parents) don’t bother bringing them into line
While the experience was unpleasant, I am proud in hindsight with how ‘younger me’ dealt with the incident. Walking home alone may not have been the smartest thing to do in terms of personal safety (small kid walking through unknown neighbourhood), but if the alternative was to stay there and get bullied, I made the right choice for me. Although my parents may not have been too happy about it had they known.
Do I still feel angry towards the girls for the way they behaved? Well, if I had a son or daughter treated in the way they treated me, I’d have a few choice words to say about it. They may have been dumb kids, but they were still in charge of a younger child who they let wander off by himself and then had the temerity to falsely accuse. I think it’s fair to say they were never likely to be on my Christmas card list.
My biggest wish is they never grew up to have kids who were treated in the same way they treated me that day.
In fact, it reminds me a little of a story written by the late, great Sylvia Plath.
It’s called Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit and it’s all about the way people happily pass the buck when it comes to accepting blame for their own actions.
The girls didn’t strike me as literary types and I’m guessing neither of them had ever read it.
But they should have.