Billie’s Bullies – Part Four

(Originally posted Thursday, February 21, 2013)

Eden Prairie sounds like paradise. A haven if you will. And paradise it was for most of its residents—at least until the late Seventies when the government decided to slap down a low income housing project at the intersection of Preserve Road and Anderson Lakes Parkway.

Being only eleven years old and having attended rural schools for most of my life, I was not aware of the impact high density housing—and government housing in particular—could have on the value of privately owned, single family dwellings, or of the impact that falling property values could have on upper-middle class homeowners. Nor did I anticipate how the resentment that some upper middle class homeowners felt toward high density public housing could influence how their offspring treated the children who lived in high density public housing. Personally, I was just glad my dad had finally found a place we could afford, and hopeful that I wouldn’t run into another Lisa, Maria, or anyone with the last name of Gilmer.

To be fair, both Eden Prairie and our apartment complex in particular seemed like a haven to me, too, at first. Our ground level unit smelled of fresh paint and new carpet, and discounting the house we built when my dad married my first stepmom, it was the nicest place we had ever lived. With the apartments being part of a development called The Preserve, we had access to two swimming pools, four tennis courts, a golf course, and miles and miles of bike trails. Since it was winter when we arrived, I was unable to take advantage of these amenities right away, but the promise of enjoying them with all the new friends I would make before summer came left me blind to the possibility that, despite its heavenly name, Eden Prairie was home to wicked creatures, and those creatures attended Central Middle School.

I learned of these creatures on the bus ride home from school on my first day. My dad had driven me in that morning or I probably would have encountered them before I even made it to homeroom. As it happened, though, I retained my hopes and dreams of making new friends through all seven periods of class that day—thanks, in no small measure to a girl named Sheila whose best friend Gidge had recently moved away and who seemed eager to find someone to fill the vacancy. (Although I didn’t get the job—owing no doubt to my inability to impress Sheila’s wider circle of friends with my polyester pantsuits and general lack of sophistication—I will be eternally grateful to Sheila for the chance to audition.)

Anyway…things only seemed better from my perspective when eighth graders Gretchen and Lori abandoned their seats near the rear of the bus to pay me a visit at the front. From the way they smiled and inquired about my old school and complimented me on my hair and clothes, I thought I was about to make two new friends. That is, until they decided to give me a make-over.

I was naïve enough at first to think they were actually going to style my hair and apply eye shadow and mascara. It was only when one of them took the gum from her mouth and squeezed it into a section of my unsuspecting tresses that I realized what they were up to. Having been caught off guard and with no means of escape, all I could do was sit there as they reached down and gathered handfuls of gritty, muddy, midwinter slush from the floor and smeared it all over my head and face.

Thankfully, we were only a couple of blocks from my stop when it happened. And thankfully, when the principal called Gretchen and Lori into his office the next morning—after my dad stormed in and told him what had happened—neither of them denied it. (Note to prospective bullies: If you’re going to pick on someone, don’t choose a kid who has an eidetic memory, and for heaven’s sake don’t introduce yourselves—especially using your real names. That goes double if one of your names hasn’t cracked the top 100 for baby girls in over a century.)

Suffice it to say that my dad’s actions—however well intended—did little to enhance my experience as The New Kid, and did even less to increase the rate at which I made friends. And so it was that I opted not to tattle, but to take matters into my own hands the following year when I became the target of the lovely and talented Kirsten H…


Billie’s Bulllies – Part Two

(Originally posted Thursday, February 7, 2013 )

Having just moved to Milaca (in the middle of the school year, of course) I didn’t know about the Gilmer Girl—or about her fondness for terrorizing anyone younger than her who was dumb enough to cut through the park on the way to or from school—until I had taken the risky trek several times.

Fortunately I learned of the fiendish fourth grader before I actually met her, thanks to a couple of curious classmates who asked me where I lived and how I got to school. I had barely gotten as far as ‘the park’ in my story when their faces all went white, and they started telling me about the dreaded Gilmer Girl and why the park was to be avoided at all cost.

Having moved three times in as many years by then—and having survived the death of my mother two years earlier—I had learned to charm my way into the heart of almost anyone in my vicinity and naively ignored the warnings of my concerned compadres. Instead I decided to continue crossing through the park and resolved that if I encountered the Gilmer Girl, I would talk her out of harming me, make her my friend, and perhaps even convince her to change her evil ways.

I’d like to report that my plan worked and that the Gilmer Girl and I became best buds who still correspond today. I’d like to say she turned over a new leaf and now runs a charity that benefits the elderly or small animals. But that would be a lie.

In truth, I have no clue what happened to the Gilmer Girl. Judging from her reputation and our single encounter, I’m guessing she’s in jail—if not as an inmate then perhaps as an employee. I can just imagine her patrolling the halls and barking orders at the residents to keep them in line, or sporting a fancy orange jumpsuit and extorting cigarettes or contraband from the other members of her cell block.

All I can say for sure about the Gilmer Girl is that she was not interested in making friends. She may have been a person in pain who only needed to be understood, but that was not apparent on that cloudy, cold morning when she hopped off the bench and stormed over to block my path to school.

I can still feel the quiver in my voice as I explained how she didn’t have to beat me up; that we could work things out; that we could be friends. And I can still hear the growl in her voice when she asked, “Why would I want to be friends with you?” Knowing even at the tender age of six the difference between a rhetorical question and a genuine interrogatory, I didn’t try to make my case. Instead, I did an about face and ran as fast as I could to the edge of the park and all the way up Central Avenue to the uniformed crossing guard—and never cut through the park again.

Although we left Milaca for Mora part way through second grade, and moved from Mora to Pine City and back again the following year, I managed to complete third through fifth grades essentially unscathed.

Unfortunately, the summer before sixth grade we moved again—this time to Onamia, which is where I met Lisa and Maria…

Billie’s Bullies – Part One

(Originally posted Thursday, January 31, 2013

I listened with interest one afternoon as Princess Primrose told me about an anti-bullying project she was working on for the PR course she’s taking this term. I say ‘with interest’ not just because I’m her mother and, as such, that is my mandate, but also because I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the subject of bullying, and was anxious for her to conclude her thoughts so I could share some of mine.

Now when I use the word ‘expert’ I don’t mean to cast myself and an authority. Nor do I claim to have devised some new means or method of managing bullies or assisting their victims. Rather, I’m simply stating that I have had a few run-ins with bullies in my day and have survived, as evidenced by the fact that I’m still here–at least as of the date of this entry.

I don’t know if it’s typical for bullies to prey on kids of their own gender, but in my case all of my tormenters were female. As I type this I can almost hear the Jarhead saying “Of course they were. Girls are twice as vicious as boys are.” And I’m not saying he’s wrong–or that it has nothing to do with hormones–but clearly PMS alone does not explain it or we would not have any male bullies.

Apart from their gender and shared goal of making me miserable, the girls who bullied me over the years had little in common. Although three of them were in my own grade at the time, the other four were all older than me by a couple years. At the same time, two of them came from poverty stricken homes, while the other five were girls from–as one principal put it after expressing his surprise–good families.

Now you may be asking yourself several questions at this point. For example, you may be wondering where I lived and why there were so many bullies there. You may also be wondering what kind of school I went to, and why the faculty did nothing to stop it. On the other hand, you may be wondering what the hell I did to cause seven different people to hate me over the course of one short childhood. Then again—and especially if you know me—you may be wondering how it is that I wasn’t routinely harassed and hounded by a dozen or so more.

The shocking reality is that I went to nine different schools in the thirteen l-o-n-g years of my elementary and high school education, and thus spent more than my share of time as The New Kid—or, literally, a moving target. I attended three of the nine twice—meaning I moved away and moved back, once within the same grade—so I didn’t have to deal with being The New Kid every time my family relocated. On the other hand, in sixth grade I attended three different schools so it all kind of evened out.

I encountered my first bully when I was six years old and a first grader in Mrs. Roehl’s class at Milaca Elementary School. I was a walker—meaning, I walked to school. From the Key Row Apartments at 4th Street NW to the old Elementary School building on Central Avenue it was about a nine block walk (which is a much greater distance than you would let a six year-old go by herself today; but this was 1973) and you could save some time and energy by crossing through the park between 2nd and 1st streets over to Central Avenue.

That is, unless you came face to face with the Gilmer Girl…