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…