dedicated to dani – part four

At the young tender age of three and a half, my girl had her first taste of bullying. Fortunately for her, that is an age where, thank God, she is still innocent to a five-year olds cruel jibes and taunts and has no idea what ‘fatty watty’ even means. Unfortunately for the girl’s mother, it just so happened to be MY daughter on the receiving end and, after ten minutes of listening to this little brat chanting ‘fatty watty,’ poking at my girls protruding gut, as well as waving and pointing a toy gun in her face, I snapped as politely as one person could possibly be expected to snap if witnessing their kid getting pushed around in a not-so-nice way.

“Hey, hey. Don’t you bloody do that. How would you like it if I poked you in the stomach and shoved a gun in your face you wouldn’t like that would you?”

The brat had the cheek to look crestfallen. I thought I had used a really nice tone, even if there was an underlying threat in there. I look at my baby who is giggling at the brat and also chanting ‘fatty watty, fatty watty’ in a sing-song way. Then out of the corner of my eye, I glance at the mum who is peering at both girls with what I can see is a tight smile on her face. I know I’ve offended her. My baby pranced back inside to her daddy while the brat sits in the corner, staring at me as if I am the wicked witch of the north.

Meanwhile, I attempt to brush away the awkwardness that has all of a sudden permeated the air by picking up where we left off from our conversation, but I know I’ve blown it. I’m aware that the woman sitting across from me, whom I have only known all of three weeks, is not happy that ive just told her daughter off. Not happy at all.

Honest to who.  I mean, what would you have done?

This was three months ago. I haven’t seen the mother since, and I’m not really surprised.  I guess it can now be stated as fact that my tendency to blurt out things that I should maybe not say, or at least learn to re-phrase, is one of the many reasons why I find it hard to keep friends. I still say I wasnt that harsh though. Or at least I don’t think I sounded as harsh as I felt. Additionally, it can also be stated that, lately, the FACT that I lose friends at a rapid rate when I do this hasn’t been bugging me as much as it use to. Which, I think, is a good thing

Anyway…moving on. Of course, when I say ‘brat’ I don’t mean that in a nasty, evil-ish kind of way, even though it sounds like it.  I love kids.  Let me just point that out. But there were two reasons why I told this girl off aside from the obvious fact that she was just being downright mean. One – no parent likes to watch their kids get picked on. If the shoe was on the other foot, I’m positive that mother would have done the same thing. Furthermore, if my daughter was teasing another kid in front of me, I would have told her off myself, as respect for others is something I hope to teach her, and teach her well. The other reason why this brats antics got up my ally is…well, a bit more personal…to be completely honest with you.

I’ve been a victim of bullying. Being overweight and tipping the scales at ninety something kg’s at the age of twelve, as well as wearing hearing aids, AS WELL as being fitted with braces in Intermediate through to third form, made me a juicy target for schoolyard bullies. When I put it in perspective, I guess watching my girl getting prodded and teased brought back memories. And feelings. And painful ones at that.

My girl – she has always been on the chubby side. She was the type of baby that strangers on the street ooh-ed and ahh-ed over because her multiple layers of rolls and balloon cheeks were impossible to resist. Fast forward to a few years later, and she’s still getting the oohs and ahhs as well as the occasional side-looks that clearly say “oh my god, what does her mother feed her??” Her fourth birthday is in December, two days before christmas, yet she constantly gets mistaken for a five-plus year old. Despite the fact that she’s still a toddler, I find myself shopping more in the Girls area in shopping stores, but if you ask my honest opinion, I think Australian clothes sizes are inaccurate anyway. Shopping here reminds me of when I would walk my size twelve self into an asian clothes store in New Zealand and feel like a giant because even just a fourteen was a tight squeeze. Plus australian kids are too skinny anyway. But maybe I’m just making excuses.

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My next mission – getting my babies health on track…

It use to be cute, watching my baby get attention from strangers due to her overflowing chubbiness. Whats not so cute is listening to her breathing at night. Or watching her run (or attempt to run) after kids her own age. Previously, it made me giggle when watching her get her waddle on, but these days it’s about as funny as cancer. If there’s one thing I realised after witnessing my baby getting taunted, it’s that I don’t want her to go through what I did. Ever.

Its possible I am blowing this up into intergalactic proportions and over-reacting (what else is new?) Its been, what, some fifteen years since my school days? Yet this experience just brought it all back like it happened yesterday. It’s not the bullying itself that sticks out like a green bush in a brown hay-field. It’s the way it makes you feel for, like, yeeeeeears afterwards. Worthless. Hopeless. Not good enough. Not pretty enough. Never going to amount to anything…and the list goes on.  As you get older, you don’t realise that bullying is a major contributor to self-doubt – the same self-doubt that has followed you  throughout your life like a faithful lap dog. Sure, I put on a show of being untouchable. Sure I chose to rise above it and keep on keeping on, because that s what the experience taught me to do. But the pain, the anger and the resentment was always there, throbbing away underneath it all.  It took fifteen long arse years for the rawness of that wound to heal, but at least it got better. At least I overcame it.  Some people never do.

In a way, I’m grateful to my bullies from days gone past. Not just at school, but within my home life as well. The lesson I learnt here is this – that it’s the bad experiences that shape you into either two moulds. One, a bitter person. Or two, a better person, and I believe that this is what I am no matter what any tom, dick or harry may think. So I may not be on this brats mothers favourite people’s list anymore? Shes hardly the first one I’ve pissed off because I’ve my tendency to be blunt. I’m probably on alot of lists of ‘Most Unfavourite People’ and right at the top too. On the other hand, maybe I do need to learn to zip my mouth in the heat of the moment. But the important thing is I know I mean well, even if that is hardly ever obvious. I know my heart is in the right place. I know my intentions are pure. And I like to think that’s all that matters?

I’m proud of the head-strong and determined woman that I am today. Some things I never learn.  Other things I’m still trying.  But this lesson I learnt very well – that even though life can be utterly beautiful, it can also be a downright bitch.  And its the bitch times that make you stronger.  Still, despite all this, the whole point is I would not wish any of what I’ve been through on anyone, least of all my daughter. I’m probably being overly serious and possibly paranoid about something as trivial as some little girl poking my babies gut with a toy gun, trying to ‘pop her.’  But I can’t help it. Like most parents, I want my girl to lead a sweet charmed life, but that’s just not the way the world works.  Times like this I  just want to wrap her, tight and snug, in a cocoon and keep her out of harms way for all eternity.

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But I know I cant do that. I may not be able to protect my girl forever. And I may be looking a bit too far into the future here.  But if there is one thing I hope to install in my daughter, it would be to have supreme and utmost confidence in herself so she can stand tall and proud in a world that isn’t always so kind. And isn’t that what we all want for our children???

Correct me if I’m wrong on that one.

In the meantime though, I think a lifestyle overhaul is in order for her. Because, after all this banging on, the truth is…yes, she is a fair bit overweight.  So the brat had a point. Too much noodles and not enough physical activity.  If I could chuck her on Herbalife I would, but I think I’ll chuck her on some kind of physical regime instead.  I’m getting onto her health now.  Honestly, its hightime I did something about it anyway.

In the wardrobe

Jenny stepped outside, shutting the front door firmly behind her.  Overcast day, and yet not a slight breeze blowing in the air.  The little bit of sun that peeked through the clouds tickled its rays upon her face as she trudged down the driveway and paddled down the street.  In the distance she could hear the sounds of laughter and yelling.  Other kids, making their way to school, probably.

God, please make them leave me alone.  Just until I get down to the river.  Please, Lord.

She inhaled long and deep, then exhaled loudly as if to release the tension that was building inside of her body.  It had nothing to do with facing those kids and their mean, vicious taunts she listened to on an almost daily basis.  She was accustomed to that, although not having to deal with it for one day would be marvellous.  But no.  Bullies was the last thing on her mind right now.  She had far more pressing matters to deal to.  Such as dodging school for the first time in her entire life to get out of running the dreaded Cross Country which she absolutely detested.

Although I could do with some exercise.  God knows my size eighteen frame needs it.  But the pain.  The taunts.  No way.  No way in hell…

She dragged her feet, her heart beginning to pound more rapidly at the thought of it.  She was going to wag school.  Dodge.  Commit truancy.  An image of her father’s face flashed before her eyes.  He was frowning and solemn, his eyes laced with disappointment.  But he was dead now, deader than a doornail.  Had been for a year, so what did it matter?  She pushed the image back, way back into the darkest corners of her brain.

She approached the roundabout and crossed the road.

I’m gonna do it.  I’m really gonna do it.  I’m gonna dodge school.  I’m gonna go through with the plan!

Thinking this to herself.  Encouraging herself.  Telling herself that she can do it.

She paddled on.  Eyes downcast.  She only lifted her head when she heard a familiar voice, and as soon as she laid eyes on the lanky boy with the ginger hair, she cringed, her insides shrivelling up, the plan momentarily forgotten.  He was up ahead of her, fooling around with his cronies.  Jenny lugged back, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t turn his head and see her.  No such luck.  She lifted her head even higher and walked forward nonchalantly, feigning ignorance as the boy whooped loudly and stopped up ahead to wait for her.

How unlucky could you get?  Seriously?

“Whoooa….is it a bird?  Is it a plane?  No…ITS AN EARTHQUAKE!!!  Hang on for your life everyone, its Earthquake Jennnnnaaaaay!”

The entire reason why she didn’t want to run Cross Country.  Because then this is what she’d be listening to all day.  And not just from him either.  Jenny stared at him in what she hoped was a menacing glare.  She walked past the lot of them, nose still in the air, looking for all the world as if she didn’t care one bit.  Inside, she just wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

The story of her life really.

After they ran ahead, still laughing and warning the other kids walking to school about the upcoming ‘Earthquake’ Jenny spotted the opening that led into the river bank.  She doodled, pulled back, allowing other students to pass her by.  She waited.  Then when she was certain that no-one was looking, she slipped away.  Unseen.

So far, so good.

She’d been here plenty of times before.  And she knew exactly where she was going to hide.  She trudged on and on, through long blades of grass until she came to the river bank.  She climbed up, ran down the little hill and made her way towards the tall, magnificent willow tree perched on the edge of Sullivan’s lake.  Its branches were perfect for concealing herself from prying eyes.  Not that very many people came down here, but still.  It was better that she was safe, rather than sorry

That’s why I have to pull this off.  I’ve got to make sure this plan runs – flawlessly.

She sat near the water, concealed with willow branches, keeping an eye out now and then.  She glanced at her watch.  8.25am.  Her mother was still at home, but in two more hours, she’d be sitting in the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, answering calls.  Jenny decided to wait where she was until ten.  She stood, glanced around again, then pulled her t-shirt and Billabong shorts out of her bag.  First things first.  Get out of her uniform.  Inconspicuous was the key.  If she was spotted walking the streets, during school hours, with her uniform on, anyone would be able to tell she was playing hooky. .  She couldn’t afford to be spotted, couldn’t afford for her mother to get the phone call that she – the supposedly good daughter who practically had no friends, yet managed to acquire A grades in spite of this – was dodging off school.  Disappointing her mother was the last thing she wanted to do.  The very last thing.

The minutes dragged.  And dragged.  She stood, sat, threw gravel dirt in the water.  She must have pulled out one thousand blades of grass and glanced at her watch a million times.  She sat, stood, did a jig by the river pretending to be Scary Spice from the Spice Girls.  Sat, stood, and softly started humming the tune to Karen Carpenters song ‘Goodbye to Love’ wondering to herself how it was that some beloved superstar from America could know the feeling of thinking that nobody loved her.  And the world, they loved her more than she ever knew.  Then the nostalgic came and wrapped her up in its arms and suddenly she was crying.  For her dad.  For her mum.  For herself.  Then her mind focusing on that ginger headed-boy, wanting to shoot him, wanting to know why he was so mean to her, why they were all so mean to her.  Of course, it was probably the fact that she resembled an over-sized whale.  What else could it be?  But still, that was no reason to taunt somebody, didn’t they have a heart, didn’t they care what she would be feeling?  Thinking thoughts about starving herself.  That’ll show them. And the silence, growing louder and more deafening as the minutes passed.

Then finally, mercilessly, after what seemed like a decade, her watch read 9.50.

Close enough.  Time to go home.

It didn’t take her long to reach home.  She had been on edge the whole time.  Every car that passed made her jump.  What if it was one the school teachers?  What if they recognized her?  What if they dragged her by the ear and back to school?  She’d have to run the Cross Country after all.

Groundless fears.  As soon as she spied her house, minus her mother’s car parked in the driveway, she felt herself drowning with relief.  She did it.  She wasn’t going to get caught after all.  Her mother finished at The Bureau at four.  She’d get home, and Jenny would have the house spic and span,  dinner ready on the table, and her mother wouldn’t even suspect a thing.

She was just about to climb the porch steps when, out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the familiar grey bonnet turning into her driveway.  Her sister’s car.  What?  Quick as a flash, she bounded into the house, the relief turning to overwhelming panic.  Without even thinking, she ran into her bedroom and shoved herself in her wardrobe.  She could barely fit in there. Desperately and with almighty effort, she pushed her large frame back, back amongst the mattresses and boxes, grunting and groaning and shoving so she could pull the door shut.  Her heart was in over-drive, drumming rapidly and loudly, like a bongo drum against her chest.

She listened.  The horn beeped.  Then it beeped again.  Jenny closed her eyes.  She prayed, fervently hoping that her sister wouldn’t come into the house and make herself at home.  Jenny would have to resign herself to sitting in the wardrobe all day otherwise, and she could barely fit in there, let alone breathe.  She strained her ears to listen, then let out a huge sigh of relief when she heard the car start-up and drive away.  She reached for the handle.  Or at least where the door handle should have been.  She felt around in the dark, blindly searching.  Confused.

It took a few seconds before it dawned upon her.  The realization.  That there was no door handle.  Well not on the inside, anyway.

Dear God, she was locked in!

Dumbfounded.  She was dumbfounded.  She didn’t get it.  She put all her weight on the door, pushed and shoved, but to no avail.  Searched again for the non-existent door handle, telling herself it had to be there.  But it wasn’t.  And then the reality hit her even harder than the first time.  She knew without a doubt now.  She was locked in!  Locked in her own wardrobe.  In her own house.

Oh my god, oh my god.  OH MY GOD!

Panic flooded her body. She stood there in the dark, squashed up against the clutter, disbelieving what had just happened.  She’d lived in this house since she was a toddler. Twelve years later, and she was only just finding out that her own wardrobe had no door handle on the inside.  What the…?  She couldn’t believe it.  Didn’t wanna believe it.

And yet, it was happening.  She was shoved in there, tight as sardines in a can.  It was stuffy and claustrophobic.  Not to mention dusty.  The dust and the smell of staleness filled her nostrils, and the only air coming in was from the tiny crack at the bottom of the door.

I could die of suffocation in here…good god…

At the thought of death, logic and reasoning fled her body.  She began to cry, softly at first, then louder and louder until she was screaming and banging her fists on the door, begging and pleading for someone, anyone, to hear her, and let her out.  Like an animal gone wild, she pounded and screamed.  But she was in a wardrobe, her screams only whispers in the wind to the outside world.  She wailed loudly, her chest rising and falling with her sobs.

When she realized that no-one was coming to her rescue, her arms went limp.  Her voice faded until it was a soft whimper.  She was so exhausted she wanted to sink to the floor, but the lack of space plus her giant frame wouldn’t allow it.  Her nose was almost touching the door.  But with some more shoving and pushing, she did manage to jam the mattresses right back up against the wall, thus allowing her to sink to the floor, curled up.  Her knees pushed against the protruding rolls in her gut, almost cutting off her air supply.  But she didn’t care to stand.  Didn’t care to do anything except sit there, and wait for Fate to decide what was to become of her.

Time ticked by.  Endlessly.  She’d given up looking at her watch at 12.00pm.  Tidbits of her life flashed before her eyes.  Her mind went back to happier days, the days when her dad was still alive.  Zooming around the paddock on his two-wheeler motorbike.  Fishing and camping trips.  An image of her parents hugging and kissing while a younger Jenny chased seagulls and frolicked in the sea.  Then the darkness came.  The police at her front door, bringing the news of the car crash that killed her dad

And her mothers howls that day.  If Jenny ever lived to be a hundred (which was looking unlikely) she didn’t think that she’d ever forget that sound.  The sound of anguish and despair.  It resounded in her head as if it happened yesterday.  Thats when everything had changed.  When her dad died.  The bullies, the over-eating, a depressed mother who could barely see to herself, let alone a grieving daughter.

Why hadn’t I seen this before?  Why hadn’t I known?

Not that it mattered anymore.

Sleepy.  She was getting sleepy, her mind fuzzy, disoriented.  She wasnt aware that she was no longer gasping for air, she was only aware that she was drifting, seemingly drifting like a lost boat on a calm sea.  She wondered if her father would show up to take her to the other side, and imagined what he’d say upon setting eyes on her.  “My girl, what the hell have you been eating?”  Making her giggle on the inside. She felt tingly all over.  Unreal.  Even as her eyelids grew heavier and heavier, the boat drifting out farther and farther away…until…

BANG!

Her mother was home.  Her mother was home.  Overwhelming relief washed through her body, making her want to burst into tears.  Yet, she couldn’t move.  Why couldn’t she move?  Why were things so drowsy?  Almost unconsciously, she weakly lifted her hand and knocked on her door.  Softly, repetitively, and over and over and over again.

The door suddenly swung open, and Jenny tumbled from the darkness, into the light, falling into a heap on her bedroom floor.  Her mother looked down at her daughter in complete shock.  She was red as a tomato and seemed on the verge of unconsciousness,  her arms shielding her face as if the light hurt her eyes.  And Jenny remembered saying one thing before darkness engulfed her.

“Sorry mum…sorry daddy…”

***

“Oh my God, this is so embarrassing.”

Jenny sat up in her hospital bed, her mind flitting through the last few hours.  She’d very nearly died in the wardrobe.  If her mother had decided to come home any later, she would have died.  Suffocated to death.  Now that she was on the mend and thinking straight, all she could think was just how much of a laughing-stock that would have been.

Girl suffocates to death in her own wardrobe.

It didn’t bear thinking about.

“It’s alright,” her mum soothed, her voice a hell of a lot softer than what it normally was.  “Your alive, and that’s the main thing.”

Jenny looked at her mother closely.  She looked so old.  And so tired.  It tugged at Jenny’s heartstrings.

“Mum, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, love.  I’m just thankful that your still alive.”

“I just…I hate school, mum.  People pick on me all the time.”

Her mother peered at her daughter in the dim light.  This was a surprise.

“Pick on you?”

Jenny nodded.  Maybe it was her near-death experience.  Maybe it was her mothers tiredness.  Whatever it was, everything came bursting out, like a dam gushing forth.  Her dad, her bullies, the ginger headed boy who made her life hell on a daily basis.  Everything, that is, except the main reason she dodged school that day.

It seemed so pathetic now.  Whats the point of telling her that?

They talked for a long time.  Mainly about dad.  They held hands and cried, letting out things that should have been let out a long time ago.  Her mum stated that she was going down to see the principal first thing in the morning about the bullying, and promised to help Jenny overcome it.  And she also spoke about life.  And it being what you make it.  Jenny didn’t need to be told twice.  She understood exactly what her mum was saying.  She knew she had to get her health, and her weight, back on track.

It was pretty late when they finished.  Jenny got the feeling that something had been sorted out.  That after wallowing in their own pools of grief, they were now swimming in it together.  And maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be ok.  Even so, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed something she hadn’t noticed before.  The window was wet.  “Is it raining?” she asked.

Her mum nodded.  “Its been raining all day, love.  Apparently, they had to postpone some big event at the school.  Its been held next week.  You should be fine to go to school by then.  I’ve already rung your teacher.”

Jenny let out a long, collective sigh.  After all that had happened, it looked like she’d be running The Cross Country after all.  Seriously.  How unlucky could you get?