While I was sitting at Sunday lunch at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference on Sunday, my elementary school celebrated fifty years of existence with a reunion of all the staff and students they could round up from the last half century. I’d have gone if I could have, and I’m sorry to have missed it.
I loved school. I had a lot of great teachers, and I fondly remember the secretaries and even the custodian – who, well into his nineties and not able to see very well anymore, was at the reunion. Among the teachers are a couple to whom I owe a deep debt of gratitude. Turns out they were there, too, and I would have had a chance to say thanks. Having thought about them a lot since I heard about the reunion, I think I’m going to seek them out anyway and let them know. One of them will be in the acks of this book when it finds a home, but I don’t want that to come too late. I’ll tell him soon.
But had I been able to attend, I would have done so trembling with the sort of anxiety that comes from remembered trauma, too. Because much as I loved school for school’s sake, it was a difficult and hurtful place for me to be, too.
I look at this photo and there are faces of ten-year-old children in it that make me anxious still. At forty. That’s a sad thing, isn’t it? I was never one of the “in” crowd, always a bit on the outside. That came to a head in grade six and seven, when I was the one they picked on for two solid years. Why? Who knows. I know part of it was that when they tried it on with me, I cried, so they had me, and they knew it. It made them powerful. I wasn’t an athlete, I wasn’t a partier, I was just a kid who loved school and loved to read and had a sensitive heart. That was enough reason back then.
Two people told me about and invited me to the reunion. One is the principal of my daughter’s school, who happens to have been a grade seven teacher (not mine) at my school when I was a student. The other was one of the mean girls. She came to me a couple of years ago online to apologise for what she’d done. I appreciated the gesture. Still do.
My biggest wish in sending my own daughter to elementary school was that she avoid the hurt that had such a deep impact on my life and still does. It affects you long-term, bullying, though they didn’t call it that back then if you weren’t being physically intimidated. It changes the way you trust, the way you choose people to be in your life, your ability to be open to others… all kinds of things. So far, my kid is far stronger than I ever was. She’s a leader, and has no patience for meanness. Long may that continue. It’s one of the things I’m proudest of about her.
I missed the reunion. But I’ve been reminiscing about all the things – good and bad – that shaped me in those days. I think in life as in fiction, there is no story without conflict. So happy anniversary, Daniel Woodward. Here’s to another fifty.