The first day, grade seven in a junior/senior high school. I didn’t know what I was in for, and neither did they. They lined both sides of the hallway, four years older and looming over scrawny me. Alone, I stopped short when I saw the fifteen of them leaning against the lockers with their sly grins, and heard their self-assured chuckles.
I gulped, and thought of turning back, but, chin up, back straight, eyes forward, I marched. Next instant, I was tripped, I lay flat out, palms smacking the cold tile, books skidding down the length of the hall. My shame was devastating and their laughter was unbearable.
I rose and picked out the tallest, most confident person in the middle of the group, squaring off at him, staring, not saying a word.
“I didn’t do it,” he said.
“But you know who did,” I retorted.
He shrugged. Turning, I walked to each person in that hallway, staring into their eyes, letting them know I would not be intimidated. I purposely steered away from my tormentor and began in the middle of the group traveling down one side of the hall and up the other, almost all the way through them, staring each person down. When I started, they were still laughing, taunting me. By the time I had gone through half of them they were quiet, and each one broke his gaze before I did.
When I stood in front of my harasser, I was proud he couldn’t look at me, standing with his head down, shoulders slumped, toes turned inward. I snorted, then stared down his friend who I had heard whisper, “Trip her.”
Satisfied, I walked back to the leader in the middle of the pack and glared at him.
“What?” he said.
“Do something about it!!!”
“You already did,” he said. “Look at him.”
Glancing at my tormentor I saw he was a coward. I kept my head high, and went to pick up my books. As I was bending down I heard the leader say, “Nobody touch her.”
Once, I could hold my own; but thirty-eight years in an emotionally abusive relationship and I can barely talk to my neighbour, much less dominate an entire group. It’s time to take my courage back.
I watched Ann Cuddy’s Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are Ted Talk; listened to her explanation of body language; thought of how I had learned to react to my ex husband, folding up, hiding from the barrage of cutting words. I thought I was protecting myself. How far I had slid.
According to Cuddy, we typically hang our heads, look downward, slump our shoulders, when confronted by a bully. She says we would do better to match our tormentor’s behaviour by opening up, pushing our shoulders back, looking forward; much like I did when I was in 7th grade.
This is my first day. I’m practicing occupying space, unfolding, looking forward. There is so much to see and to learn.