Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Big-Hair vs. Bullies

This is an unusual post to have follow a post about body image, but it connects to some stories I'll be writing for this blog and posting pretty soon. Think of this as completely unrelated to my last post; think of this as a Foreword or Preface to my next two updates. It was these two recent events that reminded me of this past incident that I'm sharing today.
I went to elementary school with a girl named Francine Morelli.* She was a bully, a known bully. I was frequently a subject of bullying. Aside from this, we were not much different. (As is often the case between bullies and the bullied.) We were both loud. We were both tall. We both had curly black hair. The way I remember her, she had a very pretty face, although no one ever pointed that out. Perhaps because, as I remember it, it was frequently twisted into the Scowl of Terror. (Inflicting terror, that is.) Another reason that her prettiness was ignored was that she was overweight. Being fat kids was something else we had in common. I spent most of my childhood packed in several layers of "baby" fat which, when I was fourteen, mysteriously melted away. I wouldn't be surprised to hear the same happened to Francine Morelli.
No one picked on her for her weight. (I was a different story.) No one picked on her for anything, because they were terrified of her. Whereas I reacted to my elementary school shortcomings by attempting to be invisible, a mere sponge absorbing the verbal abuse of my peers, Francine's approach was the offensive. She was too feared to be teased. I think she even hit people.
One day, in the cafeteria, I was sitting with my friends. Francine was close by. She was pretty quiet that day, subdued, I thought. I wasn't paying attention her, as I was telling a story to my friends. It was long and animated; some things about me have not changed since the '90's. Suddenly, Francine turned away from the girls which whom she was seated and cut into my story. In a menacing tone, she declared, "Sarah, you talk too much!"
It was the tone of a bully who's just started, who is waiting to follow up your protesting response with something even more cutting, and keep going and going, her insults escalating...
And that day, her target, typically a meek little insult-sponge, was having none of it.
I stood up from the lunch table and looked her straight in the eye. Leaning on the table, holding my tray, I said coldly, "Francine, you eat too much." I picked up my tray. "Way too much."
I turned, walked away, and for a few moments was the only person moving. Francine didn't deck me; she was stunned. Her mouth opened, but no cruel words came out. The whole lunch table was frozen with shock, and in a few minutes my friends unfroze and followed me. No one had stood up to Francine before, and I'd never stood up to anyone!
What happened after that was unmemorable. Francine Morelli continued to be a bully. In fourth grade (or something) she moved. I wasn't an instant Cafeteria Heroine. Francine did not develop a profound respect toward or friendship with me. Life went on.
But for just that one day, I had triumphed.

* Of course this is a fiction name. I wouldn't want to offend the REAL Francine!

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