Sunday, 5 April 2015

Journey to Otherness

My journey to otherness began at a young age. I was seven when my parents decided the state-run village school I attended wasn’t good enough for me. It didn’t matter that I was happy there, or that I would miss my two best friends – Victoria, a graceful, pretty, blonde girl I thought could have been a princess, and little Alex, a funny, feisty tom-boy. I have fond memories of the three of us performing ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” to anyone who cared to pay attention in the playground at break times. 

With apathy masquerading as best intentions I was shipped off to a Catholic school in the nearby town. I doubt I put up too much of a fight. My father, a stern disciplinarian, would have had none of it. He thought the strict environment of a religious institution was just what was needed to help me grow into the best possible version of myself. It is ironic that, to this day, he remains a staunch atheist. 

It started as soon as I arrived. I’m not sure why one particular classmate took an instant dislike to me but she did. I was introduced to the class as “Fiona Catrina Maclaren” and by the time I was seated at her table, just seconds later, she had labelled me with a cruel nickname. Derived from the Scottish roots of my name, it haunted me for the four years I spent at that school. 

I was ostracised before I’d been given a chance and I quickly became used to my own company. To be honest it was a good lesson to learn, together with developing a heightened sense of danger. I became very good at spotting potential situations that would be better for me to avoid. I would have made a good candidate for ninja school. 

It wasn’t until a couple of years later when another new girl started that I made a friend. Angela didn’t need a nickname as she came with her own. Her surname was Burke. “A Burke” and I found comfort in our little bubble of exclusion. We bonded over a love of Adam Ant and swapped tales of authoritarian fathers. She even had me singing in the playground again, though this time around it was “Prince Charming” and “Kids in America”, with ABBA consigned to the bin. 

I don’t think about those days often, though I have to say they left their mark. Like a little tattoo somewhere so discreet that only a few would ever get a glimpse. 

Through the power of modern technology I am in touch with “A Burke”. I’ve since moved hundreds of miles away whilst she still lives within a stone’s throw of our old stomping ground. Until recently the last I’d heard of my tormentor was that she was at university studying law. I imagined a glorious career as a hard-nosed defence lawyer. The kind that gets the guilty off scot-free. 

A recent conversation changed that. An opportunity presented itself for me to nonchalantly enquire about the lawyer during a “Whatever happened to ...” discussion. 

“Oh, didn’t you know?” Came the response. “She died of breast cancer in her late twenties.”

It’s hard to know what to feel about news such as this. Fifteen-year old news about someone who shaped my life in the way she did. 

But I’ll work it out. I always do.
Black Sheep
Black sheep, don’t cry
Your rainbow will shine
In a gentle heart’s presence
Black sheep, don’t ask why
Walk your path with purpose
You weren’t meant to follow the flock
Black sheep, fly high
Break the chains of judgement
Soar above the clouds with your dream
Thank you for reading,


Christo said...

Thanks for being able to be so candid, Fiona - starting at a new school when everyone else has formed their friendships must be difficult, and I feel very fortunate never to have been in that position, and to have mostly avoided having a horrid tormentor as you experienced.
I hope at least the teachers at your new school were kindly, and it is good that eventually another new arrival became a close friend with whom you are in contact.
I can barely believe how often "back then" teachers dared to be as horrid as some of the pupils - a friend whoseparents moved the family from Manchester to Blackpool was told by her new Headmistress that the school "has no choice but to accept guttersnipes like you and your sister", but that the school "will endeavour to civilize the two of you".
Pam went on to become Head of Science at a Hong Kong Girls' School, and you have proved your tormentor just as wrong as that disgraceful Head was about Pam.

Adele said...

Sounds like my Headmistress Christo. Lillian Oldham at Elmslie was a real piece of work.

Fiona, I really enjoyed reading this , despite your pain at the time you have become a self-starter, a great mother and have an interesting career. I don't believe in wishing harm on another but fervently believe that we each get out of life exactly what we deserve. Sometimes instantaneously: Sometimes a little further down the line. Karma perhaps.

Fiona said...

Thank you both for your kind comments. I enjoyed writing this, I even found it therapeutic! However my brush with a bully was nothing compared to what some go through. I do feel for kids nowadays who can't leave their stresses at the school gates. The online bullying they are subjected to means that, for some, there's no escape. A sad aspect of modern life.