Today’s writing 101 prompt at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/unsafe-containers/ asks what is the most difficult emotion for you to contain. It lists joy and rage, obviously on opposite ends of the spectrum but for me it’s self confidence which is probably more of a thing to maintain and not contain.
Growing up in a small community as a fat, flat-chested girl I was bullied. In today’s society they would be doing it via impersonal social media but in the 60s it was face to face and sometimes brutal. Since I spent most of my early childhood with a maiden aunt who believed in piety I was already primed to believe that I was unworthy and like members of a pack who seek to rid their numbers of the weakest I was shunted aside.
By 5th grade it was obvious that I was a victim ready and unfortunately willing to be the brunt of their jokes and pokes. I had an incredible teacher, however, who recognized my strong points. While she didn’t see the taunts that took place on the playground she could tell that I was unsure of myself in a social situation. I will remember forever the day she called me to the front of the class and whispered to me that I was the most artistic member of the class and she had a special assignment for me. Then she stood up, turned me toward the class and said that we were going to have an Easter Egg tree that year. Each student could decorate one blown out egg to hang on the tree but before it was hung it had to be inspected by the coordinator. This, she said patting me on the shoulder, is your coordinator.
I would love to say that moment changed how others viewed me but it changed only me. Having my creativity finally recognized gave me something precious to hold onto…a sort of lifeboat to cling to when the water was too deep for me to stay afloat. That Egg Tree was my defining moment! Forty-five years later those three decorated eggs with their straw hats & lace shawls came back to me when my mother moved from the family home. Three fragile blown eggs with faces had survived decades in a china cabinet, hidden away to protect them from harm while their creator learned to weather life in all its annoys and joys.
Since I’m not one who lives to wallow in self-pity I’ll make this short if not sweet. The 83 of us moved to the district High School and those who had taunted me moved into the cliques of cheerleaders, twirlers and football stars. Mostly I was forgotten as others weaker moved in to fill my place. But one day in 11th grade while the Spanish teacher was delayed and class had not yet begun, one of the clique stood on a chair and asked for attention. The room went silent and she made the announcement that “Carolyn Brown has a hole in her girdle”. I laugh as I write this because at the time of the incident I was 5′ 6″ and weighed 118 lbs. But she was spot on…I’d put my long fingernails through my girdle in gym class and she had seen it happen. I KNOW that there wasn’t one kid in that class who expected the reaction that announcement brought…It was the moment I SNAPPED!!!! I shot up from my chair, headed straight to the back of the room and told her that if she didn’t step down from that chair and shut her mouth I would gladly shut if for her on her way down. The room went totally silent. She got off the chair, and never again was I the brunt of a joke, a taunt or a cruel aside.
I still do not have any self-confidence in social situations even after 40+ years of gallery openings and speaking engagements but I have learned to hide it well. While having to endure the bullying during my young, formative years was an unspeakably difficult thing to do, it helped me develop talents that might have lain dormant for a lifetime. In writing this I realize that in today’s society there is a segment of our youth who chose to end the torment by ending their life. It makes me unspeakably sad that even after decades of social enlightenment there exists the need for cruelty among our youth. I wish I had answers that could save even one life but the only thing I can assure anyone of is that the secret to survival lives within each of us. Look within. Find your passion. Ignore the bullies and learn to love even that smallest portion of your self that is worthy of survival.