Monday, September 13, 2010


 I was an early reader, precocious in my ability to read aloud having been raised in a household that made bedtime reading a nightly habit.

 I was sitting in front of my second grade classroom reading to the class making sure I would captivate my audience with proper expressive inflections. I couldn't stand listening to other kids reading in their flat voices, stumbling over the words.

As I was reading, taking the task most seriously, a super loud fart was issued forth from one of the students.  I sat there mortified as the laughter erupted from the entire classroom and because I knew that I was going to be held by a standard above the rest with my place on front and center I fought to keep a properly solemn expression on my face. I was at a loss as my moment was stolen and I couldn't join in with the laughter. In fact I believe I froze until the teacher prompted me to continue on with my reading.

The poor girl Stephanie was to blame. I'm not sure if indeed it was her. The other kids said it was but with the way she was treated on a daily basis she may have just been the scapegoat. You see, Stephanie had cooties. Not the real kind but the insidious fictional kind that kids pinned on the outcasts. With her stringy hair and body odor and a lisp on top of that she was a target for all manner of cruelty. Why, you might get cooties yourself if you didn't hold your nose when she came near you or happened to be touched by her. A recess could come alive by the passing of cooties which would send a palpable shiver through me.

 She played in her own world since the rest of us refused to go near her. In her world of ponies and horses she would trot and gallop, cantering and neighing about the playground.

 I couldn't help but notice her delight when the speech teacher came to fetch her from class. "I love her" she exclaimed and she would cry when she would be delivered back to the classroom. How odd to love a teacher I thought.

 The taunting extended beyond the schoolyard whether she was aware of it or not. The dull pink shabby house where she lived didn't fit in with the rest of the neighborhood. We would hold our noses as we walked by on our way to Fairway to get our candy. I spotted her mother more than once at the Popular Market, fascinated I was by this small dingy stringy haired mother who apparently must love her daughter just as my mother loved me.
On Valentine's Day we were required to exchange cards with everyone so the ones with the cute skunks were relegated to Stephanie.

 Once in third grade I was rather ashamed when I was caught by my mother writing something unkind about the girl. In a fit of expansive expression I wrote that I loved everybody in the whole wide world except for her. I was afraid that without that qualifier someone might call me on it.  A sure fate of unwanted cooties if there ever was one. "That's cruel " my mother said and she hoped that I was better than that, being so mean to the unfortunate girl.

 "I think she has a cute name" my mother once said. I wondered how anyone could think that. My association with the name had become synonymous with something putrid.

 By the fourth grade and probably from the result of me being busted by my mom, I had begun to mature and develop sympathy along with a few of the other girls in my class. We largely left her alone until a small group of the more popular girls took her on as a sort of project and extended the kindness of helping her set her hair and perhaps giving her a few other grooming tips.

 It was that same year in a karmic moment that I was standing in the lunch line and a younger kid backed away from me saying "Ewww Stephanie!" Lucky for me another kid quickly stepped up and said "That's not Stephanie, That's Dan Rogers' sister!" and I was quickly elevated from the bottom of the heap to the status of a cool sixth grader's sister. It was enough to give me pause though and shoot a small pellet through my thin bubble of pre-teen self esteem.

 After elementary school she disappeared from my sphere and I heard that she was hanging out at the riding stables and maybe even was working there when she was a little older.
I always wondered how she survived our horrible treatment and to this day wish that I could apologize for my part in it.

Did you have experiences with an outcast in your childhood?


  1. Great story. I remember in our neighborhood, the girl who had breasts and wore big black glasses. We kids were horrible. How is that cruelty in our nature? I did finally apologize to her when I was in high school, but
    everyone put her through alot, for a long time. I wonder where she is today? xox Corrine

  2. I left a comment just now but blogger ate it .....*** will have to re write and its never as good second time .....I was saying about a girl called Glynis who was in my class at junior school .....the sad thing is that we have kids at school who are grubby and smelly and one who came to school crawling with nits.....apparantly I was told that a teacher cannot tell a child or his/her parent that their child has nits ......incredible isn't it wouldn't imagine that such neglect is still going on ........becoming a teacher has opened my eyes to many things I can tell you.......xx

  3. I've read all your posts and each one I enjoyed thoroughly. You've got a wonderful writing style. Keep it up! I'll be coming back for more!

    Thanks for stopping by my place and saying hi ~ So nice to meet you!

  4. Well done, Kim. This is nicely written piece, and thought provoking. I think most adults end up remembering those times in our lives when we were younger, and not as kind as we should have been.

    Strangely, I think it is the people who did the mean-spirited teasing who end up with the greater burden, in many ways. Most grow up and flinch at the memory of how thoughtlessly cruel they were.

    I know that in my late teens, after my dad died and I was rather angry, I did and said things that just weren't worthy of my overall character. I never did pick on an outcast, but I have those memories of "Oh wow, can't believe I said that, did that, acted that way."

    It's a strange thing in life that our greatest burdens of conscience are generally the ones we saddled ourselves with when we were younger, and crueler.

    Empathy is a learned trait, don't you think? Since none of us has a time machine I suppose the best thing to do is to try and be mindfully kind, rather than thoughtlessly mean.

  5. Our school had a family attending were all three children were treated this way. Everyone would lift their feet of the car floor as they drove by their dilapidated house for fear of cooties. I feel guilty for my behavior then, although I received harsh treatment as the only ethnic family in the school.

    A friend of mine was confronted by a childhood bully who was trying to absolve their sins and only amounted to crushing my friend who had to relive her horrible childhood. Full meltdown.
    Makes you think.

  6. Land of Shimp, Thanks for your added perspective. I think as kind as we were raised to be that element of cruelty isn't far from the surface when we are children, a part of human nature that does need to be learned and trained away. I'm happy that I was over that sort of treatment by middle school years.

    Don, Thanks for your thoughtful comment on my blog. Yes, I imagine apologies would do much more to assuage guilt for the inflictor and that it would be painful if not patronizing to the victim as it affected your friend. I think Land of Shimp has the right idea in being mindful and kind and teaching your own children empathy. It really does make me think about my own behavior then as I was raised in a kind and empathetic family yet I still partook in it for a small while.

  7. A heartfelt and genuine post that brought tears to my eyes for both the tormented and her taunters. Childhood is so difficult to navigate even for those coming from the most nurturing and stable of backgrounds, for the rest it can be a tightrope precariously walked, where you may fall on either side of the line on any given day. I have been in both places and believe both experiences have shaped me to be a more empathetic person today.
    Thanks for sharing so honestly!

  8. A beautifully written, toughing, and thoughtful piece... Being a human being is a hard job sometimes, isn't it?

  9. Our town was cruel...if it wasn't cooties, it was raggies...

    The town continues this behavior can no longer see prospect street and it's houses from downtown...

  10. A bit of an update here. I found her profile on Facebook and she has a beaming smile and a list of friends. That warmed me. I'm reluctant to contact for fear of dredging up painful memories.

  11. sure did... i was the outcast... itwasn't cool in the 70's to have a european mother and an artistic some degree i am still an outcast..but you know i sort of like it....

  12. i think you're right that it's best not to contact these people afterwards. she probably has a totally different view of the experience than you did. and the girl whose bike i put a dead squirrel in the basket of (dang, that's an awkward sentence) maybe doesn't even remember it. she's probably got a husband and kids and a normal life. and maybe it didn't even haunt her.

    but all this focus i've been having on bullying definitely has made me think about these things.

    oh, and i used to gallop around the playground, but it was with my friend shelly and i really did have a horse. :-)


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