In high school, I used to wait by the music room after school to meet up with my boyfriend. We lived in generally the same direction, so even on nights where we didn’t have plans to hang out, he would walk with me most of the way home.
The elementary school down the street got out around the same time we did, so we would often walk home surrounded by running, screaming, playing kids. One day, as we were walking home, we came across three little boys tormenting a little girl. From a distance, we could see that the little girl was upset, it was written all over her face. It’s not until we got closer, though, that we could hear what the little boys were saying.
The boys were no older than eleven and I was shocked to hear their words. Slut, skank, whore, bitch and cunt. For variety, they added combinations of fucking, stupid and dumbass to the insults they were throwing out. I was shocked into silence, rooted on the spot.
How could these children be treating each other like this? What made them think that this might be acceptable behavior?
My boyfriend, however, jumped into action.
“Hey!” He shouted, but if the boys had heard them, they were ignoring him. In two strides, M had caught up to them and he tried again, this time louder. “HEY! What the HELL are you doing?”
This time, the little asshats stopped their harassment long enough to look around. That’s when they spotted the gangling, 16-year-old standing over them. Their apparent ringleader spoke up first, “Fuck off, you big doofus!”
I held my breath. My boyfriend wasn’t really the fighting type. He was tall, awkward, skinny and yes, most certainly a geek. He wore black plastic framed glasses, plaid shirts and Chucks (apparently he was a hipster before it was cool to be a hipster). He was a writer and a musician and impossible at sports and athletics.
But then again, he was up against a group of pre-teens.
“First off, you can drop the language. Secondly, you can stop assaulting your classmate. You know that’s what you’re doing, right?” He paused. The asshats were looking at him with their mouths hanging open. M didn’t wait for them to formulate a response, “You’re assaulting her and harassing her. That’s against the law. People go to jail for that. It’s disrespectful and it’s not how human beings behave. You don’t believe me? Let’s go talk to your principal about it.”
While M was lecturing the kids, an audience had starting forming around us. Kids from the elementary school, kids from our high school and even a few parents had stopped to watch the commotion. M looked around at the people watching his intervention. And then he tore into them, “And all of you standing around. What the hell is YOUR problem? These boys were acting disrespectfully and you all chose to ignore it, walk by, pretend like it wasn’t happening? Guess what that makes you? Just as terrible at being a human being as these guys,” M gestured to the asshats who were shifting their weight from foot to foot, staring at the ground.
M then turned to the little girl that had been the subject of the torment, “And you. No one should ever treat you the way these guys have today. You got that? It’s not okay. It’s not just a joke. They’re not friends. They’re not teasing you because they secretly have crushes on you, they’re jerks. Don’t give them the time of day. Don’t let their words get to you. Because you’re better than that.”
By the time he was finished, everyone was looking uncomfortable.
After M had stopped into the elementary school to share what had happened with the school’s principal, we continued on our way home in silence. As we neared the corner where we would part ways, I finally spoke up.
“So. You were kinda the White Knight back there. Everyone looked uncomfortable. I even felt uncomfortable.”
“Good,” M smiled, “Everyone should have felt uncomfortable. The only thing worse than being a douchebag is ignoring douchebags. When we ignore stuff like that, it’s like we’re giving our silent approval of the situation. If more people would call idiots like that out, they’d be less likely to do it. Generally speaking, those guys are cowards. That’s why they tend to run in packs.”
M became my hero that day. Not only did he stick up for the little girl when everyone else was passively letting the harassment go on, but he also took us all to task for standing by and letting it happen. I hope that everyone else that was present for it remembers it, too, and that it has changed how they would react if they were ever to come up against a similar situation at some other point in their lives. At the time, I thought it was just an issue kids face.
But it still happens. All the damn time. At work. On the internet. On the street. It takes on different forms, different words are thrown around. But it’s still the same thing, it’s just as hurtful and disrespectful.
So how do we stop it?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this after reading this post by fellow blogger Dominque. I’m at a loss for words, really. And those of you that know me will find that pretty surprising.
We’re all in this together, it’s time we all start realising it.
Life rarely turns out the way you expect it to… Yes, guys, I’m getting personal today. It’s a rarity, but it’s important sometimes. Especially today.
The significance of today is huge for me, because it marks the anniversary of the date I rebooted my life and essentially started over. I was 24 years old, but I was starting over again. That’s sounds pretty dramatic, so maybe I should backup a bit.
In July 2007, I was living in a gorgeous little flat in Perth. I loved that flat. It was within walking distance of my uni and the CBD wasn’t too far away. I’d just completed my degree, spent time celebrating with my uni friends, my best friend had just gotten engaged, and I was coming up on my 5th anniversary with my own fiance. The life I’d been talking about and planning out for the last few years was finally all coming together. At least, that’s what it may have looked like.
For the past six months, I’d been struggling with living in Australia. A trip to Canada at Christmas to visit my family made me realise how desperately I was missing being around those people and that place. I didn’t know it at the time, but my parents weren’t sure I was actually going to get back on the plane and return to Oz.
I sucked it up and went back to my life in Oz, knowing deep down at the time the only reason why I was really going back was because I had only one semester left before I finished my degree, something I wanted for as long as I could remember. The fact that I’d barely missed my fiance while I’d been away from him for almost 8 weeks was something I was trying to ignore. But it was becoming very obvious; our relationship was broken.
It started with the little signs; I didn’t really miss him while I was away. He forgot to pick me up at the airport. We started fighting. I’d stay later at school to have time to myself. I started to avoid family functions because I couldn’t bear to spend a lot of time with his family. Then things started to become more obvious; I was absolutely miserable and he just did not care.
We went through the motions and looked like the happy couple to our friends and his family. We’d been out with two other couples to see the most recent Harry Potter movie. We’d gone to my best friend’s engagement party. It got to the point where I couldn’t keep it up anymore. I hit my breaking point while we were out to dinner for our anniversary.
It was a conversation I’d been putting off and dreading for months, but it turns out the hardest part was actually starting it. Within half an hour, I had my answer. Fifteen minutes later, I was on the phone to my mum, calling her to tell her they should stop planning their trip to Australia for my graduation, that I was moving home.
The next month was strange. S and I continued to live as a couple, but things were different. I knew there was an end in sight and somehow that made it easier to get along with him. We’d go to our favourite restos and pubs, I spent countless hours at Hilary’s Boat Harbour, my favourite place in Perth. He thought he could change my mind. But I knew I was saying goodbye to Oz.
Five years ago today, I landed in Vancouver, B.C. I was 24 years old and had no job, no place to call my own, friends that I hadn’t been in touch with in years and at the start of what would become a pretty ugly separation. I’d been focusing all of my energy on the actual logistics of moving around the world, because I needed to be able to keep it together until I was packed, moved and had traveled my 36 hours. Me, the girl that always had a plan, was suddenly plan-free. And it was terrifying.
But the whole experience taught me a very important lesson. Sometimes, you have to tackle the terrifying. Sometimes, you have to take a step back and say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t working.” Sometimes that goal you’ve been working towards for years, ends up not being the direction for you. Sometimes the person you thought was ‘the one’ at 19, turns out to be the one you want nothing to do with five years later.
Sometimes, you have to throw the plan out the window and start fresh.
Whether you’re 24 or 64. Because it’s never too late to start over.