In 1985, during my fifth grade year at Sanborn Elementary School in Ossineke, Michigan, I proudly exhibited a pair of white denim jeans stamped with neon-colored tropical fruit. My father had sent them to me, and I loved those jeans that were embellished with pineapples, coconuts, pinks, blues, greens, oranges, the color and the fruit. Dad was a security guard at a department store in Connecticut and got a discount on clothing. I was often teased about my clothing, but I would have worn virtually anything that my father sent me. Wearing those clothes made me feel closer to him when I ached so deeply just to be near him. I didn’t own Guess jeans like most of the other girls in my grade, but truthfully, I preferred my department store couture.
I was a child of divorce and a tv baby, fueled by “Dallas”, “Falcon Crest”, “Growing Pains”, “Moonlighting” and “Family Ties”. My beliefs were simple: that love is all we need. With my wire-like, dark curly hair, an inheritance courtesy of my full-Italian father, I was not a traditional beauty. Plus, I usually wore my hair short and with thick black curls, I looked more like a prepubescent boy. I had painfully grown accustomed to strangers calling me “young man”. Not having breasts certainly added to the gender confusion.
When I was five years old, living on Daley Street in Chicopee, Massachusetts, my friends and I shoved little stuffed animals into our shirts to create large, and lopsided, pretend breasts. We would strut back and forth in the driveway, behind my mom’s flesh-colored Vega. Now-a-days, that type of behavior would be the next viral video on Facebook. Back then, no one seemed to notice what we were doing. And, if they did, they didn’t care. It was the 80s afterall.
My soul-mission in 1985 was to get a boyfriend. It seemed like everyone in fifth grade had already been kissed. I was naive, sensitive and gullible, so I was convinced I was the last person in my grade to be kissed. The blurred line between just being boyfriend and girlfriend seemed to disappear once kissing became a goal. Holding hands was easy, but kissing was confusing to me: how would I know how to do it? Do I really even want to kiss someone or is this the epitome of fear of missing out?
During class one morning, a boy named B asked me to “go with him” through a note written on wide-ruled paper and then folded into a triangle. His best friend, D, passed the triangle to my friend who then passed to me.
“Will you go with me? Yes______? No_____?”
Impulsively, I put a mark next to “yes”. I dated B for nearly an entire day. I don’t remember why, but I do remember swifty ending our relationship by a note I had written which my friend gave to his best friend who then gave it to B. I felt relieved. The pressure was off; I could be just a ten-year-old again.
One week later, B’s best friend asked me through a multi-folded note to meet him during recess on the trail behind the playground.
“Let’s kiss on the trail during recess today,” the note read.
“He wants to kiss me?” I thought to myself. “He wants to kiss me!” I proclaimed, internally. This was it: this was going to be MY first kiss moment. So many of my girlfriends had claimed they kissed a boy. Already, at ten years old, I felt light years behind them.
D was a year older (we were in Mr. Rensbury’s split 5th/6th class) and I found his dark feathered hair appealing. Technically, he was considered a tough kid from a tough family. I think I found that even more appealing.
I watched the clock. With five minutes left until recess, I nervously tapped my right leg and played a fantasy through my mind of what this kiss might be like.
When the bell rang, I casually walked outside, stopping to talk to a teacher and a few classmates. D walked by and motioned for me to follow him into the woods. He didn’t hold my hand. He didn’t even say a word.
Once we were far enough from the playground, away from the view of roaming teachers and students , D told me to close my eyes. I was hesitant, and worried that I would be a terrible kisser. I thought to myself that I had no business being back there with this boy, but, it’s for a kiss. I convinced myself that this was my rite.
The energy that generates within a young girl as she anticipates her first kiss could run a hospital generator for an hour or so. I closed my eyes and leaned forward. What I felt next was nothing I could have prepared for.
I didn’t feel his warm lips, or the subtle touch of his hand against mine. I felt the cold, rough and filthy landscape stones from the playground. The rocks that the kids ran on and kicked-up, the rocks that kids threw at other kids when teachers weren’t looking. Those rocks were now in my mouth. He shoved a hand-full of rocks into my mouth just as we were to kiss!
D ran off laughing and pointing aggressively at me as my heart sank into my stomach. I felt the heaviness of disappointment and embarrasment. I chased D through the woods, past the swing set, past the archiac dodge ball game that I never, ever wanted to play. I ran to tell one of the teachers, but D pushed me away from her. When I tearfully tried to tell her what happened, D interjected and told them that I had done something terrible in the woods.
“Amy tried to kiss me,” D yelled. “She made me kiss her.” he said with a decietful smile.
I stood motionless, physically ill from the shock of being assaulted in my most intimate moment. I still had dirt and grass and small pieces of rocks in my mouth as I tried to verbally defend myself. No words came out as I realized there was no way to effectively tell on D without getting myself into serious trouble. I remained silent.
My tortourous moment became a topic of ridicule almost immediately as D spread the word throughout the playground about what he had done. I spent the rest of the day, and the week, mourning my innocence.
This was bullying before bullying became an ad campaign and a movement. For almost thirty years, this story was just a story, an anecdote from my strange childhood. I would retell the story to a limited audience, but without really feeling the impact of what happened that day. I was mortified enough to make myself the brunt of my own humours storytelling. Truthfully, that moment shattered my already fragile perceptions of love and romance. That moment lingered on and reared its vicious head whenever I had my actual first real kiss years later.
Two years ago, when I started writing my memoir “The Legacy Essays,” I decided to search online for my rock bully. It didn’t take long to find him and in fact, we shared some common friends. I wrote to him nervously, and I asked him how he was doing. I summarized what had happened back in 1985 on the playground. The following is his reply (I have not edited his message except for the proper spelling of our grade school):
“I’m doing well thanks for asking and hope you are to. Yeah we did some crazy stuff on the [Sanborn] playground. lol I only have bits and pieces in my memory bank. Actually, I wish more people would take an interest in reflecting back for some odd reason they don’t…?? There have been many years before FB I often wonder what my class mates were up to. Then FB came we all friend requested said Hi and thats the end of it kinda weird to me. Who knows maybe its just me. Who in the world put rocks in your mouth..thats not nice🙃 All I remember about B was his three wheeler..remember he brought it up to the school? I do remember being a little fighter amongst other bad things I think B and I got into a fight one time. One memory Iv got is JW and I were selling those naked girl cards we jacked from his parents bar we both got suspended. I had a huge crush on LG and a coupel other girls. I rember a girl named Kristen kicking me in the balls so hard I cryied that was like fouth grade.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with a bully, speak up!
Here are some resources:
My piece on Cyber bullying