For the first time in twenty years, this fall I went back to the school where I was bullied. As soon as I stepped into the front foyer, traumatic memory took over and that old familiar shadow of darkness began to fall over me.
A million thoughts ran through my head. Memories I had long tucked away in the back of my brain. To my right I saw the bathroom, my old classroom and my old locker. A flashback filled my mind.
Suddenly I was eleven years old again. The hall was filled with kids laughing out loud, staring at me and pointing at a locker which was trashed and wide open. Filled with dread, I ran down the hallway. ‘God – please don’t be my locker,’ I prayed.
As I ran down the hall, I passed my shoes and coat in a trash can. My heart sunk as I saw my homework notes strewn all up and down the hall. My lunch was smashed, my books were destroyed. Maxi pads and broken pencils were scattered across the floor. A cut up t-shirt lay beside my locker. My backpack was emptied, my things stolen and the bag drenched in juice and food.
“What? No! Who did this?” I shouted out to the other kids in the hall. But nobody answered. Everybody was staring at me. They whispered to one another and turned, leaving me alone, crying as I crawled up and down the hall on my knees, gathering my things.
As I started my walk of shame toward the principal’s office, clutching my juice-drenched backpack, I noticed a group of girls gathered by the bathroom door. They saw me coming and ran away snickering. Defeated, I slowly walked up to the door. There, taped to the walls, were photocopies of some of my private journal entries and notes to my friends.
Filled with rage I tore the papers off the wall. “Go away!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I ran into the bathroom a snotty mess. When I was finally alone I fell apart at the seams.
“Who would do something like this to me?!” I cried out and sunk to the floor crying.
The bathroom fell quiet. No one came in. I stayed in that bathroom with no comfort but the silent hum of the space heater blowing as I sobbed into the wall. And there was no one. I was alone and my spirit was broken.
I shook my head a little bit and came back to reality. Here I stood in this spot, twenty years later – so grown up. So different. Back in those days there really wasn’t anything a person could do when they were being bullied. There was no such thing as an anti-bullying campaign.
Every time I was bullied I would go home crying to my parents. My mom would hug me and stroke my hair. My dad would comfort me, give me wisdom and strength.
“You come from a long line of strong women, Nahnda,” my dad said. “Aunty Emily had polio when she was little. Did you know that?”
“No,” I sniffled and wiped away my snot with the sleeve of my shirt.
“Yeah she did,” my mom explained. “Back in those days there was no such thing as vaccines. And most of the kids who got polio either died or ended up in a wheelchair unable to walk. Emily said her mother would make her go outside everyday and kick a bucket around the yard.”
“Why,” I asked?
“To keep her strength up,” she said. “It was really hard work because she was weak. But she had to get through it or else she might never walk again. Getting through it made her strong. And because she endured through that, she was able to overcome polio and walk after that. That happened right here in the backyard – over by that walnut tree.”
When my parents told me that story I looked for a long time at that walnut tree in our backyard. I imagined my Aunty Emily and my Uncles Oneyateh and Deskaheh growing up under its shade. Gathering its walnuts. Kicking buckets and enduring.
I heard their stories all my life. None of them had it easy. Oneyateh tilled the earth at Hillville year after year to keep his family alive. Aunty Emily struggled against the Department of Indian Affairs, the residential school system and political corruption until she was unable to fight any longer. My uncle Deskaheh fought nobly against our oppressor until the day he died.
The stories of my aunties and uncles empowered me and made me feel like I was a part of them. And that together, we, and our enduring, were part of something bigger. We all survived through our trials. Even though our oppressors tried to tear us down, they didn’t win because we kept getting back up again. Suddenly I felt less alone.
Through my trial I was broken. I needed fixing. That was also hard – but I did it through years of counseling at places like Ganohnkwa’sra, Nova Vita and Six Nations Mental Health Services.
That is when I found out I was fierce, fiery, passionate and strong. I learned that I could hold my head up high with dignity in who I truly am.
The love of my parents, and the endurance of my aunties and my uncles taught me to be resilient. That I have the endurance in my blood not only to survive – but to thrive beyond any kind of torment which tries to stop me from shining as bright as I am.