Tuesday, 27 August 2013

By Grace O’Reilly

My name is Grace O’Reilly.  I am a 29 year old woman from Bray, happily married with a 2 and a half year old daughter and a 6 week old son.  Olivia and Benjamin along with my husband Simon are my whole World and make me smile.
Today I am writing a piece that is not so happy.  It is about bullying!  This piece is being written today I think, as the inspiration came from the fact that many people are starting school tomorrow (either for the first time or returning after the Summer break has finished).  What a lovely Summer it was too?
Unfortunately it is something that I had to endure for all of my school life from Junior Infants right up until 6th year ( and then briefly after school some years later in the form of betrayal), although from different people gangs and such.
In Junior Infants I was kicked in the playground by a guy called "John".  I don’t know why but I do remember his mother worked in at the time a supermarket in our town Bray, Co Wicklow called “Crazy Prices”.  I wore glasses and they would fall on the ground and be scraped.  I remember crying and wondering “WHY”?
Also, I remember being ignored.  A lot of people don’t realise that this is also a form of bullying, exclusion.  I mean I was and am a human being.  I was only 5 years old.  I look at my daughter Olivia (now 2) and my new born son (6 weeks) and think to myself I NEVER want them to feel anything like the pain I felt on an almost daily basis for the best part of 18 years anyway.  The girls were all playing games like “Little Sally Saucer”, “Orange Balls” and “Jackie Bluebells”.  I was never allowed play.
It hit me like a ton of bricks when all the people in my class got cards and presents from each other at Christmas time and I never did and invitations to each others Birthday parties.  To this day I still don’t know why I was the one that stuck out like a sore thumb but I did.
I mean don’t get me wrong I did have some friends but they never stuck by me as each year we’d be put in different classes and I would have to start again to TRY and make friends.  In 4th class I was friends with a girl and she laughed like a seal.  Not saying that in a mean way but it is so unusual the things you remember when you are older about such things.  This girl has an addiction to cherry flavoured cough drops called “Vicks”.  She was a year or so older than me and stole things.  I remember a girl who is now one of my close friends (although I have seen her once in a year!), who had her bag filled with people in the classes pencil cases and such belongings and framed.  This SEAL was actually the one who robbed the stuff and my friend got in trouble.  The SEAL did tell me it was her.  She also bullied me into throwing a walking stick belonging to two girls (sisters) in the clsses Grandfather’s stick over the wall or she’s spread rumours about me.  I was so scared I did.  I never told my mother the truth and got in trouble for it.
The following year was the worst of what was to come.  5th and 6th class and 1st year were the only years I wasn’t too badly bullied.   Ironic, because my best friend (so I thought) became my worst bully ever.
Was sitting alone in the yard and this girl came over and asked me if I wanted to hang out with them.  I was so happy.  She was so confident, into boys, music (Spice Girls were mega big then with “Wannabe” all over the charts) ... (again ironic as all I wanted was to be a SOMEBODY never mind a WANNABE”).  I remember my mother being cautious because her little girl was getting into make-up, boys, going down the town with her friends (not her mummy) for the first time ever with pocket money at that, and going into “Golden Discs” to buy cd’s of Kerri Ann (who at the time was like “OMG WOW”, and I got to meet her) that mum was worried not only about her baby growing up but maybe what I was getting into.  A gang of girls (and believe me girls CAN be much bithier than lads) we hung out together.  To be fair when things got bad it wasn’t them all but I am sure they know who they are.  We went to my new best friend’s house, chatted about boys, and I went to my first disco with her.  A Summer Project one.  We did disco-thons and was great fun.
It started to go bad at the end of 1st year .  I am now sipping a “West Coast Cooler” with a genuine sore thorat (not the achy one you get trying to stop yourself from crying).  I had suffered badly with anaemia and sore throats and was supposed to do “Battle of the Bands” with my gang of friends.  I was knocked for ten with a bad bout of tonsillitis and was off school for about a week.  I thought it was strange that I never heard from them that week.  This was JUST pre mobile phones where only a small few owned one and people still rang each other AFTER 6pm if on the parent’s house phone.  They either had Early Bird minutes on Night Owl ones.  Mum was a Night Owl.  Twit Twoo!
When I went back in after the week off I was told I had been replaced and that they were all mad at me.  A horrible few days passed and they talked to me again but things had changed.  The year before outside of school I had met friends and (started to find myself as a person) in drama schools DRY RAIN and GLADY’S SHEEHAN.   I spend most of the Summer with them and I went to London to see my Aunt for a week.  I had my tonsils removed that Summer too and when I went back BAM.  I was locked in a locker on a Wednesday after school.  We got half days and it was an hour later a teacher heard me crying and shouting and let me out.  I had water thrown over me over the main school wall.  In business studies class I had a note with a picture of me drawn in blue pen.  I’d a wart on my nose, glasses and spots (in the picture) and underneath was written “This is Grace Downes”.  That hurt.  I was bombarded by many more of these notes, several times a day.  Banged into.  I’d eat my lunch sitting on a toilet in a cubicle afraid.  One of the last straws was my supposed best friend wrote on an estate called “Ardmore Park” near the monkey puzzle trees (we hung out in) on big, capital black writing “GRACE DOWNES IS A FAT COW”.  I remember seeing this and I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I kept on my way to meeting her and some others and when I got there I said what had happened. It was only when I said Mum was going to involve the Garai that she came clean and said sorry.  She was sorry she was caught that was all. We were 15 and now nearing the end of 3rd year.  A year and a half had passed.
14 years later I still get as upset about it, even more so now I am a parent too.  Last Summer,  2012 just before I when I started to write and get published that I had nightmares and woke sobbing to my husband shouting “STOP,  WHY ME?”, only to find myself in a sweat with my baby cuddling me saying it is ok now.
I had a glass bottle thrown at me by a different circle of bullies (I’d my “friend” bullies and the knackery-doo  bullies at me at the same time) during a history block class for my Junior Certificate.  THAT WAS the last straw.  I went home and sobbed, hid under my duvet and considered slicing my wrists.  Only for the fact that I wrote to my Aunt in London and went there for another break i think I may have done so  That is why it makes me sad to see bullies getting away with so much and living happy lives many years later.  Some don’t even realise the impact of their doings.  So many people have committed suicide over bullies.
After the graffiti I was bulimic although never looked for help for a while.  I’d say to myself “This carrot is (say Ameila) and I’d stick my fingers down my throat and be sick.  I’d wash my face look at myself and say “Grace well done you dealt with her”, although looking back I never really did deal with it, just went through the motions.
Just months before the glass bottle incident a few girls took me under their wing (they were the year ahead of me) and 2 girls in my own year (one lives in Gorey where I live now) and I thank them so much.  I don’t think they realise HOW much of guardian angels they really were to me.
A guard had to come around to my house and physically drag me out from under my duvet after several hours and I still hysterical and hadn’t moved.  This was when I said to the guard and my parents I HAD to change school.  Although I wasn’t bullied in the nice Irish school I went to after I didn’t have friends really in my class.  My one friend she is still one of my dearest friends was a year ahead of me.
My point in writing this piece was to highlight to anyone who is a bully to stop.  I really hope this is an eye opener for you.  If you are a victim, please stand up for yourself.  Don’t let anyone put you down.
Although I will always revisit in my mind (not always by choice)  what happened I still don’t know why?  At least I have some really close friends now (some who went through those dark days with me), a husband I adore and who adores me and two beautiful children.  This was hard to write but as a mother I don’t want my children or anyone for that matter to go through this so if me writing this helps someone it was worth it.
The End
27 Aug 2013