A friend of mine from elementary school took a picture of the Fr. Ghisleen de Vos lobby of Saint Louis University Laboratory Elementary School. In a few weeks, we’ll be having our grand reunion, and I’m sure my batchmates have a good memory of this place. During recess time, my classmates sat by the corridors playing jacks. The floor of the lobby was a place for patintero, Touch-the-Body, and Cops and Robbers. For many of them, this was the place that elementary school memories are made of.
Save for Recognition Week, skits, First Friday Mass, and plays, I don’t have a fond memory of this place at all. I wasn’t allowed here. To go home or out to lunch, I had to take the other way out: down the stairwells at the far end, and into General Luna, hail the jeepney, and realize at a young age that I’m missing playtime and I’m not making friends. No, none at all; my best memories of this place is Mr. Kitma with his wooden meterstick, Mrs. Mendoza with her file folders, and a very vague memory of me playing a one-man version of “The Shoemaker and the Elves.”
I never really took well to bullying, and the only fights I’ve ever gotten to came after the age of “sport.” As a kid, the only defense mechanism I had against bullies was to harbor ill will, so much so that I developed a strange antisocial behavior I carried with me all the way through college. I never had to fight – there were always the good guys who had my back and took my punches for me and bloodied a few of the bad guys along the way – but I never figured out why I wasn’t allowed here. Or why I wasn’t welcome here. I could have just sat there minding my own business, but I always took the other way out. No, I wouldn’t cross the lobby where all the cool kids were.
I get bullied every now and then, but then again I realize that fighting was never really my option. There’s always the gratification I felt when I finally learned how to fight, but the schoolyard of my childhood taught me to flee. Not because I was afraid, and certainly not because I was a wuss, but because you know early in life to choose your battles, dignifying the bully only when necessary, like when he gets in the way of your stairwell. Or when he plays with your Zaks and Legos. Or when you see him in the library doing remedial for Reading and Comprehension while you show the librarian more honor cards for that exact same subject. The fact that you’re bullied puts you in a very interesting place: people waste their time on poor little you, when they know full well they really can’t get anything from it. It’s a pathetic way to live, and it continues through old age. A vicious cycle of living life without purpose, sensibility, or reason.
So you put yourself above it, no matter what.
Methinks that the scars of bullying are things you carry with you through the rest of your life, that you grind axes and edges against the living inspirations of all you never wanted to be. Granted that I eventually learned how to throw a punch and hold my own in a fight and broke a lot of bones along the way, but I never took too well to the oppressors I associated with everything that went wrong in my childhood. There was that invisible fence that I wasn’t meant to cross because I wasn’t cool enough for whatever was going on there. I would just end up taking the other way out anyway, where the rest of the world awaits. Where the world isn’t trapped into play groups and games of Washington you weren’t supposed to be in because you were too weak for it, or that nobody really liked you slowing down the team.
Early in life, I realized the importance of going your way, minding your own business, and bullies don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. I took the other way out. Nothing is ever proved in the lobby, anyway.
Maybe the cool kids and the bullies owned the lobby, but in my young life, I owned the world outside of it.