Choice is a fairly interesting concept when you think about it. I don’t mean the basic ‘Shall I do this or do that?’ sort of thing. I mean the way that it changes. While sometimes events out of our control can take away certain choices, there are always more on the horizon. It’s one of the few things that we can’t run out of, even if sometimes it feels like we have.
The freedom of expression is of course vitally important. As much as cynics can complain that so many people pretend they’re being individualistic when really they’re being sheep, ultimately we are completely different people. Rather than the materialistic things setting us apart, it’s the way we cope with situations that makes us different.
To me it feels like when we’re born, we’re a blank slate. As we grow, things happen, sometimes out of our control and they change us. Not necessarily hugely, but they still adjust our outlook a tiny bit. It’s like when you go to the opticians to have new lenses fitted and they make small, seemingly inconsequential tweaks which make all the difference to your eyesight.
When I was a teenager, I was a pretty happy teenager. I had my moody moments of course but I never went down the ‘I hate you, I wish I’d never been born’ path, nor did I complain that no one understood me. I did have a hint of underlying bitterness though, strangely that I’d suppressed for most of my childhood.
You see, when I was 6, I was bullied badly at school. The explanation sounds a little archaic now but there were two reasons for this: I was the smart kid that got all my work done faster than everyone else, and I had a different accent to everyone else. I had an English accent, everyone else had a Welsh accent. For some reason this was a big deal to one group of kids in particular. The group consisted of a few people that I thought were friends, they weren’t. It didn’t help that the school didn’t get it. Hopefully now, schools deal with bullying much more effectively. At the school I attended though, I was seen as a wimp and my plight was mostly ignored. There were two key events that would change things.
One day the bullying ramped up a lot. Rather than being of the mental kind (which is still awful), the kids decided to throw stones at me. They were covered in mud so it looked more subtle but they were still stones. Then one kid shoved me face first up against a wall that had sharp, decorative stones sticking out of it on the rendering. A part of me wants to say ‘6 year olds! How could they be so nasty?’ but some kids are just plain nasty. By the end of the lunch break, I had a very sore eye, was crying my eyes out, in pain and had plenty of small cuts and scratches.
Guess what the teacher did? Nothing. Oh actually, worse than nothing. She didn’t send me to get cleaned up or anything. She told me to stop whining. I think this is partly where the anger kicks in. As a kid I never really thought about it, as a teenager and now, I look back and realise just what awful treatment this was.
My Mum picked me up at the end of the school day, saw the state of me and was absolutely furious that she’d never been called about it. She’d clearly had enough of how the school was dealing with this bullying.
The next day she took me to school and I was terrified. I wouldn’t go in the door. Again this is where things turn ridiculous. The deputy headteacher demanded that I had to go in. In front of some other parents, she grabbed my arm to take me in. My Mum realising my distress held onto the other arm. Think about that. Doesn’t that make you just want to shout ‘What the fuck?’ at such a situation? I didn’t go to school that day.
Actually I never went to school again. I was terrified of going back. The initial plan was to keep me at home for a bit then transfer me to a different school. In the end I was home educated from the age of 6 until 16 when I went to the local college to do my A-Levels.
After that, it was a brilliant childhood. Flawless really. I was fortunate enough to have ridiculously understanding parents. Maybe I’ll write more about the home educated days another day.
Back to my original point though…
The real reason why I was bitter about this as a teenager (besides the fact I now have scarring on my eye which after many hospital visits, was decided it was from trauma as a child – wonder what that could have been eh?), was the fact that events had changed me.
I have no idea what I would have been like if I’d had a decent time at school and hadn’t been terrified of the place. To be honest, I adored my childhood and being home educated so I’m certainly not disputing that! I had some brilliant opportunities I never would have had if I’d gone to school like ‘normal’ people.
But it’s the fact that outside influences changed everything. I still have to go to my old school whenever I want to go vote in the local or national election. Embarrassingly I still feel ever so slightly apprehensive there. Not in a way that would ever stop me going of course (although I hated going with my parents as a kid!) but just a little bit.
I absolutely hate feeling trapped in any situation, either physically or socially. Would I have been like this if everything had gone smoothly when I was 6? Maybe that was just me anyway, who knows?
As a kid, I didn’t trust other kids. How bad is that? Then again, all my brain could think sometimes was ‘They’d turned before, what will stop them from turning again?’. I still had plenty of friends fortunately (it’s a popular misconception that if you’re home educated, you’re a loner with no friends. I had more of a social life as a kid than I do now!) but it took me a lot longer to trust them than I’d consider normal. Again though, would I have been like it anyway?
And of course, for a long time, I hated my accent. I hated the fact that it made me stand out and be seen as different. Now, I like it. Actually I don’t overly like it but I like the fact that it makes me distinctive round here. Even if sometimes, just sometimes, I still feel a little alien.
I don’t feel bitter about it now. It was just something that happened and in many, many ways, things turned out for the better in the long run. I hate that feeling that choices are being taken from me though. Things that aren’t anyone’s fault, they just happen. It’s a problem that’s felt all too clear in recent years.