“If you go out of your front door, I’ll be waiting for you with a gun and I’ll shoot you.” It was all I could think about. I was 13 years old, and someone had threatened to shoot me. Why? I had not the faintest idea.
Every school has one of these kids. They drive their teachers crazy because they just don’t care, and they hunt down the weak, vulnerable kids for their own entertainment. I’d been to primary school with this lad, and knew that, with him, anything was possible. Drugs? No problem. Knife? Why not. When, one morning, a rumour flashed around that he’d got a gun in his bag I believed every word.
Should I tell a teacher? My parents? The police? No, I couldn’t do any of those things. I was shit scared. Do any one of those things and who knew what might happen.
Breaktime, and I’m walking across the yard outside the science labs when this kid comes right up to my face, striding all brash and confident. He has one hand in his bag. I must have looked like I was about to pass out with fear, because that’s how I felt.
“I’ll be watching you this weekend. I know where you live. If you go out of your front door, I’ll be waiting for you with my gun, and I’ll shoot you. I’ll kill you. Got it?”
Much as I protested, and said I didn’t believe him, deep down I did. Like I said, in my mind this kid was capable of anything. I was sure that shooting me wasn’t beyond him.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day when I wasn’t in lessons hiding in the toilets, then practically ran home and hid in my bedroom. What I hadn’t bargained on, though, was Saturday morning.
Fast forward to me, standing in the hallway of my parent’s house, petrified. Completely convinced that if I took one more step, outside, the worst would happen. I absolutely, totally, believed that I was about to die. That the boy would be lying in wait, ready to shoot me.
How my parents eventually got me out of the house that day I have no idea. I don’t even recall where we were going to. My memory is entirely filled with the all-consuming terror that had been created by the boy’s threats.
I was 13.
I didn’t know where to turn. I couldn’t talk to my parents or my teachers because I’d tried that and it had only made things worse. Should I call the police? Childline? This was before the days of mobile phones, and I was too scared that I’d be found out if I did.
So, I dealt with it the only way I knew, the only way my fear-riddled mind could work out, which was to ignore it. To live out my life through books, and TV, and my imagination. I avoided people because people weren’t safe. People hurt me, they scared me, I couldn’t trust them, so I needed to stay away.
I’m 33, now, so all of this is 20 years ago. But I still live with the memories, the lack of confidence, not being able to trust anyone. My mental health is better, now, than it was; but still far from good.
Kids across the UK have returned to school over the last few weeks. For most, it’s an inconvenience that gets in the way of having fun, some even enjoy school. But even though this is a really extreme example of bullying, there are thousands of boys and girls who were terrified to go back in school this year, for the same reasons that I was.
Bullying isn’t ‘part of growing up’. It’s not a case of ‘kids being kids’, or something that people ‘grow out of’ or ‘get over’. Bullying has a long-lasting, real life impact on victims for as long as they live.
I don’t have anything clever to say at the end of all of this. I can only deal with me, and my own problems. Sharing what happened to me is an important part of coming to terms with it, and beginning to move on. But maybe, just maybe, if we can talk about the long-term impact of bullying more, then more people will spend more time and energy trying to stop it.
NB: I’ve deliberately left the name of the person responsible out of this. They know who they are, and I’m sure others do too. However, since I never plucked up the courage to report this or do anything about it, I don’t think it’s right that I name them publicly.
The Daily Post (yes, I get the irony): Glorious