Bullies are cowards who look to others of a similar nature in order to validate their cruel treatment. There are those who will back up a bully to save their own neck or because, in their souls, they too enjoy this cruel "sport." To this day I cannot stand to see cruel treatment, whether it be in the movies or on a newscast. I especially cannot tolerate it if I see an adult encouraging and joining in the bullying. A lot of this has to do with the torture I went through as a child at the hands of a cruel and vicious teacher. I was nine years old and for two years I was her victim. She allowed and encouraged other students to torment me. What she did was unforgivable.
Miss Florence Pons was a heavy smoking, muscular, woman in her forties with short, iron-grey hair. You could see her in her shorts, sweatshirt, and high-top sneakers, walking up and down the schoolyard puffing hard at a cigarette before gym class. A compact, tough woman, her passion was volleyball in the winter and softball in the spring. She came to my elementary school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and those were days of hellish torture for me.
I was nine years old, short and chubby and wore glasses. I was near-sighted as hell but I hated wearing my glasses at school; most especially I hated bringing them to gym class. Because of my eyesight, my lack of co-ordination or a combination of both, I was lousy at sports. In softball, I couldn't hit the ball, couldn't run fast, couldn't catch worth a damn. As for volleyball, I was constantly getting hit in the face. Sports were never going to be something at which I excelled and the fact that we had to take phys. ed. twice weekly was, for me, a forced hell.
Miss Pons liked kids who were athletic, who could run, hit a ball, play sports. She didn't like me. I was different, outside of her range of what a child should be. I was quiet because I was shy. I was shy because I was overweight and wore glasses. There was another reason I was shy. I was the only one in my neighborhood whose parents had gotten a divorce and that also made me different.
The kids in the neighborhood called me "four-eyed fatso," "fat-ass," "fat-pig," and just about any other word combination they could make using the word fat. They were especially cruel when they said my father left me because I was fat. I was called names on my way to school, on my way home from school, and any other time I ventured out of my house. I became a "book worm" because books were the only friends I had. My life was sad, I cried a lot, and I now know that, at the ripe old age of ten, I teetered on the edge of depression because of the unrelenting cruelty of kids.
When I first met Miss Pons the second week of fourth grade, we were lined up in the gym waiting to be weighed. It was ten o'clock in the morning and I was already hot and sweaty with fear. I was about to be weighed in front of all my classmates.
From grades first to third our phys. ed. class consisted of playing games outside or in the gym with our regular classroom teacher. Fourth grade chang= ed all that. Now we had "real" gym class. She insisted on weighing us and recording our heights before we began our first gym class with her. A chart of what we should weigh at our age hung ominously next to the scale.
As she weighed each child Miss Pons read out the number to the school secretary who wrote it on a chart. I was dreading my turn. I didn't know my exact weight but I knew I wore clothes bought in the PrettyPlus section of the stores. Even my jeans were a different brand than other girls because they were made for the "larger sized" girl.
The boy in front of me got weighed and I heard Miss Pons say she hoped he was as good a ball player as his older brother. The boy beamed when she told him he looked like an athlete. I was next.
To this day I still have flutters in my stomach whenever I have to get on a scale even though I am no longer considered "overweight." On my chart at my doctor's office the word "refused" has been written many times in the space for weight. Painful memories die hard and most times they don't die at all.
I got on the scale. She looked at the number, raised her eyebrows and called out my weight number, 122 pounds. Then she looked me up and down.
"122? Wow! Let's see if we can run some of that blubber off of you this year. What's your name?" When I mumbled my name, she put a red mark next to it.
I heard the kids giggle and I saw the secretary smother a laugh. I got off the scale and was going to the back of the line when I heard her call my name and say, "Hey, where are you going, chubs? I've got to get your height."
That was my introduction into hell with Miss Pons. It was to get much worse.
The lines of the song that go, "and those whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball" were the words that defined my experience with sports. I was either the last person left, and one of the teams had to take me, or I didn't get chosen at all and sat on the side. Not getting chosen by any team was by far the best of the two scenarios. When a team was forced to take me it was much worse. Fear made me became more uncoordinated than I was because I knew they didn't want me.
The first time a kid called me fat in front of Miss Pons I thought she hadn't heard it but I was wrong. We were playing softball and, of course, I struck out. This incensed the other players and one girl said if I put all my fat behind my swing I might hit the ball once in a while. The other kids laughed and I walked back to the bench forgetting to give my helmet to the next batter. As I passed Miss Pons I saw her look at the girl and smile.
"Hey, Minnesota Fats! You forgetting something? The helmet!"
It was Miss Pons talking to me! The kids just about rolled on the ground with laughter at that one even though none of us had any idea who Minnesota Fats was. I was devastated. I sat in the corner of the playground with my head down so no one could see the tears running down my face.
My "team" lost the game and as we were going inside one of the kids said, "We lost because of Mini-Fats. God, I hope I'm never on a team with her again!" So, thanks to Miss Pons a new name was added to the already full arsenal of fat names they had for me.
Miss Pons never let up on me, I was her target. I was told to run around the field an extra lap to see if I could "lose some of that fat." In our health class, which she also taught, she said that the human body can go without food for a week, longer if water is available.
"Some of us can literally live off our fat for seven days at least." Then she pointed at me and said, "Of course this girl can live off hers for a much longer time!"
The kids became her audience and she loved it. They also curried favor with her by following her example. She never stopped anyone from calling me names and she humiliated me if I cried. I tried not to cry in her presence, saving my tears for a stall in the girls=E2=80=99 bathroom if she would let me go.
In gym class she made an example of me as a sort of "what not to become." "You can run faster," she told one girl. "You don't want to be like Kristy. Your legs aren't fat."
To a group of girls trying out to be cheerleaders she said, "You girls look really good. Maybe you can give chubs some dieting advice." They preened themselves and laughed at me.
Once I was taking a note to the office and as I passed the open door of the faculty lounge I heard my music teacher, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Weiss say, "Why don't you ease up on Kristy? I think you're being unfair to her." She was talking to Miss Pons!
"Oh, come on! Nobody likes a fatty. It's her own fault, anyway. She puts the fork to the plate, doesn't she? I'm just trying to help her lose weight."
"I'm so glad you're not my teacher, Florence," said Mrs. Weiss.
It is a short distance from being emotionally abused to physical abuse and the name calling no longer seemed to satisfy my tormenters. Shoving began to be added to the regimen. It became a macabre sort of game to see who could knock me over. The person with the strength to make me fall was the winner. Suffice it to say I stood with my back braced against a wall whenever I could.
My life was miserable because of the cruelty of those kids. Miss Pons added to the misery by allowing, and subtly encouraging, my tormenters. I hated all of them and I hated Miss Pons. Through the emotional and physical abuse, my health began to suffer. I had trouble breathing and the start of the panic attacks that were to haunt me throughout childhood began. At night I prayed that she would die. As a child, I had been told to pray only for good things to happen, but I didn't care. I wished her dead. Actually I wished them all dead, but her most of all.
My wish and my prayers didn't come true, of course. I survived my two years of Miss Pons and I grew up. I didn't become an anorexic or bulimic because of her but I did become fixated about my weight for a long time. The torture I endured in childhood had a major effect on me. I became a loner and a very private person. It has taken me a long time to become more outgoing at social events. When I meet new people, especially if there is a crowd around, my husband says I have a cat-like wariness to my demeanor. Few people see this because I make an effort to have a smile on my face and to be friendly. But the outside me is different than the inside me. Outside I'm smiling and confident,inside I'm still the fat little girl with glasses who was bullied by kids and their accomplice, Miss Pons.
In my writing career I have tried to see the humor in life situations but even with a good imagination I see nothing funny in bullying. It is done with cruel intent and the adults who participate in, or encourage it, are the cruelest of all.
My story doesn't quite end here because I saw Miss Pons ten years ago at a college graduation in the state where I had lived as a child. She was still tough looking, but I had replaced my fear of her with anger a long time ago.
At the reception on the campus grounds I saw her looking at me. I turned away from her stare. She walked over, tapped me on the shoulder, and asked if she knew me because I looked very familiar. She never forgot a face, she said. I could have said no, she didn't know me. I could have just walked away but I was surprised at the swell of anger I felt when she touched me. I turned completely to face her.
"Yes, Miss Pons, you do know me. You made my life a living hell when I was nine years old by calling me names and letting other kids get away with doing the same thing. You were cruel to an innocent child. I hated you then and I have a feeling of disgust for you now. I have nothing more to say to you; get away from me."
She looked at me and smiled. Then she said something unbelievable.
"Whatever I said to you, you probably deserved. What, were you one of those kids who became a sniveling little crybaby when you got hit by a ball or were you one of the lazy fatties I always got stuck with?"
I didn't answer her; I couldn't. No words could describe what I was feeling. I just looked at her standing there, the horror of my childhood, defiant and still cruel. I had to get away from her before I did something to her. My thoughts were not those of a rational adult. All those times I wished her dead came flooding back to me. I clenched my teeth and my fists and began to walk away.
She called after me, "You know, year after year, I used to hope I would get good, tough athletic kids, but all I got were whiners like you. I guess I didn't get my wish."
Neither did I, Miss Pons; neither did I.
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