Once or twice a year, I have to email this woman at work. One of the hundreds of emails I send at work every day, every week, every year. She is a frontline manager of a frontline service. She is one of very many very small cogs in the very big wheel that is the council where I work. I have never met her face-to-face and, dear God, I pray that I never do.
Because she is also the school bully.
The first time I saw her name and realised I was going to have to make contact with her, I felt sick. I couldn’t believe how hard it hit me. I felt weak, my breathing was irregular, I could feel my heart racing and my head spinning. About something which had happened 20 years ago. Something the evil b*tch (no, I haven’t forgiven her) probably doesn’t even remember.
I held it together and kept the email all nice and professional. All friendly, with a healthy dose of council-speak thrown in. All ‘Hi’ and ‘Regards’, while my insides were churning.
I sent the email, then I lost it. Without thinking, I thrashed out two of the fastest, most inappropriate, unprofessional emails I have ever sent – to her manager and the Director of her service, her ultimate boss. Being social workers, they were both very good about it and sent me very nice replies instantly, saying they understood how I felt and it was important to talk about these things. Her line manager said she couldn’t believe it and she’s nothing like that now.
Well, I’ve got news for you, Lady. When my very good friend went to work for her, she confirmed that yes, she was still a complete b*tch.
So what did this evil cow do? And what crime did I commit to become a victim? I WORE GREEN TROUSERS.
Ironically, she never even saw me in the offending trousers, it was her friend who saw me. I’ll be honest, they were offending trousers, but not in the way I was accused.
She and her friend were in the year above me at school and lived in the same village. We were all in a show together – the Village Christmas Show. I can’t remember whether I was in my final year of primary school or first year of secondary school when I wore the offending trousers to rehearsals. What I do remember is, they were a bit tight. Because they were last year’s trousers and I’d grown.
However, the girl who’d seen me in them told her friend (the woman from work) that they were flares. Bogey green flares.
This was the 80s. In the 80s, the 70s and flares weren’t cool or kitsch or retro, they were WRONG. To wear flares was the ultimate crime against fashion. The fact that I wasn’t wearing flares was neither here nor there. In the heads of these two girls, I had worn flares. So I had to be bullied.
These girls were only in Year 8 or 9 (or 2nd or 3rd year as we called it back in the day), but they were hard girls and in with older kids. They sat at the back of the bus. And they got people to shout ‘Bogey green’ ‘Bogey green flares’ ‘Ugh, you wiped your bogeys on your flares’ etc etc to me.
I was a geeky kid, a good kid, a clever kid. I sat at the front of the bus quietly with my friends and kept my head down. They would whisper ‘Are you OK?’ but none of them would answer the bullies back. Once I was brave enough to shout ‘They weren’t even flares!’ But all I got was abuse.’Yes they were, they were bogey green flares!’
I’m pleased to say this didn’t happen every day. But it happened every now and then over the course of two years.
It hit a real low one day when I was getting a different bus. I used to go to town once a week to a theatre group with another girl in my year. She wasn’t exactly a friend, but she was nice enough, and we always travelled to the theatre group together. One day we were waiting for the bus to town and the bullies were there. And they started pushing me into the path of buses coming down the road. I was completely defenceless. There was a lot of them – they got some boys involved. They were actually saying ‘Your turn’ and taking it in turns to push me into the road. I was terrified. I never told anyone about it, not my parents, not a teacher.
The girl I went to theatre group with is now a teacher at my kids’ school. We have acknowledged our shared history and had a giggle about that horribly elitist theatre group we went to. But we have never talked about the ‘bus day’. I always wonder if she remembers, but I’ve never plucked up the courage to ask. I probably never will.
And that’s why I get stressed every time I have to email THAT WOMAN.