I read an article the other day that was encouraging people to try creative writing to improve brain power. The exercise that the article suggested the reader complete was to list all the names you’ve ever been called- good or bad- then write about one.
This triggered a flood of memories.
There was Razzle Dazzle that my dad used to call me when I was wee.
There was 10cc that a neighbour called me the year I turned ten. My initials then were CC and he was a fan of that particular band.
With a name like Coral, there was the obvious Coral Reef and various other fishy, ocean themed attempts from time to time.
The name however that sent a torrent of painful memories through me; the name that chilled me to my very core even all these years down the line was Beast. The name the school bullies cursed me with.
My mind was suddenly overflowing with flashback memories from my school days. I could hear their feet thundering down the stairs in primary school as they chased me. I could see the faces of the people who taunted me. I could feel their breath on my neck as they yanked my hair from my head to see if I had 666 tattooed on my skull. I could hear their voices filling my head.
Over thirty years later these wounds still run deep and I doubt if some of them will ever be fully healed but one simple word, one name, opened a fair few of them back up.
“Sticks and stones may break your bones but names can never hurt you,” my mother used to council.
She was wrong.
For just shy of six years I endured the school bullies abuse, usually verbal but occasionally physical. I thought naively that when I moved up from primary school to secondary school that my daily torment would stop. I was sadly mistaken. In fact, for more than two years, it was worse as my primary school bullies now had a larger audience and swiftly recruited new blood.
I was almost fifteen before the last chants of “Beast” died away.
By then the damage had been done.
Years later I had the misfortune to encounter one of the boys I had been to school with. He came staggering out of a local pub with several drunken friends, recognised me as I walked down the street on my way home from work and, before I knew what was happening, they were all round me chanting “Beast. Beast. Beast” incessantly. Suddenly I was 12 years old again instead of the 22 that I was. Fortunately my bus came along, the driver recognised me and the ugliness of the situation and, despite it not being a “bus stop”, pulled over and shouted on me to “Get on!” I was never so relieved to see anyone in my life.
The year I turned 40 a school reunion was organised. The thought of attending terrified me but I knew it was my final chance to conquer my fears and lay the ghosts to rest once and for all. I was reasonably in control of my emotions during the run up to the event until I saw one name appear on the list of people who would be attending. The main instigator of my childhood torment was going to be there.
I very nearly changed my mind but the stronger voice within me lectured my quivering self and said I wasn’t going to let the bullies win again.
When the time came I went along to the event in the local rugby club, flanked by two friends, with my stomach heaving with fear and dread. I don’t regret going for one second however I will never attend another reunion. The bully in question arrived after my friends and I were seated with a drink. I watched them greet our former classmates in turn but, when their eyes met mine, the same look of hatred and loathing from more than a quarter of a century before was staring back at me. Some leopards never change their spots. I turned away.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to sail through life and never experienced bullying at first hand then I expect this is difficult to fully comprehend. If you have experienced bullying then I’m sure you understand only too well the emotions that can be stirred by a name. If you have been the bully then I hope that you never have to experience the pain that you put your victims of choice through.
To this day, I don’t know what started it all. I’ve no idea what minor or major thing triggered it all. I’ll never know …… But it is all symbolised in a name.