Fighting back / by Karen Staniland-Platt

When I was younger I suffered a lot from bullying. I was an easy target. I was pretty. I was intelligent. I was funny. I had good friends. Those gifts made me a magnet for bullies. I remember some bullying in primary school, towards the final couple of years but although it made me unhappy it wasn’t unbearable. I still had a little of my invincibility cloak left… the one that really young kids have when they haven’t learnt yet too worry what other people think of them.

Come secondary school (or high school as I guess it’s called now) and that shit was about to get a lot worse. I think most of my first year was ok, I kind of hid from view a little, too small and insignificant to make much of an impact but as I moved up it got a lot worse. I had a small group of friends who I loved. We weren’t the coolest kids, in fact I think we were almost a little nerdy, but we had a lot of fun together and we were kind of on each others wavelengths. I remember making them laugh a lot and being very happy doing that. Acid music was doing it’s rounds and, complete with my Dr Martens (they weren’t real ones, rather naff copies in fact with smiley yellow faces on long before they became emoji’s), I would do impressions of an old woman dancing to acid music and my friends would literally piss themselves laughing …I guess you had to be there! But as happy as that memory makes me it very quickly becomes dark as I remember doing exactly that one fateful lunchtime. Me and my friends were perched around a school table in one of the classrooms, me doing my impression when the expressions on my friends faces changed. I was suddenly aware that all the other groups of kids in the classroom were becoming quieter and whispers of ‘look’ whistled around me. I turned around and saw Simone Blunt bursting towards me with a handful of her followers close behind her. She came right up to my face and told me she wanted to fight me in the playground after school, and walked off before I could utter a word in reply.

My legs felt like rubber, there was a horrid hollow feeling in my stomach churning and my eyes stung as I tried desperately not to cry. I had done absolutely nothing to bring this upon me. I don’t think I’d ever even spoken to Simone before. Totally and painfully, out of the blue, I'd been singled out and my school life was never ever going to be the same again. I'm sure my friends consoled me but I remember very little about anything else that happened. I escaped the ‘fight’ somehow, again my memory is hazy so I’m not quite sure how…I have a feeling I literally walked out of school, skipping the rest of the day and went home. For what then seemed like an eternity I avoided school. At first I got away with pretending to be sick but that didn’t, couldn’t, last and so inevitably I had to go back.

Bullies are horribly unpredictable and so for a few weeks nothing happened but I couldn’t stop feeling absolutely petrified. A walk along the corridors to my next class became like an SAS mission, holding my head down, not speaking to any of my friends for fear my voice would be heard. Ironically Simone was a year below me so we didn’t have any classes together but at break times and lunchtimes, her and her cronies would stroll the school corridors looking for victims.

I'll pause here for a minute to explain a little about me and Simone. We grew up on the same housing estate in Sheffield. Largely council properties, it didn’t go unnoticed that I and my parents lived in one of the very few privately owned houses - that was black mark number one. It was NOT a great place to grow up. There was very high unemployment in the area, lots of single parents dependant almost entirely on the state and very low standards of living. Education was not viewed as essential to many of the families and truism, petty theft and vandalism was rife. My family were anything but wealthy but my dad did have a full-time job as a bus driver and whilst it wasn’t particularly well paid it probably did appear that we were better off than some. But let me be very clear here…we didn’t own a car, we had a significant amount of debt and making ends meet each month was by no means a fait accompli. Simone was one of 4, maybe 5, sisters, not the oldest, nor the youngest but lying somewhere in the middle. I don't remember her parents, she may have had both mum & dad, I honestly don't know. This is how little I knew about Simone but for whatever reason, she saw me as a threat. Of course I didn’t know that at the time, I don't think I knew what I thought her reasons were, but I knew I no longer wanted to stand out in anyway whatsoever and so for as long as I could get away with it I kept my head down, didn’t have fun, didn’t do much of anything. I kept small.

For whatever reason Simone got bored of whoever was keeping her attention and she turned her sights on me again. Truth be told it’s a bit blurry as to how it started up. I remember being shoved in the corridor whenever she passed me and for such a small action, its impact on me, every single time she did it, was the equivalent of someone torturing me. The tears would rise, my heart would sink and whenever possibly I would bolt for the door, regardless of time of day or lessons, and play truant for the rest of the day. During these days I would walk over the fields between school and home, playing songs on my Walkman and sobbing. I hated my life. I wanted a way out. I had enjoyed school up until this point and now I could not think of anywhere I wanted to be less. My friends hadn’t deserted me but my fears of being noticed meant I spent as much time as possible on my own and I was desperately sad and incredibly lonely.

I tried to talk to my parents but to them it wasn’t a big problem. In their opinion school was ‘not about making friends’ rather its ‘about learning and concentrating’, ‘just ignore her, she’ll go away’. I don't blame them at all. I don't think they knew any better and they would talk about how amazing their school days used to be, ‘happiest days of my life’ they’d say and to them they simply could not understand why I didn’t feel the same. My truancy was beginning to get noticed at school and so my parents became more vigilant too. I remember one day plotting as to how I could sneak into the local cinema. Looking back it was quite funny as I wanted to see Casualties of War (I had a crush on Micheal J Fox) but it was an 18 so I spent an entire evening at home trying on clothes that might make this barely 13 year old look as if she was sprinting towards her twenties. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

With nowhere left to turn I happened upon a new solution. I'm not sure how or where the idea came from, but I had began to realise that I wasn’t going to be able to keep avoiding Simone, I would have to confront her head on. The idea absolutely terrified me. I had never, ever had a fight, or even hit anyone in my life and I had no idea where to even start. It dawned on me that if I was lucky I might be able to win against Simone but my fear was that her clan of mindless followers would then attack me and there was no way I could handle that. I realised I’d have to be sneaky. For what felt like several weeks but was actually no more than a few days I worked on my plan. It involved watching a lot of Rocky! As funny as it might sound I can kind of understand now what I was doing. Watching Rocky, the underdog, fight his way back through sheer grit and determination, made me feel like maybe I could do the same. There was a little of me looking for some technical knowhow too, fighting tips etc, but I think on the whole it was making me feel better because it lifted my energy and made me feel more powerful and in control. The same method I applied to my choice of music…again the Rocky theme featured, and a song at the time called Heart & Fire, who sang it I do not know, but it had the same energy lifting effect. Meanwhile, I had somehow got a message to Simone that I didn’t want to fight her, I wanted to be her friend and invited her to my house on a particular day…I have a vague memory of promising to give her some things, maybe some money, to sweeten the invitation.

What happened next still feels unreal. Its like someone else's memory that I’m replaying as I still can’t quite believe I did this, at age 13. The day I’d invited her I knew my parents would be out. She turned up at the door and I let her in. I think she was alone, maybe her cronies were outside, but she was certainly the only one I let into the house. Again, the memory is a bit blurry but as Simone entered the living room, talking to me, I launched myself at her and started to repeatedly hit her. Clearly shocked and unsuspecting, she could barely protect herself. The whole thing couldn’t have lasted more than 30 or 40 seconds but I literally let rip, punching her until she wriggled free and made for the door, screaming all manner of obscenities at me as she left. I should point out here that my ‘raining down of punches’ is not quite as intense as it may seem. I’m sure they were far more like little slaps and she certainly wasn’t wounded in anyway but it was enough. In fact, I came off worse as I lost my balance at one point and cracked my head on the doorframe, but that didn’t matter. I’d shown Simone I would not stand for it anymore.The news of my ambush quickly spread around school, and despite Simone trying to take credit for my clumsy bump on the head, her hold had started to loosen.

I’d love to say that from that point on everything was hunky dory, Simone and I became the best of friends and I was never ever bullied again. Alas, this is real life and it wasn’t quite like that. The evening of the ambush her sisters turned up at our door, screaming at my mum about the way I’d ambushed their poor, defenceless little sister, and if memory serves one of them even threatened to return with a knife….but she didn’t return and I don't remember anymore trouble from her or her sisters after that. Sadly there were other bullies, including a new girl that came from another school, had an axe to grind and somehow singled me out as her target but thankfully it was not quite as intense as with Simone, my slightly ‘psycho’ reputation seemed to keep her at bay and she lost interest.

The moral of the story? I'm not sure there is one. This is real life and my approach isn’t one I’d recommend to my daughter or other victims of bullying in the slightest. Although I feel a little guilty about the deceitful way I exacted my revenge, the feeling of pride I have for that 13 year old me and the way she stood up to her bullies is the overriding emotion. As most bullies do, Simone thrived by picking on who she saw as the underdog, someone unlikely to ever fight back and so would make her look even more terrifying to others. She relied on my fear, manipulating it and feeding it every single day with a cruel comment here, a shove there, and then delighting on her achievements. Did she deserve to be ambushed? No, probably not, but could I ever have risen up for myself while she was mob-handed? Definitely not.

There is one thing I am grateful to Simone Blunt for though, she showed me, even at that young age, that there is nothing so powerful as our belief systems. For weeks, months, I bought into the story Simone created, ‘that she was to be feared, that she had control, that I was worthless, and that my best course of action was to play small’. My mind however, eventually, began to think that there might be another way, and my reprogramming it, albeit in my slightly naive Rocky powered way, showed me that there was an alternative. That I did have a choice. By mastering my mind, I mastered my bullies, and it’s something I continue to do to this day, though Sylvester Stallone no longer features.

NOTE: Simone Blunt is not the real name of my bully, simply used to protect her ‘innocence’.