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I wish I could apologize to the girl I bullied in high school

As a child, Paula Hudson-Lunn’s lunch money was stolen, she was kicked and bullied by a classmate. Some time later, Hudson-Lunn turned her frustrations on another classmate and the bullied became the bully. Now, she wishes she could say sorry. 

I was bullied myself, but that doesn’t excuse my behaviour.

An illustration of a student standing in a school hallway with lookers. One of the lockers has a sticky note that says “I’m sorry.”

This First Person column is the experience of Paula Hudson-Lunn, who lives in Nelson, B.C. It was originally published in December 2022. Wednesday, Feb. 22 is Anti-Bullying Day in Canada, and is also known as Pink Shirt Day. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I have been trying to find her for years, hoping she overcame the taunts and bullying she endured in elementary school from so many and then, in high school, from me.

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the elementary school I attended in Toronto wasn’t culturally or racially diverse. If someone “different” came to school, it was noticed.

My elementary school had separate entrances and playgrounds for boys and girls. At recess, we ran, shouting, out our respective doors onto the playgrounds. I don’t know when Selena joined our school. She may have been there all along and didn’t create an impression on me in the early grades. But sometime during my middle school, I started to frequently hear a chant from the boys’ exit: “Last one out has to kiss Selena.” The equivalent of “last one out is a rotten egg.”

I remember Selena. She was tall and dark-haired. In a world of Susies and Lindas and Nancys, her name was unusual. I don’t know why she became the target; if it was her name, her demeanor, her height, her cultural background. I don’t know how long she was targeted, but if I still hear that taunt in my head now at 70, she must have suffered it for years.

A black and white photo of students in 1960s fashion.

After Grade 8, I joined a new high school. I was excited to grow up and for my world to expand. At the same time, it was frightening to suddenly be part of a community of 1,200 strangers. It was a relief to find some kids from my old school in my class. I was younger than most of my classmates, having skipped a year in grade school. I was also smaller and less mature. Now, I was different. And that difference drew the attention of a girl in my class and my delight at being in high school became a nightmare. That girl hit and kicked me. She made fun of me in front of other students, and they joined in. She took my lunch money, destroyed my books and threatened to do worse if I told on her. She was merciless. I endured it because I didn’t know what else to do.

A year later, I was no longer her punching bag. But the damage was done. I remained the object of my classmates’ disdain. While no one kicked or stole from me anymore, they excluded me entirely. I was isolated and hurt.

At some point, I found Selena in a high school corridor. And I bullied her. I didn’t hit or kick her, but that’s hardly a point in my favour. I knocked her books out of her hands, stole her lunch money and made fun of her. Did I think this would earn me the respect of my classmates? Did I need to hurt someone to feel better about my own miserable self? So much time has passed, I can’t know my motivations. I wasn’t the “bullying type.” Given what she endured in elementary school, what I did was beyond cruel. It was unconscionable.

Selena, though, was wiser and braver than me. She told on me. I was severely reprimanded, suspended and made to apologize.

A smiling woman with a braid sitting on a porch.

I have thought about Selena throughout my life. Thirty years ago, my own children were bullied. Starting junior high school was so bad for my 12-year-old daughter that she had to change schools. Now, nearly 40 years old, she still vividly remembers being targeted because of her weight.

“Those boys destroyed every bit of excitement I had for junior high,” she told me. “They didn’t even give me one day, one day to find my locker, one day to explore my new environment. Not one damn day! They saw my oversized T-shirt and that was it.”

More recently, my grandchildren are experiencing bullying as well; my grandson for being shorter than average, and my granddaughter, for just being new to her school. Their excitement for the new school year turned to fear and anxiety. Selena must have felt the same.

I’ve been the bystander, the bullied and the bully. I own what I did. And, while it doesn’t change what happened, Selena, I am so very sorry.

If you or someone you know is struggling with bullying, here’s where to get help:

  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling onthe website.

Do you have a compelling personal story that can bring understanding or help others? We want to hear from you. Here’s more info on how to pitch to us.


Paula Hudson-Lunn

Freelance contributor

Paula Hudson-Lunn is a writer living in British Columbia. Her essays have been published in The Globe and Mail, the Calgary Herald, CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition program and in local, community-based publications.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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