I hate bullies -- even though, if you ask my brothers or sister they may describe me as one on occasion. Still, in the spirit of National Bullying Prevention Month I was asked by the wonderful Lady Reader's Book Stuff to write a short piece on bullying... what I wrote about was long-buried in my memory and even so many years later painful to recall.
The Girl in a Hat - a Memoir excerpt
I once had a hat.
This was a hat I wore all the time – to bed, to school, when I got home, when my father asked me, ‘why the hell are you wearing a hat inside?’ and after asking once or twice stopped and just let me be.
Of course you are wondering what kind of hat? I wish I could say that this hat had magical properties – that it could, like the talking hat in the Harry Potter stories, tell me what “house” I should be in. Then I would know where I belonged. For certainly, I didn’t belong in the house at the end of the block, the one with six-inch high crabgrass, the one with shouts and screams from four kids jabbing out the open windows, the one without a mother.
Unfortunately, this hat was knitted by my grandmother in a fury of clacking needles on her regular visits when my father was at work. She was our mother’s mother and in a constant battle with him. Made from leftover yarn, a rough muddy grey and navy blue wool, the knots on the inside of the hat were the size of bullets and left dents in my forehead. Once or twice my grandmother tried to teach me to knit and pronounced me careless and useless and good for nothing but those books I was always reading. It was a relief to be such a poor student— at knitting and crocheting and sewing – because then I could go back to reading when I wasn’t cooking dinner or doing the laundry. I was in sixth grade, eleven-years-old, when I wore this hat all the time.
The only place I wasn’t allowed to wear my hat was in Mrs. Abrahamson’s class. She was old school strict. We sat in rows of desks, unlike in fourth and fifth grade where we had been part of an experiment in “open classes.” I spent two years huddling in the corner reading books or at least that’s how I remember that blur of time. However, I remember Mrs. Abrahamson classroom – we had textbooks and lessons on the blackboard and homework – and a musty smell of wet wool through the winter days. It was a relief to find myself in that quiet classroom. All the rest of my life was in chaos but I had a desk in which to place my notebook and pencils and hat.
As soon as the bell rang and we were let outside for recess, I reached for that hat and pulled it down over my stringy brown hair and high forehead. Maybe, I thought I could disappear, vanish, and become the invisible person I felt I truly was. I had no friends except for one other girl, whose divorcing parents during the winter break would pull her out of public school in New Rochelle, New York and send her out of state to boarding school.
I wore that hat no matter the weather: cold, rainy, snowy and into the days that lengthened and warmed. One rainy spring day there was a class bus trip – I don’t know remember to where— but I do recall that my friend wasn’t on that trip and I was sitting by myself with the excuse of a book on my lap, when a hand drilled down on my head. I reached up as my hat was snatched off my head – by Brent or Evan or Karen or Debbie—I don’t know who to this day, but those where the kids who led the tormenting of others. Everyone knew they were the untouchable popular kids. Brent or Karen ripped my hat off and tossed it from one seat to another. I screamed – too late—a window had been wedged open for my hat.
Now, I could end this on a fairy tale note: those kids were punished or at least said they were sorry; my grandmother knitted me a new, nicer hat; I was suddenly popular with shiny hair smelling of lavender shampoo -- but none of those things happened. My grandmother stated that I shouldn’t have lost the hat, which is what I told her: I lost my hat. My father said that I would lose my head too if that wasn’t screwed on.
Stacy, a friend of Karen and Debbie, did inform me that she had her mother drive along the roadside where my hat had been flung out the bus window. But couldn’t find my hat in the mud and muck. And I said that it was okay. “It was time for the hat to go,” as if I knew even then that most things in our lives bring us only temporary comfort, that life is about a continuing re-arranging and re-imaging from loss, that we have to reach within ourselves to find the strength to persevere, to believe in ourselves when others would be so quick to throw us or our hat out the window.
Some things you don’t forget. You take them with you and over time, you let the anger and the sadness at being the girl in the hat form its own story, just one of many, because you are determined not to have any one story define you. You are committed to write many stories and end up the master of your fate.Though I do have to admit, I don’t like to wear hats any more. ### © Caroline Bock, 2012
Now, if you go to Lady Reader's blog-- she is doing a giveaway of a signed edition of LIE, my debut young adult novel, which is also appropriate for this month. Inspired by real events, LIE is the story of a brutal hate crime and extreme bullying. If you haven't read it yet, enter the giveaway!