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OK, Fifth Grade Bullies


For the most part, I think I am doing OK. It is not until I have to talk about it or explain to someone what is going on that I have to put my hands in my pockets. I have to reach for something to do because all of a sudden I am quite aware that my face has started to contort and that I might start to cry. It’s always much worse when the person I’m talking to has that look on her face, the one where her eyebrows are furrowed in and her eyes look moist, as though she has just been where I am. I recognize this look. It’s the same look my fifth grade teacher Mr. Stephens gave me that time I had to explain to him why I had burst into ragged sobs in the middle of the story telling circle.
In between desperate breaths of air, I gulped out that just moments before, I had been out on the playground minding my own business and discussing proper jump rope form with my friend Katey. All of a sudden, and without the slightest provocation, a sixth grader walked by us, his fingers holding the outer corners of his eyes slanted up. As he walked by with his eyes pulled taut, he chanted “ching chong ching chong.” Although it made me freeze, I also remember thinking that it sounded nothing like Khmer. Katey must not have noticed any of it and so I tried to pretend like I, too, hadn’t noticed. At the sound of the bell, away we went, back inside to sit in circles in cross-legged positions. I don’t know whether it was the ching or the chong that did it, but all of a sudden I could feel the burn ripping through my insides until I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
As I told him what had happened, Mr. Stephens’ eyebrows furrowed together, and he nodded. As a man with a delicate, extra swingy walk, he must have endured some grade school taunting of his own. His eyebrows told me that he understood, but the more he looked at me with concern in his eyes, the harder I cried and choked.
In an effort to make things better, he wrote a note to my mom, detailing the incident. He ripped the note off his pad of paper, gave me another look with eyes belonging to Bambi’s mother, and told me to give the note to my mom. I nodded, but as soon as school let out, I pulled it out of my backpack and tore it to pieces. No way was I going to let her feel the burn too.
Now, if only taking matters into your own hands was still so easy.

Last modified: January 10, 2019