I dated Andrew briefly one summer. He was a friend of a friend and we had a good time going to parties and hanging out with friends. It was the long hot summer of 1976 and we spent plenty of time outdoors. We went to the local park, lying under the trees as I pretended to revise for exams. We paddled in the children’s pool and ate ice creams, laughing and holding hands. It was all so innocent and yet as he was younger than me it felt very grown up.
We knew it was summer romance. I was due to go to college in the autumn and I knew that our fling would never survive separation. So we enjoyed the time we had together and didn’t pretend it was anything other than fun. I probably wouldn’t remember it if it hadn’t been for history.
One evening I arranged to meet Andrew at his home before a trip to the local pub where we all met on a Friday night. I strode up to his front door and rang the bell. As I waited I hummed a few bars of a tune I’d heard on the radio while getting ready. Footsteps in the hall and the door swung open. The blood drained from my face and I was frozen to the spot. She was standing holding the door open, smiling and waiting for me to speak. I opened my mouth but no words came out. She inclined her head like an inquisitive bird and I knew I had to say something.
‘I’m here for Andrew’ was all I could manage.
She nodded and stood aside, inviting me in. I walked past her and heat flushed up my neck and face. The last time I had been this close to her she had backed me into a corner of the playground and stood there barring my escape. Every day for a year she had done this, without a word. Walking towards me with a smirk on her face, making me retreat into the corner, standing over me and smiling. Every single day. Every single playtime.
I stood in the hall and she walked up behind me. I felt faint and pressed myself against the wall to steady myself. She passed me and opened a side door, disappearing from view. I managed to breath, sweat breaking out across my forehead. What was she doing here? How quickly could I escape?
Her face appeared round the door frame and I jumped.
‘Come and wait in here. He’ll be ready soon.’
The last thing I wanted to do was sit in that room with her but I found myself following her into the room and edging around the sofa before perching on the armrest. I kept my eyes down so I didn’t have to look at her and time slowed to a crawl in that room. Suddenly I was back in that playground, 7 years old and a victim. She was 11 and the bully who made my life bleak and scary. She was chatting away, enjoying the sound of her own voice and not noticing that I was silent and closed off. Thankfully Andrew arrived and I saw my escape route open before me.
But fate was playing cruelly with me that day. As I stood up to leave Andrew put his arm around my shoulder and said,
‘You don’t mind if Rosie comes with us, do you? She’s at a lose end this evening so I said she could come for a drink with us.’
A cold hand grabbed my heart and squeezed. My brain screamed that here was no way I wanted to spend another second with her but my head nodded and I heard myself say that it was no problem. Betrayed by my own mouth and sense of politeness!
That evening I sat quietly in the corner of the pub and watched her. She flitted about, chatting to everyone and flirting with some of my friends. I hardly spoke to anyone and several people asked if I was alright or feeling unwell. I managed to smile and whisper that I was ok but inside everything was churning. I watched and waited until I could bear it no longer. Pushing through the crowd I found Andrew and pulled him aside.
‘I want to go home. I’m not feeling well. You stay, I’ll get the bus.’
He looked surprised but didn’t try to change my mind. I picked up my bag and pushed my way through the Friday night crowd to leave the pub. When I reached the doorway I turned and looked back at Andrew. His head was thrown back in a guffaw and Rosie was locking arms with him as someone told an amusing story. She caught my eye, grinned and waved. I managed a weak smile and left.
As I stood at the bus stop, I thought about Rosie and how she had made a whole year of my life miserable. I had been so scared of her, feigning illness to avoid the playground, too young to understand that I was being bullied. Yet today she seemed not to recognise me. It had been 10 years but we had gone through secondary school together so she must have seen me since we left primary school. The bus approached and I scrambled to find the fare in my disorganised bag. As I took my seat next to the window and watched the city lights pass by. As I put distance between me and her I realised that I no longer had to be her victim. She didn’t know me and had no idea the impact she’d had on my life. I had been a mousey little thing for many years, never pushing myself forward, happy to stick to the shadows. She had robbed me of my confidence and made me shrink into myself. It was many years before I felt able to speak out and stand up for myself but now I knew that she hadn’t picked me out for any special reason. I was just the one she picked out in the playground, I was anonymous to her and she didn’t even remember the little girl she had tormented. I promised myself there and then to never be a victim again, to stand up for myself and trust myself, to never again let someone exercise that sort of power over me.
History would not repeat itself again.