“I am 57 and have never had a boyfriend, have had a hard time getting jobs that I know if I was ‘prettier’ I would have gotten.”
That is a line in an email I received last week, that has been crawling through my head as if on a ticker since. The email was in response a blog I wrote about the new “Mean Girls.” High school girls in Newfoundland created an online “Ugliest Girls” poll and RCMP were considering charging them. So, I asked the woman who wrote the email to join me on-air to share her story. She replied, “I’d love to talk to YOU about this, but wouldn’t be comfortable being on air … mainly because of my speech impediment.” So I’m about to give a voice to someone who doesn’t feel she has one – though I think it is one that needs to be heard. Meet Malauri …
What you’re about to read is an unedited compilation of what she wrote to me. What you’re about to feel – hopefully – is unbridled empathy.
I was born in November of 1958 right here in Winnipeg, a Grey Cup baby, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Hamilton Tiger Cats by a score of 35-28 in Vancouver on that November 29th, much to my Mom’s dismay I didn’t appear until just after midnight, so was actually born on the 30th and she had missed the game … my parents had even gone so far as saying that if I had been a boy, they would have named me Bud, after the Blue Bomber coach at the time Bud Grant.
Mom soon found out that missing the football game was the least of her/my parent’s worries, as I was born with a multitude of problems: I was born with severe respiratory problems, I was cross-eyed in both eyes, I had a cleft-palate inside my mouth and I was missing 2 ½ cervical vertebrae.
I was hospitalized a lot for breathing issues and by the age of 3 had had both eyes operated on so that they were not crossed anymore. Eventually my breathing problems were few and far between too, but the cleft palate and the missing vertebrae would be a problem for the rest of my life, in so many ways.
I’m not sure if my parent’s chose not to do anything, if procedures were offered to them, all I know personally is that it was not until I myself found a name for my condition via the internet in 1999 … no Doctor had ever mentioned Klippel-Feil Syndrome in any of my medical files, at the age of 41, I now had a name for my condition.
Klippel-Feil syndrome is a bone disorder characterized by the abnormal joining or fusion of two or more spinal bones in the neck (cervical vertebrae). The vertebral fusion is present from birth. Three major features result from this vertebral fusion: a short neck, the resulting appearance of a low hairline at the back of the head and a limited range of motion in the neck. The shortened neck can cause a slight difference in the size and shape of the right and left sides of the face.
In addition people with this condition have hearing difficulties, eye abnormalities, an opening in the roof of the mouth called a cleft palate, (which results in a very nasal sounding voice) and lung defects that can cause breathing problems
Additionally, the shoulder blades may be underdeveloped so that they sit abnormally high on the back.
It’s funny until about the age of 9 I didn’t even know I was different, I was a happy kid, I only had 1 sister, 13 1/2 yrs older than me, so my parents were probably a bit older than other kids’ my age, I have tons and tons of Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandma and Grandpa, but they’re all in Europe, so until I was about 9 I guess my life had been mostly older people in a block where we lived and my Mom was the Caretaker, age 20ish friends of my sister and hospital staff …
I don’t remember any particular problems when I started playing with neighbourhood kids, or when I started school … although I remember in Grade 1 or 2 we were going on a field trip and 3 mothers were going to assist the teacher, we were asked whose team we would like to be on Mrs. So and So or Mrs. This or That, I didn’t really think anything of that less children had picked my Mom … when the Mom’s showed up I remember one of the other leaders was quite a bit older, I think it was someone’s Grandma filling in, when the kids on that team saw her and my Mom, there were a few kids that wanted to switch … in hindsight I recognize that though they were never mean to me, they probably thought my mother would have the same problems as me.
I remember I was sad when I thought they didn’t want to go with my Mommy, but was so excited when we ended up with a few more kids on our team. I switched schools at Christmas when I was in Grade 3, in fact moving to a different area of the city, I thought nothing of it … but, this is where I learned that I looked different.
I honestly can’t say anyone was super mean to me, and when the Bullying issue of Today started to make headlines, I talked to my Mom about that, telling her that I really didn’t have it that bad, no worse than the big guy or the slow learners … Mom then informed me (and this is only about 6yrs ago) that at one Parent-Teacher interview, my Grade 3 teacher had told her that the class had been warned about any teasing/name calling, tripping or the kind of stuff that kids do, that if she witnessed or heard of any such things they would be dealing with her and the principal … in 1968 that mattered to kids … I don’t think teachers could do that nowadays, their hands are tied … unless the parents hear about their child acting up in school I don’t think anyone else has any say nowadays, and I’m not even sure if parents have much of a say anymore.
Of course there were a few total creeps, but even what they did was minor, if anything it was verbal name calling, never any hint of being afraid of getting hurt by someone. I just coped with it, it was one or 2 kids out of how many others that were nice to me or even defended me.
I felt left out more than anything, kids were nice to me, but I was that girl that never got picked for the sports teams (rightfully so … lol) … I was the girl by the wall at dances, watching everyone else, when there were projects in school to be done in pairs, I always did mine solo, when there was Friday afternoon games in Grade 5, and if you weren’t playing a game you had to read, I was always the one reading. … Oh yeah, it hurt, a lot … but, I just always thought it was better than getting someone in trouble and then them really being mad at me, and it becoming a bigger issue than if I just walked away … so, I just automatically took my reading project out and worked on it, funny thing though I really liked reading, but I did want to play games with someone too, I played a couple of times.
High School was probably where I really started to feel left out, even though everyone was still nice to me, the boyfriend/girlfriend thing was starting to happen, but not for me.
I’ll admit Freshie Week scared me … but even that was OK except for one creep who hit me with a baton in the back of the knee as we were being marched to assembly, my knee buckled, but I didn’t fall as he had hoped, he was one guy that always had his fun with me, that evil laugh, I still remember it, but again, he was one out of 200 … and to this day I don’t really know if it was only me he hit with the baton or if I just thought it was (did I take it too much to heart) I let it go, did’t become the idiot, they are the idiot.
I bowled YBC from the age of 12 to 18 and adult leagues for years later, same thing, everyone was nice to me, I just didn’t quite have what it took to make it into the cliques or to snag the hot guy.
For example in YBC if you got 3 strikes you would kiss the members of the opposite sex on your team … I never got kissed
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The following is an excerpt of my foible attempts to keep a journal, I’ve tried so many times but was never dedicated enough to keep it updated. Here you can see the hurt that is caused, but was there/is there really anything I can do about people being rude.
Written October 26th, 2015
If people only knew how I’d save face by pretending … I liked working on school projects by myself because I knew that noone would opt to work with me – though never out and out mean to me. How at dances, socials etc., I’d go to the washroom or to the bar, so I wouldn’t see people looking sympathetically at me when I was the only one left at the table for slow dances. How I pretend not to see whispers, stares and laughter every single time I go out in public. How I put such pressure on myself to do better than my best, because I would be the noticeable one, or I wouldn’t get the job if I wasn’t perfect, because automatic reaction was to think I wouldn’t be able to do something.
These really aren’t complaints, it’s my reality, my truth, my life and it makes people uncomfortable.
I don’t always want to go out or only come for holiday dinners, how about coming/going just to watch a movie, or play cards or games … although I don’t even want to do that anymore, because in the end I’m alone until next time, whenever that might be or it’s a couple’s thing and I’m done being the spare wheel. I’m just as nice and intelligent as most people I know, so how can I not blame being alone on my physical defect and speech impediment.
Written November 30th, 2015
The best birthday, so many nice greetings and wishes via Facebook, e-mail and phone calls – simply put, I feel good about myself because of what people did or said.
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Here’s a list of a few things I’ve endured as per teasing/bullying:
The worst by far was the night when a close family member was drunk and decided to talk to me about life … I was 17, when he told me I would never have/get a man
When a friend told me that I was lucky that the customs agent let me go so quickly only because she couldn’t understand what I was saying
When I went outside to join the girls skipping, there were only 3 of them playing and I was the last one to come outside, one of the girls immediately yelled out to the others that there would be no more dubs, in other words, no more players allowed – I was the only one left, but the other girls did say I should play
Just recently an acquaintance from long ago called to invite me to a concert in the park, she was emphatic about acquiring a wheelchair for me because it was a long walk .. I finally figured out that the only reason she had invited me was that if she was seen pushing me in a wheelchair the crowd would let us through
In Junior High a boy locking a padlock to a locker and the loop on my pants
Close family member spouting out loud, hey look that waitress has the same condition you have and then making her aware of it too when she came to the table
A child yelling across the store, Daddy that lady has no neck, then the little sister coming right up under my face and staring at me … the parent did nothing, the stock clerk who was on the floor had a talk with THAT parent.
Some kids laughing as they walked by and my 2 friends, grabbing them by the scruff and slamming them up against a wall
not getting a job because I looked too young …. it was more probably because of the fact that I looked different, not too young AND my speech impediment
not being promoted for the same reasons as above, even though I had an excellent work record
people choosing to stand on the bus, rather than sit beside me
being called Neckless, Jungle Mouth, Hunchback of Notre Dame
I can handle the stares, as long as it’s just a quick stare, but when the stand there and stare for a longer time, I get agitated and have been known to stick my tongue out if it’s been a bad day, but otherwise I just smile and that usually makes them uncomfortable.
I don’t particularly like the comments made by people to each other as I walk by, but again I just keep walking.
People, I’m not deaf and I am not blind …. I can see and hear you.
Malauri’s initial email to me in response to the “Ugly Girls” Poll:
Is it just being kids, should they be arrested?
In the case of Lynelle Cantwell, I’m not even sure I would classify this as bullying, in my day, we would call it teasing.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but to me bullying is Physical Harm, or stealing lunch, lunch money or whatever else they may have stolen from them, threatening harm if they tell anyone or don’t give up whatever it is the Bully/Bullies wants from them . . . . these are crimes and are probably enforceable by law.
Calling someone names or making fun of their appearance, clothes, family etc., would be teasing in my books and although not nice, are not crimes and not enforceable by law.
Granted in my day we didn’t have social media, where hurtful things could be seen by the whole world, in my day such comments may have appeared on school notebooks, washroom stalls or walls . . and were usually dealt with by the school administration.
Are these comments hurtful … YES … are they nice … NO, but not everyone is nice, it’s life.
I’m not denying that Lynelle was hurt by these comments, but negative comments are made about people everyday … our aboriginal community, our immigrant community, our handi-capped community face it everyday … it’s a flaw in our society, that I don’t think will ever be fixed …
Rudeness is all over the place, in various ways, are we going to arrest everyone that says or writes something rude, I think not.
In the case of Cyber-Bullying/harrassment maybe there is something we can do, but only if we can trace the culprits
The different forms of social media could shut down the accounts of the person/persons responsible for the rude remarks, but where would they draw the line.
Are they going to shut down every account where someone makes a rude remark … if I make a comment or disagree with someone’s post are they going to shut my account down because I may have hurt someone’s feelings by disagreeing or saying something they didn’t like, while I was truly just making my opinion or suggesting another way to look at it, because maybe someone took it as me saying they are unintelligent.
If something is obviously slanderous, defaming and ongoing then of course I would like to see something done legally.
In Lynelle’s case if the list makers are caught I think the most that can be done and what would hurt them the most would be to have their devices taken away for say, maybe 6 months and banning them from using ANY devices for that same period … that would hurt any kid nowadays, but even that, would that help or would they just get someone else to do their dirty work for them.
A lot of what we read is perception, and as one of Dahlia’s guests said not everything should be taken to heart.
In Lynelle’s case, it was personal, but she responded in a way by saying that perhaps the comments were true, but not nice … again, not everyone is nice. Did it hurt her feelings, of course it did … but she goes on to describe herself as a caring, helpful, nice person etc., she is proud of herself, so good for her, she knows she’s better than the person or people that created this list … let it go at that and move on to be who you truly are, with your family and true friends … don’t add fuel to the fire so to speak.
I don’t know if she meant her comments to go worldwide or not, but in my opinion she is drawing more attention to herself and not the list makers, in my opinion she is getting herself into a battle that she can’t win, in my opinion she should just have let it go, and it would all have blown over by now …
Dahlia says that just makes her a victim, well, I never really thought of it like that, but I guess that is what we that have been teased/bullied are, we are victims of society as are many other people in other ways.
I have chosen to just walk away from the teasers, it disappoints them when you don’t let it show that you’ve been hurt, even though of course you have.
And it embarrasses me more to kick up a fuss, than to just walk away and not become the centre of everyone’s attention.