I Didn’t Speak Up

“Why was Christian school the place I felt least safe?”

Last month I stayed with an old grammar school classmate while on a road trip. Rachel moved out of state after 8th grade graduation but thanks to the magic of social media and technology, we’ve reconnected in recent years. To the point where it makes perfect sense I’d stay with her family for a night.

She pulled out old photo albums and we laughed over hairstyles and outfits. God bless the 80s and 90s. We looked at class pictures and exclaimed names we hadn’t thought about in a decade or two. Where were they now? What ever happened to them? Did they leave after 4th grade or was it 6th? Do you remember when…?

For my part, I try not to think about the grammar school where I spent 9 years. It wasn’t all bad, of course, but those junior high years about killed any warmth I could possibly feel for the place. Yet the school is a part of me, always under the surface.

Stories poured out of us, these pictures and classmates unlocking a dormant part of our brains. We may have looked up people on Facebook. For the sake of research.

We joked about a reunion where we wouldn’t have to talk to most of those people. We just wanted to know who was doing what. Had any of the “predictions” at 8th Grade Banquet come true? Where had we all landed? Who still claimed Christianity as their own?

Ours was a Christian grammar school, each day starting off with Bible class. Memory verses swirled through classrooms and we could recite the books of the Bible blindfolded and all this was not enough to circumvent the cruelty punctuating our interactions.

I’ve kept in touch with only one other classmate and we’ve both commiserated over what we survived, while knowing we never bore the worst brunt of teasing and bullying. The classmates who did? Their names are etched in my mind. I’m haunted by what they experienced, not because I dished it out but because I probably laughed a few times at their expense and because I never spoke up on their behalf.

I wasn’t part of the popular group but I wasn’t the least popular either. Sure, I was afraid of having any more of that junior high vitriol directed my way but I was raised better than that. I was raised to befriend the lonely and downtrodden and I could barely do it then.

Sometimes I don’t know if I do it now.

I walked a tightrope those days, mired in depression and suicidal ideation, and I still cannot believe the teachers didn’t see my pain. Maybe they didn’t understand it, maybe they didn’t know what to do but it felt like they turned a blind eye and it certainly seemed they did the same to my much maligned classmates.

Or maybe that’s what I say to absolve myself of my own inaction.

I wish I could see those grammar school days with the perspective I have now. I wonder if I should track down a few of those classmates and apologize for not speaking up. Would it mean anything to them? Would it drag up memories they’d rather repress?

I consider what I endured and know I’d only want an apology from the offenders. It’s not likely to happen. I doubt they remember what they said or did but I hope they feel uneasy when they consider our school days. I hope they one day realize the damage they left in their wake.

20 years have passed since I moved on from grammar school. Life can feel at times like junior high with popularity contests, gossip, bullying, battling it out over who’s right and who’s wrong. As if many of us never outgrow the way we communicated (or didn’t) back then.

I wonder if that’s why the teachers gave the popular kids a free pass.

It’s taken me years to untangle the treatment doled out at my Christian grammar school. People have said “they were just teenagers,” “maybe they were in pain themselves,” and “they clearly weren’t following Jesus.” This could all be true but it doesn’t account for the environment in which these behaviors and attitudes incubated. I have yet to encounter elsewhere the level of meanness I experienced and witnessed there.

Where was the disconnect? Why was a Christian school the place I felt least safe?

Why couldn’t I speak up?

*This article was originally published at Deeper Story.

Leigh Kramer
In my current now, I write: about my faith, about the church, about singleness and relationships, about grief and joy and everything in between. We are always in between – this world and eternity, this place and the next. I want to stop living for the next, and revel in the now.

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