Today I gave a talk about my book, Too Close to the Falls, at a CEJEP (College) in Montreal, which was populated mostly by students from other countries. The students were very taken by my chapter on bullying called Anthony McDougall. The gist of the story is in Catholic school in grade four Anthony bullied me and no one would help. I asked my parents for help and they said, turn to the principal. The principal said to pray (didn’t work), my mother said to invite Anthony to lunch and make him a friend (Insane). Roy, the delivery car driver at my dad’s store, told me to hit Anthony with something sharp when he lease expected it. (worked like a charm).
I was explaining to the students that in a memoir you have to explain different realities. In the bullying chapter there were three realities: my parents democratic view, the catholic church, and The rough and tumble world of Roy. Juxtaposing realities is inherently exciting, loaded with inner conflict and is a good technique to use in a memoir.
I then asked the students if they had any conflicting realities they had to juggle. To open them up I said I assumed they had to keep several balls in the air since their parents were from one culture and Canada had another culture.
A smattering follows of what I was told. I used their voices because they were so succinct.
-- I am from Rwanda. My brother was a child soldier and I had to get away from him by swimming a river. The rebels killed my parents and now my uncle who was a rebel, lives in Canada. Thanksgiving does not work at my house.
-- I am from Afghanistan and the Taliban bullied our family and my father was killed in the town square for a reason we never understood. Now in Canada my mother does not ever want me to talk to anyone outside of our family. That is paranoid so I just don’t tell her I go out with friends who are not relatives.
When I went to have a coffee in the school cafeteria after the talk, some students from the class joined me and more stories poured out. These were too personal to say in the full classroom.
--My mother and I were raped in the same room by some Serbian soldiers. We left the scene silently and never talked about it. When I got to Canada I learned that you were supposed to talk about trauma or bullying. I tried to bring up what happened to us, but my mother hit me and said it never happened. She said if our father knew of it he would leave us. I have to balance the two cultures. I am learning to do it but it is hard.
A boy whose father and brother were killed in Afghanistan and who fled to Pakistan alone at 16 said, “War is just bullying on a large scale.” He said he fantasizes every day about attacking those who killed his relatives.
After an hour of stories I left Montreal feeling that being bullied by a boy who pulled my hair out was fairly minor in the world of ‘bullying’. One thing I was glad about was that the Anthony McDougall story touched so much within these students that they carry around every day.