I hurried to park the car in the usual parking lot near the center. It was my favorite parking lot as it was guarded by Gianni, a very nice gentleman with a mild form of paraplegia. His smile conveyed a true and healthy joy that warmed the heart and every time I saw him the emotion was always the same.
I was a little late for the meeting scheduled at 2:30 pm at the “Caffè delle Fontane” in front of the Municipal Theater of Reggio Emilia. I arrived a little out of breath with my race: I didn’t like being late. Filippo was already seated at the table waiting for me. I approached and greeted him with joy.
– Hi Phil, can I call you that?
– I am rarely called Filippo, even if it is my real name. No problem.
– I’m really honored that you would tell me your story.
– Thanks to you! Imagine! I have been following your blog for some time, I have also read your book “Une Éternelle Jeunesse”. I was very touched by your sincerity in exposing you and I therefore thought that you could agree to receive my testimony. These things happened a long time ago, but they are still relevant today.
– I’d order two beers, what do you think?
– Absolutely yes.
Filippo was a handsome, dark-haired, youthful-looking man, dressed very elegantly, who worked in the securities office of a well-known downtown bank. I was very curious to know his story. I believe that talking about these events is the only way to overcome this cowardly silence that could affect our children, our grandchildren or our friends.
- Phil, what you told me dates back to the early 80’s. Today you are now an adult, but I can understand how much this story of your teenage years affected you! you mentioned this school in the province of Turin. Were you able to return to this college later?
Phil was not afraid to start his story and from that point his words started to flow like a river in spate. He had great control and extraordinary dignity, but underneath was a lot of pain.
- Yes. I went back several years ago. And walking into that yard, I could hear those voices. I felt like everyone was looking at me. I felt stares around me. Looks that observed the humiliation to which I was subjected. Even today I still feel fear, dread and shame. It seems impossible that after so many years there is still so much fear. I entered. I observed the walls of the school, the cobbled courtyard, the doors. I looked around and didn’t understand: I saw people, I heard voices, but there was no one there. Yet there are these voices all around me again. My name mispronounced. Insulting epithets. I seemed to see the usual tormentors and the usual harassers appearing around the corner. You know, this is the first time that I have spoken about it so openly without fear of being judged. Over the next few years, I encountered this problem on several occasions with psychologists, but always viewed them as doctors, with the sole intention of treating a “difficulty”. And now, thinking back to those events, I feel a chill in my chest. I feel like seeing one of the groups again, led by the usual figure. There he is, coming out from behind the corner and heading towards me. And I stay still, unable to react. As if I was stunned and hypnotized. Impossible to leave.
- And how did you defend yourself?
- I was hiding. For two years, that terrible half hour where every day I had to wait for the bus to bring me home. I had decided to stay inside the school building, away from others. Others. I never understood why I attracted their oppression in this way. I wanted to dissolve myself but instead I was like honey that attracts bees. And of course, the bees came to torment me. From the first year of college, I understood that to save myself I had to adopt all possible strategies and my mind quickly began to look for solutions. One of them was to pass my homework. You can’t imagine the number of homework I passed. When I realized that someone could become a potential executioner, I passed my homework to them. At least I could stem some attacks. I passed my homework as soon as they asked me. In school I was very good, so I also used this defense weapon. It worked in part. In time of war, you have to save yourself. And I was only 11 years old. And just my brain to rely on. However, he was a good brain .
- Didn’t you talk about it at home?
- What if I mentioned it at home? But it’s not okay, are you kidding? A kid made fun of like that, he feels ridiculous, he is ashamed. He feels humiliation. And he can’t tell anyone about it. Indeed, it minimizes and hides. The more painful the event, the more we tend to hide it. The problem was mine and I was the cause of it all, I was the one who was different. At least that’s how I felt! Unfortunately, this is a mechanism on which I believe the fragility or sensitivity of each of us also has a great influence. In short, I never mentioned it. I was too ashamed. And especially in front of my classmates, I pretended not to feel any embarrassment. But God knows how many times I had to hold back tears and pretend at home that everything was fine. Two really, really tough years. And they left their mark.
- Teachers, professors? Is it possible that no one has ever done anything?
- I think one day when I was away, they talked about it in class because the next day there was an atmosphere of respect around me. But I was still ashamed. My humiliations had been exposed. It didn’t work out much anyway. And soon everything started again as before. The torments, however, were psychological, never physical. No one ever lifted a finger. But morally and psychologically, it was a chore. For many years, therefore, I began to go out of the house very little and embark on my studies. School saved me: that’s for sure. It gave meaning to my life.
- However, I still feel very uncomfortable talking about certain things. We can stop if you want. This testimony is enough for me and I thank you very much for it.
- Indeed enough. I think that is enough for today… These memories are still painful and I think I will partly live with them forever. You know, in the last few decades, this phenomenon finally has a name. This is called school bullying. To face a demon, you have to give it a name and luckily now this violence has a name. What is most impressive is that children of the same age are capable of such harsh actions. Maybe the same kids you used to play and joke with until the year before. And so for them, you became fun. They liked to imitate your difficulties, to humiliate you, to remind you of a handicap. They mispronounced your name, gave you offensive names. You became the stutterer, the dazed, the queer…. They always act in packs and laugh. They feel strong in these laughs and attacks. And they plan. They plan the attack. They are looking for you. They are waiting for the right moment.
- Today, after a while, what do you think of them?
- Nothing. I know if they had realized the harm, they were doing to me, they wouldn’t have done it. Maybe only one or two people hated me enough to enjoy humiliating me, but I never understood why. Now in school and in educational circles, everyone only talks about this phenomenon, but there is still a long way to go and I believe that it is necessary to always remain on our guard, especially in defending those boys and girls who are perhaps more emotionally fragile. If you waited for the “bullies” to come and ask for help, you failed from the start. I’ve looked a lot deeper into the dynamics behind these behaviors in recent years, maybe one day we can talk about it, but that’s… another story.
Martin Luther King said: “What scares me is not the violence of the wicked, it is the indifference of the good.”
But even more recently, Mika himself has said something strong and at the same time tenacious as only hope for a better world can be: “I was the bullies’ favorite victim. I dressed oddly, I was dyslexic and very shy. I did everything to be popular, but it didn’t work […] My mother was very worried at the time, she said to me: “Either you end up in prison, or you become very special”.