Anna sat, consciously unmoving in the leather chair of the Headmaster’s office, aware that any sudden movement might make the old leather groan and squeak to penetrate the already tense and embarrassing silence. Though a fully grown adult with three young children, she felt like a child waiting to be told off; that odd feeling left over from school days that you never seem to leave behind.
Of course, she wasn’t waiting to be told off. She had come about her daughter, who was desperately unhappy at school and it was something Anna and her husband felt that they could no longer deal with by themselves. The actions of the other children had been subtle at first, treated in a way that most parents would treat it; as kids being kids and falling out one minute but being best of friends the next. But being the person always on the outside of the group, only ever invited in to be ridiculed and then thrown out again when no longer required, got to be too much for their daughter in the end.
Whatever she did always seemed to be the wrong thing, which led to constant arguments. Arguments that saw the group stick together against her. It was a battle she would never win – one that her parents warned her not to even try to and instead to walk away altogether. Their daughter had tried to do this and it helped for a while, but whenever she found herself in the presence of the group, one or more of them would pick away at something, whether it was her appearance, her manner, anything. Pick, pick, pick… it seemed they just couldn’t leave her alone.
The situation reached breaking point and something had to give. Anna thought the Head would offer support and talk to the children involved. She explained the situation to him and asked what the school’s policy was on bullying. His response was that he didn’t think this was bullying. At that point Anna knew she had lost him. He went on to say that he knew the children involved and that they were good kids, it was likely they didn’t know they were upsetting her daughter, as if they were too young to know any better. They were all ten, approaching eleven years old.
As anger swirled around inside her, Anna could no longer hear the words being spoken. She left the office in silence, contemplating what they should do.
The situation at school didn’t improve and a decision had to be made. Anna and her husband approached another school and finding they had a place free, decided to ask their daughter if she would like to go there. She jumped at the chance and from the very first day at the new school, it was clear that a great weight had been lifted off her.
Two weeks later, Anna received notification of an email sent to her daughter but held in quarantine. It was a thread about her daughter, sent to the rest of the group. They hadn’t realised that she was still included on the list. Anna watched the thread unfold and felt dread fill her stomach. Even though her daughter had left the school, they still couldn’t leave her alone, needing to have yet another dig at the fact that she had left.
The emails were reported to the school and once again Anna found herself back in the old leather chair of the Headmaster’s office. She was tired and stressed, having not slept well the night before. Her daughter had gone off to France on a trip with her new school that morning and was completely unaware of the situation. Anna comforted herself with this knowledge and was thankful for that at least. It was the duty of the school to follow up on the emails. The Head assured her he had spoken to all involved, including those who were on the list but didn’t respond. He was also going to contact the parents to let them know. Anna knew that the emails were as much about responsible internet use as about her daughter. Whatever was said in them meant nothing. She was no longer at the school and it didn’t matter anymore. But when the Head told her that the children involved were at a loss as to why her daughter left the school, Anna felt something break inside. He went on to say that he was confident that they were telling the truth and once again she heard nothing more. He didn’t believe her. He had never believed that her daughter had been bullied, not even when he saw the emails and the things they said about her.
Anna walked out of the office and the school doors with her head held high, but when she reached her car she broke down in tears. Thinking about her daughter, how upset she had been, the times she came home and cried her heart out, how miserable she was. The only way Anna could console herself was to think about what her daughter had said before leaving for France. I haven’t been this happy in a long time, were her exact words. No wonder she had wanted to get away and thank goodness she did. Anna told herself that as long as her daughter was happy, that was all that mattered and vowed she would never let her find out about what happened after she left.