Justine Stella – Deakin University
I stabbed one sewing pin in. And then another.
I glanced up at them, and they grinned. I was doing it right.
I crossed out the doll’s eyes with a texta and stabbed a pin into the middle of each cross.
Jayden was pointing and laughing with Tanya. It was echoing around the empty train carriage. Maybe they were laughing at me. Maybe I was doing it wrong. I could taste the dread welling in my stomach.
I grabbed a handful of pins and stabbed them into the doll’s chest, sharply piercing through its dress. I started matting its long brown hair, twisting it between my fingers. Each lock was getting frizzier and frizzier.
Jayden snatched the doll out of my hands. “Do it like this,” he instructed, rubbing locks of hair between his hands.
“It looks just like her! Stupid bitch!” Tanya snarled.
I coughed up a laugh. Our voodoo doll looked nothing like Julie.
I know why I did it. But even after all of these years, after having all of this time to come to terms with what I did; I still can’t forgive myself. Having a reason doesn’t make it any better. I should have walked away at the beginning.
“Bullying will not be tolerated.” Our Coordinator’s face was red, his voice clipped. Each word stabbed into me; just like pins. “You each have detention for tomorrow afternoon.” His gaze lingered on me. I was a disappointment. “Don’t be late.” He flicked a hand towards the door, and it felt like a slap.
We walked towards our lockers quickly. I could hear them talking to each other, their words too soft for me to catch. Was it about me?
My locker was separate from theirs. But it was near Julie’s. And she was already there when I approached. She stared at me directly. Her gaze pierced me. She knew.
And then her mask slipped. Her eyes dimmed; their sharpness dulled by betrayal. Her hands fell slack to her sides and even her curly hair seemed to deflate. She was smaller than she’d ever been. We’d beaten her down.
I watched her leave and saw Tanya and Jayden pass her in the corridor. They glared at her, giving her filthy looks. And then they burst into giggles.
I was sick.
I wish I’d walked away then. I wish I had been strong enough to stand on my own. Because I’d rather make a stand than be a sheep.
They were still laughing when we left school. Their laughter fizzled into insults, insults about Julie’s curly hair, about what she said last week; she was this month’s target. We arrived at the train station under a cloud of insults.
We stood at the pedestrian crossing as a train approached. The warning bells sounded, getting louder and louder, slamming into me like hail. The train was approaching in slow motion.
I couldn’t hear Tanya and Jayden insulting Julie. I was separate from them, I was in a bubble. Their voices couldn’t penetrate it and I couldn’t see them clearly. And yet, I was stuck with them.
I could push through the safety barrier. I could stand on the tracks. I could stop being a part of all of this.
And then the train passed. The barrier of the pedestrian crossing rattled in my hands. The sunlight snapped back into my eyes, harsh and bright. The warning bells ceased. Their insults surrounded me, increasing in volume. “Julie’s eyes are so small!”
I was still a part of it.
Being trapped with them was like getting caught in a wave. Other waves snatched at me. Currents dragged me down.
I was in too deep. And the worst thing is that I willingly joined.
As we walked to school the next day I could hear them talking about me, calling me a nerd. I didn’t want them to think that, but I didn’t want to be late either; I was already in trouble.
And then it hit me from behind. A small grey stone.
Was this the start; had they turned on me? Was I their next target? But I hadn’t done anything wrong; I’d done everything they’d suggested.
I faced them. Tanya was grinning, and Jayden held another stone. I watched him launch it at me. It got caught in my hair.
I didn’t move; I was stuck. I couldn’t walk away, and I couldn’t fight back. I don’t understand why they were after me now.
They started laughing and walked past me, heading towards school. I followed them, keeping distance between us.
What was I a part of?
I should have just left then, I really wanted to. But I wasn’t quite strong enough. I was letting fear win. I was letting the waves drag me under. I knew that I needed to start swimming away; but there is a huge difference between wanting to do something and actually doing it.
What happened? It was such a simple question. But so hard to answer.
I glanced at Tanya; she was chewing on her pen and staring out of the single window of the Detention room. I was still for several minutes before I began writing my answer.
But as I wrote, it was like I was there again. Panic clogged my throat from when they asked me to buy the pins. Guilt cooled my stomach as I laughed along when we stabbed the pins into the doll. Paranoia suffocated me as I checked to see if I was doing it right. The silent plea to not let me be their next target echoed through my heart.
Julie’s face flashed through my mind. What kind of person was I? I’d helped to beat someone down, to crush someone. I’d traded someone else for myself. That wasn’t me.
My hand shook as I wrote. The words blurred and I could see them doing it to me. I could see them drawing braces onto a doll. I could feel them stab me. I could hear their laughter and their insults. “Justine is such a slut!”
And then I was crying. Tears fell onto the paper and blotted my words. But I had to finish.
How were you involved? Are you sorry? Do you understand why bullying will not be tolerated?
I’d stopped crying by the time I finished. My Coordinator dismissed me before the others and I avoided his gaze as I left. I walked towards the room where Tanya and Jayden’s lockers were and I waited for them.
I am so glad that we were caught and punished; that we didn’t get away with it. Because I don’t know how far I would have gone in the face of fear. When you’re drowning you are going to grab hold of the nearest thing. But when that turns out to be a shark you’re in serious trouble.
They arrived at their lockers laughing.
We’d just written about what we’d done, about how we’d bullied someone and they were laughing.
They weren’t sorry.
“What’s your problem, slut?” Jayden demanded when they noticed my silence.
Their attack had begun. I turned my back on them and I started walking away. More insults slammed into me.
“You fugly whore!”
I left the room and kept walking.
Stepping away from my peers was like I’d finally broken through the surface of the water. I could breathe again.
It took me a long time to walk away and it took everything I had; but I did it.
I became the target for rumors and it was awful. But it was worth it. And I have never been more proud.
Refusing to engage with them is probably one of the most courageous things I have ever done. I was thirteen.
Refusing was like saving myself from drowning; it was like I had won against the water. It couldn’t drag me down anymore; I wasn’t a part of it.
Justine Stella was previously published in Bee Cre8tive at the age of fourteen and has recently been sought after to write a newspaper article to promote and support the secondary school she attended. She currently lives in Drysdale and enjoys the challenges involved in studying at Deakin University.