As a child, I was bullied. And this is why I believe it is one of the greatest gifts I received.
My parents immigrated from France to Canada when I was 8, reason being mostly the level of racism and xenophobia. My parents waited 17 years to get a French citizenship that would allow them to open a business. Instead, being Serbian, we heard “go back to your country” too often, but we couldn’t. Anyway, that’s besides the point.
When we moved, my parents wanted me to have the best education possible so they signed me up in a private school. When they tested my aptitudes and IQ, they told my parents I would have to skip 4 grades warning them it might cause sociability issues because of the huge age gap. My parents approved to have me skip 3 not realizing that it would still create a big problem in my capacity to be included.
Home equaled with violence, abuse and I was forced to shut up most of the time. I developed an almost pathological shyness. I would not talk much and would be scared to approach people I didn’t know. Imagine the fear I felt being in a new school, in a different country, with a language I had trouble understanding at the time.
In school, the age difference with some of the class mates was as high as 7 years, mostly 4 or 5. Still, when you are 9 or 10 and the others are 14 or 16, it creates a “grand canyon” gap in being able to develop friendships.
Because I didn’t jump 4 grades, I ended up being 1st in my class, especially in math. I solved most problems instantaneously in my mind which made the teachers love me and class mates despise me even more. I was a nerd wearing outdated clothes and thick glasses, incapable to stand up for myself or speak. The best victim there can be.
And so, you can image the rest. Yet, maybe not to this extend. My father had the thoughtful idea of offering me a camera, one of those small Kodaks. I loved it because it felt like a protection between me and the rest of the world. A way to express myself without words.
In school, I would take pictures of boys since I was not able to speak to any as I would automatically do something so clumsy, I would want to hide under the floor and vanish. That fear was intensified after a girl had ripped a photo I had given of me to a class mate I found very cute. An 18 year old “bad boy” who found it hilarious. Being dramatically mocked and humiliated in front of the class (which class mates stayed five years in the same school until graduation reminding me with nicknames of my stupid attempt) pretty much killed my reputation.
Because I took photos of boys, a tough girl became so jealous she decided to kill me. This could be a great movie but, at that time, she became a real threat to my life. Where was I going to complain? Not at home where I didn’t feel very welcomed. Not at school and be bullied even more by the others. I kept quiet. I kept quiet until I couldn’t keep quiet anymore.
She beat me up in hallways till I fell unconscious, leaving for dead. She threw me down stairs and as I laid bruised and beaten, I felt the feet of my classmates walk around me, on me. I was pushed in front of a car and thankfully survived. She ended up in a mental hospital.
I tell you all this ( the tip of the iceberg) not to claim some pity. On the contrary. It is to share the gratitude I feel of living such experiences. No, don’t worry. I am not crazy. Well, maybe a little, but aren’t we all?
Because of my shyness an inability to speak, I found the most safe reliable and trustworthy friends in books. I could escape the insanity surrounding me and travel, explore, think, become other people for a few pages. I could imagine living other lives. I could express all I felt through the voice of characters within the pages I flipped passionately. I read more than anyone I knew. I devoured books. A little over a decade later, I was a book critic and radio producer for 3 years, talking about something I knew more than well. Over 10 years of avid reading make me a book connoisseur at the age of 25. I never stopped.
Because of the camera my father gave me, I was able to analyse the world meticulously. Since I was not allowed to speak much, I tuned my listening skills. I silently observed and listened. Observed and listened.
I can honestly say that I love my life today so much, even I cannot find the words to describe the level of gratitude I feel when I am writing.
I still take pictures since I never stopped from when I was 8 years old. I continue observing and listening. All that accumulated information helps me create characters and stories. It helped me become highly empathetic and profoundly understand the “human condition”. It helped me help thousands of people thus far, and, more in the future.
I am not saying what happened to me is wonderful and should not be condemned. And of course, I would have perhaps preferred a different past. I am not saying what happened to me is wonderful and should not be condemned. On the contrary, measures should be taken to prevent children from suffering. And, of course, that different one could have led me to another profession that I might have loved as passionately. That being said, we can never compare something we are not experiencing. I truly believe that we cannot be wrong. We cannot get it wrong… If we follow our heart.
I still question what came first. Was I born a writer and needed these experiences to become better and find my purpose? Or did I find my purpose because of my past?
I was inspired to write this because I cross the paths of so many who blame the past scars and use them road blocks to accessing the realization of their hopes and dreams. When, in fact, if they would jump and follow their hearts, they would soon turn around and notice the connecting dots that made it all possible.