Before Yom Kippur, it is a tradition to seek out those we have wronged and ask
them for forgiveness. However, in my case, I was the one who had been wronged. Despite the passage of years, I could never forget 5th grade, the most miserable time in my school career.
That was when Barb started bullying me, the shyest, quietest girl in the class. ‘Bully Barb’ began with small annoying acts such as hiding my pencil case. Soon, she escalated into name calling and other daily insults.
Until then, I’d liked school and been a good student. My teacher’s only complaint was that I didn’t participate in class, being too shy to raise my hand even when I knew the answer.
Now I dreaded going to school, and started developing suspicious stomachaches and other fictitious ailments. When my parents asked me what was going on, I admitted that Barb was bullying me. They spoke to the teacher who lectured the class about getting along with each other.
For a while afterwards, Barb bided her time. Then she sneakily started her bullying tactics again and my misery returned. In the last week of school before summer vacation, she did the worst thing ever. During morning recess, she crept up behind me and threw a handful of itching powder down my back. Feeling a sharp burning pain, I couldn’t help screaming.
I marched back to the classroom, grabbed my schoolbag and took the bus home all by myself.
“What on earth happened?” my mother asked, shocked to see coming home mid-morning.
“It’s that nasty girl, Barb! I’m never going back to that school again!” I sobbed furiously.
Wisely, my mother let me stay home for the last few days of school. Not returning to that school wasn’t an option since it was the only Jewish school in town, but Mom insisted I should be placed in the parallel 6th grade class, not with Barb.
After the summer vacation, I was relieved to find that my new classmates were friendly. Barb ignored me–perhaps she found someone else to pick on. Then my father got a new job, and we moved far away to a different city.
Eventually, when I myself became a teacher, I couldn’t forget Barb. I was vigilant to watch out for any signs of bullying in my classroom, especially with the shy quiet girls like me. As the years passed, I wondered if I could get in touch with Barb and finally let her know what she’d done. Shortly before last Yom Kippur seemed to be an appropriate time. Thanks to our school’s alumni association, it didn’t take long to find her.
Barb was now living in an upscale town only 90 minutes away. I decided not to contact her by phone but sent her an email. I asked if she remembered me. Her reply, which also came quickly, astounded me.
She wrote in a very friendly tone that of course she remembered me! She recalled that I was good at story writing, and even that my father, who came to pick me up from school, had a moustache.
It seemed unbelievable that, after all those years remembering Barb’s nastiness, she didn’t recall a single negative thing. In fact, she sounded as if she’d been my best friend!
Then she went on to tell me about her life. She and her mother had moved away when she was 16. There was no mention of her father at all. Divorced, died? She didn’t say. Was that why she remembered my father so clearly? Could it be she’d been jealous of me? Was that the reason for her bullying? The idea seemed incredible. Barb had married, gave birth to a daughter, then got divorced. For many years, she lived with her elderly mother who recently passed away at the age of 90. Barb was now growing accustomed to living alone.
Before contacting her, I wondered if Barb would admit to any the terrible things she’d done to me. Would she even ask for my forgiveness? Since she had no recollection of any of it, there could be no apology. Suddenly my hostile feelings toward her disappeared. No longer did I feel the need to dredge up her nastiness in 5th grade.
All those years of resentment melted away like snowflakes in the sun. Though Barb was totally unaware of it, I found myself forgiving her. Finally, I felt free.