Childhood Guilt

by Orit Ramot, Israel

I grew up in a small village in Israel, or as we called it a Moshav. A place where everyone knows everyone. On one hand it was great because we all felt very safe, like living in a bubble. But on the other hand, in such small places anyone who is a bit different, a bit outside the box, can be really miserable and lonely.

When I was in the 6th grade, my friends and I decided to renovate an old, unused bomb shelter and turn it into a place to hang out. We sold some things we made to raise money, and managed to gather enough for the renovation.

We were seven kids, six girls and a boy, and the boy was the leader of the group. He was blonde, handsome and very charismatic. All the girls wanted him to like them.

One of the girls, as it tends to happen in groups of kids, was not so popular, and most of the group didn’t like her much. She was considered winy and weak, and we all used to laugh at her for all kinds of reasons.

One afternoon, after we had finished painting and decorating the bomb shelter, we decided to play a game. From an adult’s perspective, it was a mean game, but back then I just wanted to be popular and feel part of the group so I didn’t say anything despite knowing it was wrong.

I don’t remember the specific rules of the game, but at the end, the boy humiliated the poor girl and laughed at her more than usual. All the other girls, including me, not only did nothing, but encouraged him. At some point, the girl ran outside and fled home. I remember we all laughed and no one thought of going after her. We just continued to hang out in the bomb shelter which became our “club”.

That night, when I was home eating dinner with my family, there was a strong knock on the door. My mom opened it and we saw the girl, the one we laughed at, standing with her eyes fixed on the floor. In front of her stood her mother, grasping her hand as if she was holding onto a rag doll. Her mother started shouting at me and at my parents about what happened earlier in the bomb shelter. The girl stood there quietly, looking shocked and embarrassed. My parents tried to calm the mother down and they invited them both in and offered them a glass of water, trying to understand what happened. I was so embarrassed and just wanted to disappear from the face of the earth. After a few minutes, when the tone relaxed a little bit and my parents started to understand what happened, they apologized for my behavior and promised the mother that they will deal with me.

It turned out that that girl had been dragged through the entire Moshav by her mother who paid a visit to all the families of the kids who took part in the event.

That evening I got the most serious talk I have ever received from my parents. They were so angry at me and so disappointed because they did not raise me to act like that. I can still feel the shame I felt that evening, guilt for what we did to that girl and for disappointing my parents.

The next day in school, which was very small, the boy and some of the girls decided to ban the poor girl because she “snitched” by telling her mother what happened. So not only was she humiliated by us that afternoon, but after being dragged all over by her mother, she was also banned from talking to everyone in class. Unfortunately, everyone followed the lead of the boy and banned her as well because no one wanted a similar fate of social exclusion.

The ban continued for a while, but even after it ended, she continued to be ostracized from the group and never visited the bomb shelter again.

Over the years I have thought a lot about that event, about our behavior, about my behavior.

Now, I still see her occasionally at events in the Moshav, and I am still full of shame even though it has been more than 20 years. Yet I have never had the guts to tell her I am sorry, and now I feel that an apology will be more for me than for her, and I don’t want to bring these bad memories back to her life for selfish reasons.

I am going to be a mother any day now, pregnant with my first son, and I think a lot about the way I want to raise him. I want him to be kind, generous and a good person. I also want him to be loved, to have friends. Sometimes I wonder what I am afraid of most, for him to be a target of bullying and humiliation or for him to be a person that inflicts this on others. I plan to tell him this story, and to do whatever I can for him to be neither.

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