Meeting Lucy [April 17]
Am I guilty or not guilty? And do I really want to know?
Recently I was invited to give an evening talk about my memoir ‘Shy’. At the end of the night a woman whose face seemed vaguely familiar approached me diffidently and said, ‘I know you. Well, at least, I did.’ The lines on her face mirrored my own, lines earned in five decades of ups and downs. ‘I’m Lucy’. *
Behind that middle-aged face I could suddenly see an elfin girl from my years at a primary school in the sand belt suburbs of Melbourne. Lucy had been my friend and also my competitor, though she might not have realised it. She was one of the cleverest girls in the school, and the fastest female sprinter. She was incredibly popular for a few years, probably because of being clever and fast. And kind.
Then there was a turning. Something changed and I don’t know what it was but suddenly Lucy was the most loathed girl in our year. I’m talking visceral ‘Lord of the Flies’ loathing.
Did I play a part? It’s hard to recall. Later on I copped a bit of this stuff too from mocking boys and smirking girls. I learnt a lot about human behavior from those tidal surges of approval and disapproval in the primary school playground.
I have often thought of Lucy since then, and of her older sister who had cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair. Back then kids had vicious names for people like Lucy’s sister, names no one would dare to utter these days. Was Lucy’s sister somehow the cause of the turning?
Or perhaps it was because, like me, Lucy was shy. Perhaps the trainee bullies in our little community sniffed out her fear and took their chance to topple this girl? And did I play a part?
That night after my book talk I held Lucy’s hands and told her I remembered what she went through at our school, and this middle-aged woman wiped her eyes. It was forty years ago, half a lifetime, but lessons like that never leave you.
‘We must have a cup of tea together,’ I told her. ‘Will you email me?’
She hasn’t yet. And still I don’t remember. What part did I play?
* Lucy’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.
This column was first published in the Sunday Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, April 2017.