real life

'The deliberately cruel words a friend said to me that left me crying in the bathroom.'

I’m 34. Married. With dog. Not with child.

I have a lovely family, a great set of friends, a job that keeps my brain busy and my mortgage paid, and most of my problems are of the first world variety.

I live a great life. I am not – by anyone’s standards – a victim. I have thick skin forged by time and experience, and confidence in myself that has been afforded by age.

Yet, last Friday, I found myself crying in the stalls of the bathroom at my local pub furiously wiping ugly tears away with the back of my sleeve, and trying in vain to compose myself.

The tears were frustrated ones. Angry ones. And tears of disappointment.

You see, it had been years since I had felt the sting of a racist jibe, but it still hurt as much as ever.

Sure, when I was in primary school it was common place to get called a “ching chong”, to be mocked for my flat nose, or to be told to “go back to where I came from” (despite being born streets away). But I thought those days were behind me. I mean surely if we had grown out of playing on monkey bars, we had also grown out of insults that were ignorant and lazy at best, and cruel at worst? I thought that the differences we tried to minimise as children, were the very things we celebrated as adults.

I guess not everyone felt the same way. Which is how I came to stand on the receiving end of a racist barb, designed to get a rise out of me. This didn’t come from a friend, or a stranger – either would have been easier to forgive or forget. It came from an acquaintance who was deliberate in her intent and delivery.

She sat across from me in our local. She twirled her straw. Interrupted our conversation and delivered a one-two verbal punch.

I usually carried the rubber sword of humour as my defence, designed to make a point without drawing blood. But amongst friends I had both my sword and my shield lowered, and felt the full force of her blows.

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This left me with two choices. I could have taken the bait, bitten back, and delivered my own verbal smackdown. God knows I had done it before, and hardly shy when it comes to confrontation. Or I could calmly walk away, compose myself and return to the table, without causing a scene and without giving her the satisfaction of what she would have deemed a victorious move in her sad little game of one-upmanship.

I chose the latter.

I am not entirely convinced that was the right decision. And those tears of frustration, anger and disappointment were less about her, and more about me. I was frustrated at myself for not saying anything; angry that I let it get to me; and disappointed this was still something I had to deal with as an adult.

I have come to realise that my silence didn’t equate to inaction. That there was more strength in deliberate silence than in fists and fighting. I made a choice not to engage. And my choice disempowered her words.

When she left that night, our friends were angry. And whilst I was grateful that they took this cause on as their own, I didn’t buy into their reassurances that these were just the words of a sad, lonely girl acting out her insecurities. I didn’t agree that she deserved our pity. Pity should be reserved for the deserving.

It’s inevitable that I will face her again. If not her, then further down the track, a version of her. But for every insult, jibe, barb or slur, my skin will grow thicker, and my head held higher. I am not a person you will reduce and I refuse to let my flat Asian nose be put out of joint.

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