Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I used to come home from school and watch Matilda. I was eight years old, and enthralled by her intelligence and social charm. The magic powers were a cherry on top.

At twelve, Matilda became a bedtime companion, hidden away under my pillow waiting for me to thumb through it each night. Reading Matilda's experiences, I'd travel back through my day, imagining how different it could be if I were her. This was my survival strategy, and a lifeline to earlier in my childhood. It was when I was "too old" for Matilda that I needed her powers the most.

Agatha Trunchbull was a formidable villain. She was, for me, more than just a caricature; she was genuinely terrifying. Agatha Trunchbull was alive, darkening the doorways of my education in the form of my grade six teacher, Ms. B---. While Ms. B--- never threw students across the playground (to my knowledge, she never laid a hand on a student), emotionally she was willing to throw students in the trash. She was, like the Trunchbull, vindictive and terrifying. Years later, I can bring myself to say that she was abusive.

Ms. B--- and Trunchbull are easy to hate as villains. But I wonder, now, how that complex characterization formed. Could Trunchbull have become hardened by some of her own trauma? Did she act so tough, using her physical strength as a shield to protect something softer inside? And what, then, shaped Ms. B--- into the figure I so feared? As children, we laughed at her weight; her appearance and mannerisms made her seem like an archetypal villain, not a real teacher. Was she once a caring teacher? What was her own childhood like? Did she hate children after years of bullying? Was she a bully from the start? Was she as afraid of us as we were of her? The only thing she admitted a fear of was, peculiarly, butterflies.

One scene in Matilda shows the children discussing whether they told their parents about Ms. Trunchbull's latest escapades. "They wouldn't believe me," says Hortensia. "I mean, would your parents believe it?" They cemented my decision, for some things, not to tell. And there are things I never told. At a sleepover the following year, my former classmates laughed about Ms. B---. War stories from her classroom are told as a neighbourhood comedy. I cannot quite laugh. So many years later, it still hurts.

My adult thoughts and attempts at analysis feel like a disservice to the twelve-year-old inside me, who hated feared school and cried each night, dreading each day as a teacher's bulls-eye. After finally breaking free of the worst of the tormenting that met me when I first moved to that school, now my teacher was worse than any of the other children had been. The furtive cuts grew wilder and deeper as I wondered why Matilda so seldom cried.

I cried, as silently as I could, at school. I could not stop. I sat in the front row, where my classmates could not see my face. I hope they know me as more than the girl who cried.

No comments: