One of the enduring regrets in my life, one of the things I’m least proud of, comes from my time at high school (note to North American readers – in Australia there is an integrated high school system, from grade 7 to grade 12).

My high school was fairly typical of schools in country Victoria – it wasn’t very large, not more than 700 kids over all levels, and was pretty civilized in terms of behaviour and social norms. It was by no means a rough school, and for a public high school the standards of discipline were very high. I began year 7 in 1981, and of the around 80 kids in my year level, one of the was named Danny.

Danny was the eldest son of a largeish family of Southern European ancestry, and he’d attended one of the local religious primary schools. Danny wasn’t in my form group (home-room group), but he was in some of my classes, and I certainly saw him on the playground. What became clear very quickly was that Danny was at the very bottom of the social ladder – the very bottom. He had no friends, and spent his recess and lunch-times alone, or in the library. He was bullied – not physically, but teased and generally treated with disdain. He was either ignored, or things happened like taking his books and hiding them, which I think upset him more. Danny was not good at sport, not super-clever, socially awkward, shy and plain looking – not fat, not thin, just average. He wore an older-fashioned version of the school uniform, that was pretty obviously composed of handmedowns from his cousins (who were older and had attended our school).

I went to school with Danny from year 7 to year 11, when he left. During that time, around year 9, his father died suddenly and at a comparatively young age. This left his mother to raise the family alone, and fairly obviously she struggled to make ends meet.

I never got to know Danny particularly well. My place in the social order was somewhere in the lower middle half – nerdy clever kids not too good at sport, and into things like science fiction and Dungeons and Dragons. I didn’t ever bully Danny, but nor did I ever help him, defend him or befriend him. I could see that he was alone and lonely (I think), and I didn’t reach out to him, and I’m sorry for that. It makes me very sad to think that, for lack of integrity and courage on my part, Danny had a rotten time at school. From the few interactions I did have with him, because he reached out to me, I know he was a gentle, sensitive and interesting person. I’m sorry I missed out on that friendship, and sorry I chose instead to sacrifice parts of my own integrity to be friends with some people who turned out to want to be friends for what I could give, rather than who I was. Don’t get me wrong – being friends with me would not have been a ticket to social success for Danny. I experienced my own share of being bullied, and I was far from the most popular kid in my year level. But it would have given him one person at school he could have talked to and had some things in common with, and possibly made the rest the more bearable.

I think Danny went on to become an apprentice mechanic and tradesman. I hope he was successful and found more happiness there than in school. I think of him often, and when I do, many of the other failings of my life over which I sometimes agonise fall into perspective.


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