• James Aichinger

A Knife in the Back

Every one thinks that starting to write a story is the hardest part. For me it was keeping going after the people who called themselves my friends mocked me for trying.


Everyone gets bullied at some point in their childhood, or else ends up being the worst bully of all.


I was small, ginger and eager to learn; I was an easy target. I was used to the usual treatment and it never bothered me too much. Sometimes I fought back, sometimes I walked away and after years of the same I thought nothing would really get to me.



No, we never played poker at lunch...


The problem with letting your guard down is that there will always be someone who will take the opportunity to kick you while you're vulnerable.

To be clear my frst attempt was awful; I barely knew how to write at all. It was full of spelling mistakes, unintentional euphemisms and sentence constructions that sounded like the child I still was. I wish I still had a copy to look back and laugh at.


I had put sections on the web to get feedback and knew that it didn't get particularly good reviews. I also knew that the comments I got back were too coherent to be the work of random trolls looking for a cheap laugh.


But I couldn't get better without feedback, so I did the only thing I could think of. My family was disinterested in my project, so I turned to my friends. I sent two people a copy of my precious work and asked them what they thought. Both said that it wasn't great but it could go somewhere in the future.


Over the next couple of weeks I tried to push on and improve what I had already written. I worked to make a coherent story, I studied sentence structures of my favourite authors and learnt about the importance of voice in a book. Then came the day that made me push aside the keyboard for over five years.


A classmate I knew and admired approached me looking awkward. I knew immediately that something was wrong, but I was confident I could deal with it. As I wrote before, being bullied had become almost a way of life.


She told me that she had seen the start of my book on the web and for a brief moment my heart soared. I genuinely believed that she had been interested enough to search out more of my work. But her next words shattered that dream.


She told me that the other classmate I had sent a copy to had posted it up on the web in a private Facebook group.


A private Facebook group. One that I was not a member of. It told you everything you needed to know. This wasn't some public forum to gather feedback, this was the cyber equivalent of a dark corner to laugh at someone without them knowing.


She showed me the group and my already battered confidence died a slow and painful death.


Everyone, every single person who called themselves my friend and many more beyond were part of the group. They were laughing and mocking my work, tearing it to shreds in a place where they thought I couldn't see them. They were smiling to my face and stabbing me in my back.


Not one of them had had the courage to tell me what they thought and not one of them had the imagination to try and do better. All they wanted was to feel superior for just a moment and they didn't care what it cost to someone else.


It took me years to recover from that pain. For almost half a decade I refused to write any more, afraid that if I even discussed it with anyone they would use it against me somehow. I even avoided writing under my own name, just in case someone I knew recognised my work.


I deleted all my documents, destroyed all my hard-copies and promised myself that I would never let the story out again.

It wasn't that I was afraid of critisism: I had a lot from the internet and sometimes it was pretty nasty. But it was never personal. At worst it was random trolling by people with nothing better to do and at best it was honest (if harsh) criticism that could end up improving my writing. This though was different.


It was that someone I thought I could trust used my vulnerability to hurt me for nothing more than cheap entertainment.

It hurt, it really did, but in the flame of that betrayal I eventually forged something harder than steel. I realised that no one could ever hurt me in such a painful way again. The worst had passed.


Bullies come and go, in all shapes and sizes. But one thing they have in common is that they can only take from you what you are willing to give up. They could not take my dream from me.


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© 2019 by James Aichinger