My sister Sandee

Bullying – the long term effects

We all have to deal with the issue of bullying – much of which is thoughtless rather than cruel. The effects, however, are the same. T. J. Coburn – Director at the International School Dhaka (ISD) shared a very personal story with his students earlier this year to illustrate the point.

My sister

The doctors thought my mother’s difficult delivery had caused my sister Sandee’s intellectual disability. By appearance, Sandee was marked only by a modest glint in her eyes and an off-centered smile.  She was four years older than me, the oldest of the five of us. Sandee always considered me her best friend. That continues to this very day.

Sandee was able for the most part to be in regular grade classes through sixth grade. After that, while she was at the same school as her peers, she was in a self-contained classroom with other children of limited intellectual and developmental functioning.

Winters in Ohio

Growing up in Cleveland Ohio with its cold and snow laden winters, most kids learned how to skate soon after taking their very first steps in life. And skating provided for social engagement from those early years all the way through high school. As soon as we reached the sixth or seventh grade, we were all dropped off on Friday and Saturday evenings at our suburban town’s outdoor ice skating rink.  We would meet up with our other friends and do what friends do. And true to custom, Sandee and I would be dropped off soon after an early dinner, to have the time between then and the rink’s closing at 10:00.

Kids, mostly of the eighth grade and up through high school age would skate with one another– boy and girl–as a couple. They would hold crossed hands and with a series of unified skating steps they would skate around and around the rink to the duration of a given song.

Ice rink traditions

Once again by custom, a young man would skate up to a girl and ask her if she wanted to skate together.  At times there would be special moments in the evening when songs were dedicated for couples only—the rest of us standing along the outside of the surrounding boarded walls to the rink.

One evening a boy from the “cool group” of the eighth graders approached Sandee to skate with him for one of those dedicated couples songs. I looked over and saw a cluster of his friends aside the rink–both girls and boys—laughing and shouting out to the boy at the spectacle of his approach to my sister. And given that where we grew up was a small town, both Sandee and I had known that boy and his friends for the better part of our lives.

The “incident”

The music starts–the couples take off, the boy and Sandee circle the rink one time. I am terrified but I begin to think that no more harm then the mockery will follow. And then it happens. On the second time around, just in front of the boy’s group of friends—he plants the blade of his skate right inside the blade to one of Sandee’s skates. Instantly Sandee is sprawled out facedown on the ice—while the boy dashing off to join the chorus of laughter of his friends. Another couple stops to assist Sandee. She skates towards where I am standing along the rink’s edge–a smear of blood surrounds her nose—a trickle running down her cheek.

Fifty years on

The experience, some fifty years ago has scarred Sandee and scarred me. This is the first time that I have ever shared this story in a public setting. And I have never told it without the sensations from that evening getting the best of me. It has hurt each of us deeply: I carry it with me.  Sandee is now 68.  The last time she and I talked about this incident was maybe five years ago, but the memory and the pain is forever with each of us.

Unintended effects

That young man never intended the consequences of his adolescent act to carry the gravity of impact to Sandee or to me.  I am confident that he grew up and developed to become a fine person and a caring person. But I want all of you to know that the pain and the memory to hurtful moments do not go away. They simply don’t. When we make fun at another’s expense I want you to know that the hurt and the pain stays with that other person.  It does not get brushed off. It does not get set aside.

We all need friends

An incident that lasted all of thirty seconds in the life of my sister, in my life and it joins together with so many other moments and circumstances that were not in my sister’s favor. And the greatest difficulty Sandee has had throughout her life, at every turn, at every new group home in which she may have lived, and today–at this very moment in time–Sandee wants friends. Sandee wants to feel included.


T. J. Coburn

Director – International School Dhaka





Feature Image: Pixabay



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