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My one and only year of attending Public School was at P.S. 32 in Yonkers, New York. I was the only non-white student, from the First to the Sixth grade, at that institution during that term and one of only two minority people that entered those doors, the other being Special Needs teacher Miss Holland.

Yonkers, as a location, was a place filled with anger and hatred. It was too far north to be a part of New York City and the advantages that might have come with that. And it was south of the more affluent suburbs like Bronxville, Hartsdale or Scarsdale. Yonkers was decidedly working class, and, as such, very protective of its own people. If you were not in that group, you were not welcome, a fact which I have to believe my mother, sending me to this school, was completely unaware.


I was always up for an adventure, so this new school seemed like an interesting challenge to my ten year old self, at first. My Fifth grade homeroom teacher was Mrs. Dworkin, who had actually worked with my mother in that very edifice before Mom was transferred to another within the Westchester County School system. Other teachers included Mrs. Katz for English, Miss DeMarco for Math, Mrs. Dworkin covered History/Social Studies and Science, and Mrs. Barth taught music.

Being used to my role as “The New Kid,” I figured I could just go through my repertoire of friendly hellos, quick witted comments, and make friends. That wasn’t how this went. In fact, every day was a round of abuse from very nearly everyone in that school, from the custodial staff, from my classmates, even from my teachers themselves. It was an endless round of bullying, taunting, even physical abuse that continued, unabated for the entire year, culminating with a class trip to, of all places, the United Nations, where parents of my classmates ganged up for an unspeakable sing along on the bus ride, all directed at me. If I could have leaped from that vehicle as it cruised on the Henry Hudson Parkway, I would have, at that moment.

I really thought I was the problem. In my ten year old mind, I figured I was doing something wrong: not being nice enough, not trying hard enough. And the attacks were always very personal – this wasn’t about the kind of person I was, it was about ME. Always what I did, always how I dressed or looked, this was an issue that was constant.

Eventually, I stopped trying to win people over and went into survival mode: interact with as few people as possible throughout the day, keeping my head down and hoping that things would somehow change. This method was only modestly successful, as Dworkin and DeMarco always called on me, then made me an example of how wrong I was to the rest of their classes. The bullies somehow always found me. They knew my every hiding place. They typically didn’t threaten physical violence but they didn’t have to – the threat was already there. I was one of the smallest and weakest kids in school: the last to be picked for gym games.

There were hints that maybe my situation wasn’t as dire as it appeared. In a class election, I ran for treasurer against one of the bullies that continually terrorized me and the vote ended in a tie!

The day of the runoff election, when I bought my lunch in the cafeteria, the cashier gave me my change all in pennies. When I looked at the cash drawer and asked could I have some larger coins instead, the worker sneered a “No, I can’t” at me.

In the ensuing runoff speech, partially out of frustration and partially because I had a couple of very tiny pockets with ninety pennies shoved in them, I started tossing the coins at my classmates, somehow hoping it would help win some votes. The bullies laughed heartily, picking up pennies as I went back to my desk. I was defeated by a landslide in the runoff.

Mrs. Katz, the only teacher that ever seemed to care about me did something really remarkable. We were studying mythology and we prepared a marionette show to present about what we learned and she gave me the role of Zeus for a scene. Keep in mind, as a puppet show, this wasn’t something where I would be seen: I was operating a hand that was going to come down from the top of the puppet blind.

This apparently created a horrific scandal, and the puppet show performance was canceled the day before it was to happen.

Sometimes I would retreat to Miss Holland’s class at lunch, an area that was a safety zone that none of the other kids would visit, but the fact was, she was dealing with her own problems and issues and had no ability to help me through mine. And Mrs. Barth was very knowledgeable in music but knew nothing about how to deal with bullies. She was being bullied herself in her own classroom from the students that simply didn’t want to learn music! Even I felt badly for her, despite my own endless suffering.

But I did have one classmate that actually stepped up. Her name was Robin Whitmore, and she might have been the go to target for the bullies had I not been there all year. With Coke bottle glasses that magnified her blue eyes and a slight overbite which she never hesitated to show with a quick, goofy and somewhat shy smile, Robin was the sort of girl that usually got the smart aleck remarks in films and television shows, but bounced back with her happy and sunny attitude.

One time, three of the bullies were chasing me down the hall to our classroom cloak room and as I got to the door, Robin stepped forward between the bullies and me.

“Leave him alone.” She said in a really convincing, threatening tone I had never heard from her before! If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she was going to punch those guys in my defense! They slunk away!

If it wasn’t for Robin’s selfless and kind act, I don’t know how it all would have gone.

Some years later, P.S. 32 was closed and eventually dismantled. I can’t say I was saddened about that, but, I often wondered whatever became of Robin since the Fifth grade. It turns out she married a fire fighter named Kevin Gallagher. They moved to a modest home in Carmel, Putnam County in upstate New York. They had a daughter. They divorced and she started a relationship with another man named Guy Desmond, and had a second daughter. Kevin Gallagher died in 2010 and Robin died on Memorial Day, 2014, just over five months ago.

Though we never communicated or crossed paths again after those school days in Yonkers, I felt Robin was one of the wonderful, special and unforgettable people who came into my life at just the right moment. I had always hoped to somehow see her again, to thank her for being one of only a handful of people who stood up for me in that infernal institution and to tell her just how important that was for a ten year old who was always, always in the wrong. It turns out, based on the outpouring of emotion at her passing, I didn’t need to say it, because that’s simply who Robin was to everyone.

I am deeply sorry for her tragic and abrupt end, but I’m glad she was the person she was, from the day I met her, all the way through her life.





Robin Whitmore-Gallagher

//

This entry was written for LJ Idol - Open Topic

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
serendipity
Nov. 2nd, 2014 07:57 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this.
ravenfeather
Nov. 2nd, 2014 12:11 pm (UTC)
This is beautiful.
maidenmorticia
Nov. 2nd, 2014 04:28 pm (UTC)
What a great story (although not a pleasant one), about the hidden and null curriculum of school, but with a terribly sad end. You don't say how she died, but I feel that surely it must have been a mistake that someone so good would die so young.
adoptedwriter
Nov. 3rd, 2014 05:40 am (UTC)
So sorry for the loss of your friend. Hugs. Glad she was there got you when you needed someone. Hugs. AW
tsuki_no_bara
Nov. 5th, 2014 05:32 pm (UTC)
your fifth grade experience sounds horrific, but thank god for robin. she sounds like a really lovely, genuinely good person.
i_17bingo
Nov. 6th, 2014 08:38 am (UTC)
I can't imagine the kind of courage Robin showed that day, but it says a whole hell of a lot about her that the bullies backed down when she confronted them.

Despite all of the hellishness, this turned ultimately turned out to be a hopeful, positive story.
theun4givables
Nov. 7th, 2014 02:07 pm (UTC)
<3 <3 <3

All of these entries are making me cry, this go around. Jesus. A-game, indeed.
roina_arwen
Nov. 7th, 2014 08:13 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you had someone in your corner when you really needed it, and I'm very sorry you had to go through so much bullying at that school - nobody deserves to be bullied! Thank you for sharing Robin's story and photos with us. ♥
jem0000000
Nov. 11th, 2014 09:26 am (UTC)
Aww. That's a wonderful thing for her to be remembered for. :)
beeker121
Nov. 11th, 2014 09:18 pm (UTC)
Ugh, I'm glad there was someone like Robin there to stand up for you occasionally, no one should have a school experience like that.
karmasoup
Nov. 13th, 2014 05:21 am (UTC)
Some people are truly special. This is a thoughtful, tender, kind tribute, to woman who seemed to be all those things herself. The world needs more of her. We should all mourn the loss of such an angel. You're fortunate to have known her, however briefly.
halfshellvenus
Nov. 13th, 2014 07:03 am (UTC)
The bullies somehow always found me.
It seems that some of your teachers were bullies too, which makes it all SO much harder.

I'm so sorry you went through that-- first through sixth grade at such an awful place must have seemed an eternity to a child. But what a great friend you found there, and that everyone felt the same about her because she really just was that terrific was heartening to read.

Lovely memorial.
crisp_sobriety
Nov. 13th, 2014 05:04 pm (UTC)
Ugh, bullying is awful, especially when adults get in on it. Disgusting.

Robin sounds wonderful, and I'm glad she was there for you. It's terrible that such a person should be lost.
bleodswean
Nov. 13th, 2014 07:25 pm (UTC)
*weeps* This is so real, so beautiful, and so full of pain. Why are we made thus?
reckless_blues
Nov. 13th, 2014 08:41 pm (UTC)
She's got such a bright face.
dmousey
Nov. 14th, 2014 12:29 am (UTC)
We never know how we will touch another's life... This is a beautiful tribute.... Thanks for sharing. :0)
hosticle_fifer
Nov. 14th, 2014 12:36 am (UTC)
Heartfelt and moving. I felt a lot for your school experience - while I was a white kid at a mostly-white school, I was a hillbilly who was moved to a "townie" school long after the cliques were formed. I did not have teachers screwing with me (save one who had been in a big political fight with my parents), but my time there was hallmarked by quite a lot of physical violence.

When you said you stopped trying to be friendly and went into survival mode, that clicked with me on a fundamental level. I had to shelve my extroverted personality and sense of humor, and replace it with learning how to deal with public taunting and occasionally getting jumped in the parking lot.

I'm glad you had an ally at the end! And I'm sorry to hear about her passing, but at least you still have your memory of her.

Edited at 2014-11-14 12:37 am (UTC)
ignatzz
Mar. 18th, 2017 09:21 pm (UTC)
Interesting
I went to the same school, probably about the same time, I had the same teachers. Maybe a little bit before: when I went there, there were NO black students, and Miss Holland was my 2nd grade teacher, not Special Needs.

I remember Miss Dworkin being horrible. Miss Gawchik - whom you don't mention - taught 4th grade, and was very, very kind to me.

Everybody teased Miss Barth, but I'm a musician, and I didn't even realize how much she taught me about music until years later.

I'm so sorry you went through this. And Robin sounds like a wonderful, wonderful person.

Brought back a lot of memories.
penpusher
Mar. 19th, 2017 02:09 am (UTC)
Re: Interesting
Of course, I have some questions for you. First, how did you find this entry? Next, who are you?

I only knew the 5th grade teachers at that school because I thankfully was only there for that one year and never interacted with any other teachers but my own, and of course the Battleaxe, Principal Mrs. Krieg.

I'm not surprised there were no black students while you were there. From all indications, I was the first black student they ever saw. And it was clear that they didn't want to see another, ever again.

Robin was clearly a unique spirit who understood life in a way that even the adults on the scene did not. She may have been the most understanding and worldly wise person in the building.

Thanks for your thoughts about it, and sorry you were relegated to the experience of Dworkin.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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