I think it was November. I remember it was some time in the middle of the week. A Wednesday or Thursday perhaps, but one of those days where there’d been a day or two of normalcy, and then a day or two of the new reality.
It was seventh grade in the Catholic school I’d gone to for all but kindergarten. It was my hothouse of growth, the second-biggest part of my life outside of home. It was where I spent half my day at, with people I’d spent seven years of my life with.
I thought I was liked. I thought I had friends. Looking back, I can see the great divide between school and home life. We were at the edges of the school boundary line, so I didn’t really have school friends in my neighborhood. I had my friend Laura*, who lived on the same block as me – but Laura went to the public school. My school friends stayed at school, except for the occasional birthday party or sleepover.
By seventh grade, my world had already been shaken. My dad had left when I was in fifth grade, something we didn’t make public knowledge for the first year because there was I guess hopes of reconciliation. By seventh grade, it was generally acknowledged that he was gone. We were adjusting to the new normal of a one-parent household and Sunday visitations and Dad having an apartment in the city.
And so one day, I sat with my friends at lunch, and everything seemed normal to me. The next day, I walked up to the table and before I could sit down, one girl looked up at me and told me I couldn’t sit there, they didn’t like me anymore. “Go sit at the loser table.”
Because of course there was a loser table, even at my nice Catholic school, with sixty-odd kids in the seventh grade class, all of whom had known each other for years.
I remember some of the other girls didn’t look at me. I remember the spokesgirl smirking. I remember going over to said loser table and asking if I could sit with the two girls there. I don’t know if they asked what had happened, but it didn’t matter, because I had no answer for them.
Adults at the time gave me theories. It was because I was too popular and as the one popular girl moved away, the position of queen bee was open, and the other girl really wanted to be queen bee. It was because my parents had split up and that was “catching”, so I was ostracized for that.
But as an adult myself, I think it was more basic than that. I was an awkward girl with a speech problem, a skin condition, and a bad haircut. I was a dork. I was the opposite of cool. It was seventh grade, and let’s be honest, 12 year old girls are kinda scary and mean. In a way, I was ousted for totally normal reasons.
My status as a social pariah became well-established overnight.
Not only did just about every girl in the seventh grade class stop speaking to me, but the boys did as well. Well, except when those boys were teasing me. And by teasing, I mean taunting my height or my speech problem – which had become my normal and I had been told to just ignore. No teacher seemed to notice my sudden change in status, or the cold shoulders I was given by my peers. There was too much going on in the school administration to notice one girl.
It wasn’t all horrible because I became friends with the other two girls at the outcast table. We hung out after school hours. I introduced them to my friend Laura, and we all became a group of friends.
It wasn’t all horrible. Until it was.
For some reason, the two girls who had befriended me in my time of need decided to also cast me off, taking Laura with them.
And there I was, in late spring of 1985, completely friendless.
I begged my mom to let me change schools, to go from the Catholic school to the public junior high. I couldn’t bear the idea of spending one more year in an environment where I was friendless and ignored. Catholic school was getting too costly for my mom anyway, in her new single-mom status, so she allowed it. I went to a new school the following fall, which was a new school for everyone in the district. I made some friends, my friend Laura and I patched things up, and I moved on.
Because come high school, many of my Catholic schoolmates were once again my classmates. A couple of them and I became friends again. Some just pretended they never knew me – including the head mean girl who told me I no one liked me anymore. We had a couple of classes together where we just kept our distance from one another. And then, after four years, I left the state to go to college and never quite looked back.
What happened to me in seventh grade had such an influence on the person I became. It is something that entwined itself into my psyche probably because it came at a time of great upheaval in my home life. Imagine having a year where no matter where you went, you were being rejected and everything you knew changed. Friends turned their backs on you, parents left, taking financial stability with them. Things you enjoyed doing had to be given up. In the space of two years, everything changed – including me.
I was taught, in hard harsh lessons, that I couldn’t trust people, that people would walk away from me, that people would stab me in the back and then ask for the knife back as if I stole it from them. I’d make friends and then wait for the moment they realized they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore, certain that at some point, they’d realize I was a loser and leave.
It is something I’ve had to continually overcome all of my life. Which all sounds a bit ridiculous and overdramatic. But if it’d been a physical injury, it would be one that healed, but left scar tissue and a limited range of mobility. And considering it that way doesn’t seem overdramatic at all.
The amazing part to me is that those girls involved in the great unfriending of seventh grade probably have never thought of that Wednesday or Thursday in November. It wasn’t a pivotal moment in their life. It changed my world, not theirs.
Why does this matter now?
Because October is Bullying Prevention Month, or so social media keeps reminding me. And looking back, so much of my formative years were doused in some form of bullying, and it affected me. It affected how I developed and how I viewed relationships with people. It wasn’t something to just get over, because it wasn’t one thing, or one time. I didn’t have a bad day, I had a bad year. I had two bad years. Honestly, I had a few bad years.
Somehow, I came out of it all with only some baggage. Other teens don’t come out of it at all.
In a way, I’m a survivor. Feck that – I *am* a survivor. I’m scrappy as hell, and manage to overcome a lot despite what people have done to me. And I’m here to say to teens, if you’re going through the crappiest year of your life – it gets better. I promise you, it gets better. You will leave all that teen shit behind and step out into the bigger world and it will be better. I would never ever not for a million dollars relive high school. I made lifelong friends in college. I met a guy who likes me for the weirdo I am. Oddly enough, I’ve friended some of my old classmates on Facebook and like them for the adults they became.
And I’ve gone on to live a great life – something oddly enough, may not have happened if I had stayed in my comfortable little bubble of a world. My desire to get the hell out of town put me on a path to my current life, where I’ve done far more than I ever dreamed.
Will you get over what’s been done to you? I don’t know. I do know that wounds will heal and time will give you perspective. It may change you, but you can work with those changes and keep them from becoming negatives. The pain will lessen, and it will stop hounding your waking moments. You can learn how to thrive, and make your own path, find your own way. You can tattoo over that scar and make it something beautiful.
I promise – it can get better.
*names changed for privacy