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The scars life leaves…

27 Oct

 

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Seventh grade me, posing by the front door, ready for my confirmation (hence the stole)

 

 

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.

Sort of.

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.

And yet…

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.

 

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Adult me, with my mermaid hair, sitting in a bar in Dublin, Ireland having a fabulous time (friend not seen because she was photographing me) 

 

*names changed for privacy  

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8 Responses to “The scars life leaves…”

  1. Nicole October 27, 2017 at 1:57 pm #

    This post is so timely for me. I’ve been dealing with a lot of decades-old blowback from the crap that went down when I was in school (and, unfortunately, a recent cluster of incidents involving some of the same people), and as a result have been going through a huge “a-ha” period in which I’ve realized that I was not merely mistreated but made to think that treatment was my fault. Is it any wonder I have trust issues?

    Thanks, though, for the reminder that these experiences don’t merely scar, but also forge, the psyche. I wouldn’t be me without these experiences, and I’m not sure unwounded me would necessarily be an improvement.

  2. Stephs Two Girls October 27, 2017 at 2:38 pm #

    LOVE that fabulous hair. But OMG this sent shivers down my spine, as similar happened to me but thousands of miles away here in the UK. You’re right, has a big effect and never forgotten. But maybe it taught me resilience in a way no teacher ever could. Great post, I think all teenage girls should read this!

  3. Widdershins October 27, 2017 at 5:49 pm #

    When did the human race embrace the philosophy of ‘No girl/woman left undamaged?’ … and are we in the beginning throes of lancing that wound? (with this, and the MeToo movement) I hope so, for our daughters, and grand-daughters, and female descendants ’til the end of time.

  4. themomfred October 28, 2017 at 9:54 am #

    Sigh..this happened to my daughter, and as a parent it broke my heart, because there was nothing I could do to fix it, except smother her with my acceptance and love. Still, she has never been the same care free person since, she is driven and successful, but I miss that trusting little girl, always.

    On a side note my son experienced this from another side. One of his close friends was the one to be ostracized, but he and one other chose to leave with him, and the new small “nerd” group they formed are still close friends many years later, and I imagine will be for life.

    So when another daughter came up against this, she left the group for the one being shunned, having seen the damage to her older sister, and the example of her brother, and it made an unbelievable difference, for with one girl saying no, others said no too, and yes the group of girls splintered, but no one was left alone, and both groups were considered “acceptable” by middle school standards.

    I determined from this experience with my children that the meanest creatures on the face of the earth are a horde of middle schoolers, and so far I haven’t been proven wrong, unfortunately 😞

  5. janinmi October 28, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    Through some combination of parenting, geographical movement and sheer good luck, I managed to escape the school pains and horrors so many others had to endure. Being in a military family meant changing location every few years; until fourth grade, I’d gone to a different school each year. We lived in areas with significant military/gov’t. worker populations, so most of the kids in those families were used to making new friends every 2-3 years or so. With all of us in the same boat, so to speak, the potential for bullying seems to have been reduced; it was also a different time (late 60s-early 70s) to come of age from now.

    Every time I read another story of bullying or neglect or any other negative experience from someone’s childhood, I wish I could give them my growing-up years. They weren’t perfect, but they certainly contained far less pain. I stand in support of you, Phoebe, and everyone else who wasn’t as fortunate as I was, and wish all the best to those who had to suffer through adolescence. I hope this does’t sound like I feel superior, because I don’t; I feel humbled.

  6. authorangelachristinaarcher October 29, 2017 at 7:09 am #

    Kids are cruel and, having been bullied myself, I have no idea why. I have told my oldest a few times that school is only 12 years of your life and once you are out of that, there is a big world waiting with many more people than just the mean ones faced daily. It’s easier for me to say, though. I remember being in high school and thinking that was the whole world. Love the hair!!!

  7. swathi October 29, 2017 at 11:40 pm #

    This Post is so relevant. I am a big fan of your blogs and follow them. I showed it to my younger brother who has severe essential tremor from infancy. I have a kid with mild psoriasis from infancy who is now 3 year, he otherwise is in extremely good health. I even saw your post on inspire. My brother who is working as a teacher now(inspite of his illness he is good at academics and somehow his essential tremor doesnt affect his voice when he is teaching) is constantly bullied at his school, he wants to leave his job. He was even bullied by his teacher and friends when he was studying, Thanks to my mom who constantly supported him asked him to ignore and move on. After showing your post he now has a hope that things will change in few years or months. This post is relevant to any part of the world.

  8. JdeeK November 1, 2017 at 4:00 pm #

    Well I’m just some random chick with a special needs daughter who enjoys reading your blog – and I think you’re fantastic.

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