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Tag Archives: high school

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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To the high schoolers about to meet my daughter

29 Aug

Hello Classes of 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021! You all have two things in common!

  1. You’ll all be in the same high school.
  2. You will be going to school with my daughter Maura.

Yeah, consider yourself #blessed right now.

So you’re going to be in school with my daughter. Congratulations! Here’s what you’ll need to know…

Maura is going to be one of those newbie freshman scurrying about the halls. Except Maura doesn’t scurry, she booyahs her way into every room.

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Yes, you’ll notice her. You’ll notice this girl with fabulous hair and a sense of confidence that you’ll probably envy.

It’s okay, you can learn from her.

You can learn that it’s okay to be yourself, to be confident in who you are, to wear those clothes that make you feel fabulous, and to laugh loudly because it feels good to laugh.

You will watch her with some envy because of the way she enjoys life – but you know, you can too. My daughter doesn’t give a crap about what other people think. You can learn that from her as well.

You may be hesitant to do something weird or silly, because, you know, High Schooler. But then you see my daughter being silly because silly is fun, and fun is awesome and maybe you’ll stop being so self-conscious and do that goofy thing that makes you laugh.

You will definitely see her dance. Because dancing is fun. They say you should dance like no one is watching. No, be like Maura – dance because you want to and who cares if anyone is watching? Maybe they’ll join in. And in doing so, they’ll be another joining in, and then you’re six degrees from a flash mob and flash mobs are awesome.

And now, you’re watching my daughter with a bit of awe. That’s okay, I do the same. I’m in awe of her spirit, her ability to live life to the fullest. To love freely, unabashedly. To enjoy being yourself. It’s something to aspire to.

And while you’re watching Maura, you may notice her sister as well. Because she’ll be the second person in that potential flash mob. You’ll see her sister treat her…well…like a sister. She’ll treat her normally.

Because that’s all you have to do with Maura. Treat her like you would any classmate.

Oh, did I mention that Maura has cognitive disabilities? Yeah, there are those as well, but they’re not what make her stand out. Heck, her moaning and groaning over doing school work could make her blend in with the rest of you lot.

But here’s the thing – yes, she’s fabulous and confident and all – but she is also okay with you being fabulous and confident and all too.

So good luck, incoming freshman and all the upperclassmen who have to deal with them. May this year be full of awesome.

And to the high school teachers and admins – I’m still rooting that you get a margarita machine in the staff room. Because dang.

 

High School Musical – the flashback therapy session

9 Jan

My older daughter is all into the theater. Which is expected – she’s brilliant, dramatic, and her parents met on stage. I joke that she’s more her father’s child than mine, but when she delves into theater stuff, I can see a portion of my teen years in her. I had some of my best times as a teen in a local theater, hanging out with friends, making cookie dough sandwiches out of Entenmann’s soft little chocolate chip cookies and cookie dough. Ah, the days when I didn’t gain weight instantly.

Those theater memories are good ones.

The one time I got into my high school’s spring musical…well, it was a bit surreal.

See, I’m pretty sure that the teacher in charge of all things theater at our school, who we’ll call Mr. D,  kinda disliked me. I don’t know why. I just thought there must be some reason I couldn’t get into a single play. I couldn’t even get a place working backstage (I nearly did once, only to be told that myself and the other student weren’t needed, leave now.) But the spring of my junior year, I auditioned for “Superman: the Musical”.

Yes, it was as campy as it sounds.

Yes, I was desperate.

Amazingly, I made it into the show. Because Mr. D wasn’t choosing the dancers, he had hired a choreographer to be in charge of the dancers, and she chose me to be one of the eight dancers.

I was ecstatic. I could prove my worth. I was finally in a school production – our school was known for having great productions. And I knew I could dance – I had taken ballet since I was six. When the choreographer said to do a tour jete  I almost laughed. Tour jetes were my thing. I been doing those since I was 8. I had this.

I earned my spot as a dancer fair and square. I was in the A Capella choir as well, one you had to audition for, so there were no issues with me being part of a chorus. Our choir teacher was in charge of all singing. She knew I could manage. I had no lines, so all I had to do was make appropriate facial expressions of “Ooo” and “Ahhh” during the right times. I had been part of theater productions elsewhere, so was familiar with stage directions. The choreographer was fantastic and fun to work with.

This should have been easy. This should have been an enjoyable experience.

Needless to say, it became probably the #1 spot of “things I never want to relive again”.

I began to think that Mr D was mad at the choreographer for choosing me. Little things would come up, but I’d blow them off. The dancers didn’t really deal with Mr. D much in the beginning of rehearsals. We went off with the choreographer and worked our butts off learning several dances for the show. But as we got together more as a full cast, the more I felt that this guy just didn’t like me, just because I was there. I could do nothing right. We had to come up with an “everyday outfit from the 60’s” to wear, so with permission, I delved into my mom’s bin of clothes, picking an outfit she in fact, did wear in the 1960’s. I presented it to the director, who yelled at me. “That’s NOT an outfit from the 60’s! That’s OBVIOUSLY an outfit from the 80’s!” Because nothing says morale booster like being publicly chastised in front of the entire cast. I tried to argue that it was, in fact, an outfit directly from the 1960’s. He refused to believe me and sent me off in disgust. Another cast member had spare outfits from her mom and loaned me one. My mother was a bit insulted when she heard that he discounted her 60’s outfit, a little light blue mini skirt and top outfit. I can’t even remember what the loaned outfit looked like, just that it passed Mr. D’s check.

And then spring break came. Spring break, where we were asked to volunteer time to come in and help build/paint sets. Something I would have been eager to do, except that at the time, my mom was also a student, and our spring break was different than hers. I had a little brother and sister who needed babysitting while Mom was at school. I told him that I couldn’t make it because I was needed at home. I thought he understood.

I was so very wrong about that.

One night, at the end of the spring break week, I ran up to Walgreen’s. It was dark out, because I had to wait for my mom to get home from her class before I could go get whatever it was I needed. I walked up there, got my stuff, went to get in line and spotted Mr. D already in line. Honestly, I hoped he wouldn’t notice me, just because I didn’t want to interact with him. But he spotted me as he checked out. And as he went to leave, he turned to me and in the middle of the Walgreen’s check out stands, he started to berate me publicly. “I can’t believe you have the nerve to be here!” he went off  at me suddenly.

I just blinked, the proverbial deer in headlights, slightly confused as to why I couldn’t be at Walgreen’s.

“Everyone’s been working hard all week except YOU! And yet here you are! Shopping!” or something like that.

I quickly realized he was yelling at me for not showing up that week to any of the set builds. The voluntary set builds. That I informed him I could make because of family obligations.  “But I told you, I had to babysit my brother and sister.”

“If you’re supposed to be babysitting, why are you here?”

I was so confused. It was 9 o’clock at night. Obviously no set building was happening because he was there in the store with me. “My mom got home at 8:30.”

“A likely story.” he sneered before leaving in a huff.

The four adults gaping at us in the store didn’t intervene as this six foot plus grown adult male shouted angrily at a five foot one 16 year old girl who actually looked younger than her years.

The cashier looked at me, stunned. “What was that all about?”

I wasn’t sure, and I said so.

But it wasn’t over. Because as I left the store and started to cut across the parking lot, a brown Bronco came blazing up at me. As I tried to scurry out of its way, Mr. D pulled up next me and yell at me some more about commitments or whatnot before peeling out of there.

I was shaking and honestly, a bit scared. The man was acting unhinged. I got myself home as quickly as possible, worried that he’d follow me. Yet I didn’t tell anyone about it.

The day back at school, I was almost ill, knowing I’d have to face that man. And face him I would have to. Myself and one other girl who didn’t make it to the voluntary set building were summoned. There Mr. D sat, surrounded by several of his favorite students, my peers, who stood there and nodded along with him as he berated us for not showing up for set building.

I again pointed out that I told him I had to babysit my siblings. He refused to believe me. “Call my mom then, she’ll tell you.” I said.

He made the other girl cry.

I had figured out his game in that moment. His tactic was public humiliation and bullying. He wanted me to quit. I wasn’t going to quit. I worked too hard at that point to just walk away, and I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. I did my part, and did it well, and finished the play.

But he did win in that I never bothered to audition for another play at my high school again. I also didn’t audition for anything theater-esque until my third year of college. Luckily, college theater was a healing point, as our director – ironically, another Mr. D – was an amazing man who brought out the best in us while being patient and encouraging.

Twenty-plus years later, I still don’t know why that man had such a big issue with me. I was actually a decent teenager, I worked hard, I showed up on time for every rehearsal except one (because I was home sick, and those were the school rules – if you missed school, you’d miss any extra-curricular activities.) Four days a week, three hours at a time, I danced my ass off, just like the other seven girls. By the end of the play, we had shin splints, but we hit our marks every time no matter what. So what was it that offended him so much? It wasn’t because I missed the voluntary set build. No, that was just an excuse I think to go after me. I don’t know, I’ll probably never know.

What I do know is this –

At sixteen, my life wasn’t sunshine and giggles. My parents were going through an ugly divorce. I was going through a lot of stuff. I could have used a great, supportive, male role model in my life. Instead, this so-called teacher bullied and belittled me, in what I realized now was an abusive manner. And I sort of let him get away with it. I should have told my mom – she would have had his ass on a silver platter. But part of me felt that she couldn’t do anything. Part of me didn’t want to poke the bear. Just get through it and move on.

I see now that my mom could have done something. She could have possibly prevented him from bullying other students after me by putting him on the school’s radar. Instead, he continued to be the grand overlord of his little theater kingdom. Or maybe it was just me that sparked such a negative reaction in him and he was wonderful to every other student he ever encountered. Part of me doubts that.

So now, as my daughter gets into the world of high school theater, I’m keeping a sharp eye on things. Because NO ONE is going to treat my child like that and get away with it. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t let them get to her either. But history will not repeat itself. Not in this or any other circumstance.

And Mr. D, if you read this – as a mother now, I just want to say  – How could you? How could you be so awful to a sixteen year old girl who was going through enough crap in her life? She didn’t deserve it. She didn’t deserve your anger and belittling. A girl who spent years being teased and bullied? Yes, you added to that. You, a grown-ass adult, acted worse than any other high school aged person did to her. No child should have been treated the way you treated me then. You were supposed to be a role model. Shame on you Mr. D, shame on you.

PS – the sixteen year old girl in me wants to say “Fuck you and the high horse you rode in on.” I shall have words with her about forgiveness and being the bigger person.

sixteen-ish year old me. It was the 80s, that was the biggest my hair would get.

sixteen-ish year old me. she had an attitude as well. 

 

 

 

 

 

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