Friday, March 5, 2010

When everything finally shifts, just a little bit...

Many of you will be surprised when I tell you that I have not always been the glamorous, fashionable and worldly sophisticate you see before you today. No, far from it. Instead, I was the whipping girl of the 7th and 8th grade at Madison West Junior High. Mocked, laughed at, and reviled.

I had the misfortune of having two popular but rather witless friends in junior high school, named Heidi and Cyndy. They began to torment me early in 7th grade, by befriending me, and then turning on me the next instant. In my misguided attempt to be liked, I gullibly took their suggestions and followed their orders, only to be ridiculed for doing so. Cyndy would suggest I go to Gimbel's department store, to buy the latest frock; I would badger my mother into letting me go, spending the last pennies of my allowance on said dress, and would then show up at school in it, only to be hooted out of the room. "Look, she bought that? Gaw!!!! I took Heidi's advice, getting my long and beautiful hair cut very short, and was met with, "It looked better before. I shouldn't have said to cut it!"

This went on for months. I tried to find other friends, I tried to ignore them. Then one of the two would make some peaceful kind of overture, and I would think, "There! It's all over! They've gotten it out of their systems!" And I would be sucked in once more, only to be washed up on the shores of despair again a few weeks later.

I finally hardened myself to their tricks, but they upped their game.

In general science class, midway through 8th grade, I received a folded up piece of paper, passed to me. I'd heard rustling and giggles all through the science hour, and thought it was kids laughing about the "drug education" we were supposed to be getting. It being Madison, I think most of the kids could have taught the class, but there you are.

I unfolded the paper, and saw written, in Heidi's dreadfully hideous schoolgirly handwriting, a long letter detailing all my flaws. I was ugly. I wore stupid and dorky clothes. My skin was disgusting. My purse was out of fashion. My hair was terrible, poorly cut and greasy (not true, I promise you!). I was too smart. I was a suck-up. I was good in Home Ec (!), nobody liked me. My few friends were queer and nincompoopy, just like me.

And then, as I turned over the paper to read page two of this amazing opus, I realized, "It's a flippin' petition!" It was signed by most of the people in my science class! One girl signed her name, and then wrote "sort of" after, which either meant that she "sort of" agreed, or that she was only "sort of" herself. I think she was high most of the time by 7th period science, so maybe the latter.

Heidi and Cyndy were besides themselves with giggles, and I was shocked to death.

I'd vowed not to care about what they thought of me anymore, but this was very hard to take....

Fast forward.... I spent the next 33 years worrying, even obsessing about what people thought of me. Was I rude? Polite? Fashionable? Geeky? Nice? Mean? Friendly? Cold? Everything was an exercise in self-analysis. Who are all those people and what do they think of me? It was tiring and pointless and a waste of time, really. As a friend said to me today, "You can't control what other people think, or how they react to you. You're just responsible for your own thoughts and feelings." EXACTLY.

And then there was the truly freeing moment, when everything shifted, just over four years ago. (If you want to, you can read about it here.) I had the refreshing and life-changing experience of having a heavy black handgun held, just touching my chest, just where my heart was hammering wildly inside. And then again, a few moments later, the gun was touching me again, at the back of my head, just behind my left ear, where all my conflicting thoughts were battling each other inside ("run! stay calm! talk! don't! listen carefully! listen! shut up and do what you're told!")

I lived. Yeah, I lived!!! Just luck really. They could've just as easily shot us all that Monday morning.

And since then, I've been pretty happy about living for today, and mostly not sweating the small stuff. Because after all, what's worse than lying face down with your skull in fragments and your brains splattered all over the walls? Not much, probably.

I got a bloody reprieve.

Every day's a gift, and I'm so glad of it. Life is awesome. And happy birthday to me, all over again! Some days one feels truly reborn.