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.



SkylersDad said...

Wow, what a post. This is a hell of a story, thanks for sharing!

Mandy and Rob said...

Greetings from Cyprus, enjoyed your blog, Regards Mandy and Rob

Anonymous said...

"Hold tight to the Joy, it will carry you far
From memories raw and despair
It is there in your heart, if you open the door,
A refuge to savor or share"

Madame DeFarge said...

I may not (fortunately) have had that big life changing moment, but I share much of what you said. I still haven't quite got to the point you're at. I'm still 9 years old and a figure of fun.

Anonymous said...

What is it anyway that happens in our brains in 7th-8th grades? And why hasn't science figured out a way to put the nasty children to sleep until their brains mature? (Hmmm... maybe a little too Joseph Mengele, that.) I'm glad you survived those mean girls and didn't turn into one yourself - and are the lovely person we know and love today.


Expat mum said...

Middle schools girls are real bitches aren't they? There's many a day when I could gladly have gone into the Queenager's classroom with a mallet!

Christine said...

Wow! Life sure has a way of putting things into perspective. When I was a kid I was always told I was boring. Funny how that stuff stays with you and a person never forgets. Maybe I was and maybe I still am but who cares. Life is too short to worry about it.

@eloh said...

I could comment forever on this post.

I was just thinking a while ago that blog world reminds me a bit of High School....

those people are all here...

The only thing that has changed for me is I have great pity for those who "peaked" as children.

Iota said...

Wow, what a post. And the other one too - I hadn't read that before.

Don't really know what to say, except, thank you for sharing. Yes, life is short, life is awesome, every day is a gift. It's good not to forget that.

Bass said...

I sympathise with your story, been there, done that, or perhaps not done that and had it done to me. Thankfully and touch wood, my life changing experience has not been accelerated by a gun. I would not be too keen a slap in face with a wet kipper if that would be enough. Maybe I just need to buy a road map to Damascus. Where is my Get by in ...collection.

La Belette Rouge said...

OMG! A gun? That experience had to be a rebirth. I am sorry you had to go through it but I very much admire how you used it as a wake up call.

I had a near death experience at 10 but mine didn't protect me from the cruel attacks of mean girls in middle school. But as Nietzsche said, "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Happy symbolic birthday to you.

sue rosly said...

This was such a sad post in many ways. You have written beautifully about the eventual triumph of humanity over malice and ill wishing. I am sorry you endured this wretched bullying and the terrible long lasting legacy of self doubt.