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September 30, 2009 @ 8:01 pm

Then And Now

1982_yearbook_pageThis isn’t from my yearbook, but it’s from the year I would have graduated, had I not taken my GED and gotten out of Dodge a year early because I hated high school.  (If the curiosity about whose yearbook it is is too much to bear, feel free to email me at the address on my Posts by Categories or Tags page and I’ll tell you.)

But this post isn’t just about high school.  It covers a span from somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade onward, until high school, and with some residual effects even now, although I hadn’t realized how far-reaching it was until fairly recently.

It’s about bullying.

There were several girls who enjoyed humiliating me in different ways.  I had a good friend named Tammy as a kid, and she used to say that the “popular” girls who look down on or humiliate others usually grow up to be fat and ugly.  I always had to laugh when she would say that, and I must admit a very small part of me that never grew up finds great pleasure in imagining these girls looking exactly the way they criticized others for looking.

Fast forward to recent months, when I have been writing on the effects of bullying that still fuel my inner critic to this day, albeit not with as much power as in the not-too-distant past.  I began to wonder whatever happened to those girls.  I joined classmates.com and looked a few of them up, but only found one.  Two others, who were particularly big on the humiliation thing, weren’t there.  The other day, however, I received an email from classmates, asking if I remembered Michelle (I’m leaving last names out).  The next day, I think it was, I got one asking if I remembered Anne.  I had to laugh.  Then I got curious and looked them up on Facebook, and found both.  I saw their pictures.  Neither of them is fat, but they both look . . . tired . . . unhealthy . . . and kind of unhappy.  I felt bad for them.

An ex of mine used to say that happiness is the best revenge.  I’ve been experiencing a deeper level of happiness in my life, lately, than I had in a long time, possibly ever, but I don’t feel a need for revenge.  In fact, I wish them happiness, too.

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This is a rerun of an old entry that I wrote for my old online diary back in April of 2008.  I had run into another girl who sometimes picked on me, but didn’t leave the same lasting negative effects as some of the things Michelle or Anne or some of the other kids did.  This girl was fun to be around, and she and I were sort of part-time friends, in between our bouts of her turning on me and my disliking her for it.  I see that when I wrote the entry, I was pretty dismissive of my whole bullying experience.  That was before I was able to see so clearly the impact it had on my life all these years, and the role it played in my inner critic gaining the kind of momentum it has had all this time.  I guess I finally had to see it for what it really was before I could start to work on defusing the power of that inner critic.

I also noticed that I told a story that involved Anne and (I believe) Michelle, in that entry.  (It’s the pencil-dropping incident.)

Here is that entry:

34 years later
Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2008

A couple months ago, I ran into Peggy, a girl I went to school with from about the third grade or so. I think we went to junior high and high school together, too, but I’m actually not sure. I mostly remember her in fourth grade. That was when she made the biggest impact on my life. During that year, we were on-again-off-again “friends”, but she was also friends with some girls who were part of a group that didn’t like me, so I guess it’s safest to say that she was my friend occasionally, until she wasn’t again.

These other girls were catty and bitchy – you know the type. I didn’t have good skills for dealing with kids who picked on me. Mom said “Ignore them and they’ll stop because it won’t be any fun anymore.” I thought “ignore” meant “pretend you don’t hear/see/feel them doing whatever they’re doing.”  Boy, was THAT a misunderstanding of advice, and it didn’t work.

When you’re 43, looking back, it’s eye-rolling childish crap that doesn’t warrant much thought anymore, but when you’re 9, it sucks big time. They did the typical stuff (although it’s really tame compared to things I’ve read about what kids do to each other now) – whisper and laugh while looking at me, pull my hair, call me names (usually having something to do with my wiry hair, my glasses, or my weight), stuff like that. One time, I had a pair of shorts on, and I don’t remember anymore if they were more see-through than I’d realized or if they were too short or if they had a hole in them or just what the problem was, but evidently my underwear showed if I bent over.  So, one of these girls, while accompanied by a few others (I don’t remember if Peggy was one of them or not) dropped a pencil and asked me to pick it up for her. Sure, no problem. It rolled right over by me. But when I bent over, I guess my underwear showed and they laughed and laughed. Again, when you’re 9 . . . Oh, and that was in the 1970’s, way before thong underwear, back when having your underwear show wasn’t a fashion statement.

But that isn’t the point of this entry.  It’s just backstory, to set the stage.

So, Peggy was fun and cool, and kind of quirky. She was famous in our class for holding her breath until she would pass out. That was always cool. At recess every day, one of us would usually ask her to do it. She’d ask someone to stand behind her and catch her, and someone always did. I could turn my eyelids inside-out, which brought mixed reactions (the boys liked it much better than the girls did), but Peggy could pass out!  Wow.

I went to church once or twice with her and her family.  It was my first experience at a Catholic church, and I thought it was really interesting and different from what I was used to.  

My "cardboard dress"

My “cardboard dress”

I had a dress I wore to church, and once in a while to school, that was grape-bubble-gum-purple with tiny lime green polka dots. It had a belt made of the same fabric as the dress, and the buckle was a huge lime green plastic apple. The fabric the dress was made of was thick and coarse and didn’t move or bend very much.  Peggy called that my “cardboard dress”, and we would laugh about that every time I wore it.

Those are my main memories of her – the passing out, going to her church, my cardboard dress, and her peripheral connection to the girls who picked on me.

And then there is the big memory I have of her.  The one that made such an impact.  She was the first person to ever call me a lesbian.

I still remember her sitting there at her desk, turned sideways so she could look at me, her braids hanging down in front of her shirt. She kept looking at me, and finally, when I asked her, “What?”, she said, “You’re a lesbian.”  I didn’t know what the word meant, but from her tone of voice, I knew it couldn’t be good, so of course I said, “I am not.”

Then I went home and asked Sister, who was 16 and an authority on everything, in my eyes, “What’s a lesbian?” She said a lesbian is a girl who loves other girls.  Well, that didn’t seem so bad to me.  Not bad at all.  I hadn’t even known that was an option. So what was the big deal?

I don’t recall Peggy ever bringing it up again, but a few weeks later, when I was staying over at my friend Cindy’s house, I made the mistake of telling Cindy that when I grew up, I thought I’d be a lesbian.  Cindy told her sister, who told everybody, and I spent the next seven-or-so years learning all about homophobia.  I never experienced negativity from anyone as an adult, when I actually did have relationships with women.  But I experienced a whole lot when I was too young to really even know who I was.

So, I saw Peggy once, several years ago, in a craft supply store, but she was too far away from me to say hello, and I was too nervous anyway.  Then I saw her a couple months ago, and I didn’t even know it was her until she told someone her name (she was picking something up).  I turned to her and said, “Peggy (Last Name)?”  She didn’t recognize me.  I told her we’d gone to school together and then I told her my name.  Her face lit up and she hugged me.  It seemed genuine.  Sometimes adults do the hugging thing to be nice, but it meant a lot to me anyway, since it was something that “those girls” in school would have frowned upon her doing, back then.  It was acceptance.

She quickly blurted out a short bio of her life now – where she works, how many kids she has, etc. – but I didn’t catch most of it because I was lost in my own memories of my cardboard dress and her braids and her being the first to ever call me a lesbian.  I seriously doubt she remembers any of the same stuff I do.  It would be weird if she did.  That isn’t the way it’s supposed to work, anyway.

But she will probably never know what a huge impact she had on my early life.

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And on an unrelated note, did you notice I finally succeeded at NaBloPoMo?  Yay!!  What a beautiful thing that is!

Thoughts?

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