Friday, October 1, 2010

Best Revenge - Live Well

My parents moved a few times when I was in elementary school. Starting a new school was never easy and at one time they even moved me in the middle of the school year but the worst move by far was at the beginning of seventh grade. When I arrived at St. Anne's Catholic School I did not have a uniform and for some reason all the stores were sold out for the year so I had to wear "church clothes" which my parents saw fit to have my GRANDMOTHER make for me. Peter Pan collars. Split princess sleeves. Boxy heathered pastel vests with matching skirts hemmed mid-calf. I have no hesitation in telling you these clothes were hideous.
I was un-liked. And by seventh grade standards for very good reason.
But still, they didn't just not like me, they hated me. It was their job. Spitballs in my hair. Tripped in the hallway. Boys would gag when I walked by. The girls were the most brutal if only because they ignored me but because I wanted to be their friend so bad. I missed my friends at my old home.
Now at the school I had left, I was class president so this was a very long way to fall in the social strata. I just didn't get it.
The girls and boys hated me equally. They would cram into a single table at lunch so as to not have to sit at the same table as me. They would pass invitations to a party by my desk saying, "could you pass that over. there's not one for you." There was no shame in their dislike. I simply wasn't included. But like anything weak, it's an easy target. And after a while the games began. Boys would pretend to like me but when I started to trust them and made any move to reciprocate they would laugh in my face and shout, "As if!" (The game was called "As if.")
I had one friend, a lone wolf who had been bullied for years by these kids and she was kind enough to take me under her wing. But notes would circulate with she and I doing things to each other with the words "Lesbos" above it. We were even physically shoved around, especially on the stairs where we could potentially fall and hurt ourselves. Even teachers got in on the act. Hey, they want to be popular too. By eighth grade, I was pretty low and depressed. It's hard to admit but I had given up on myself. I remember wearing my hair in a ponytail and for days on end not bothering to take it out when I bathed and wearing that same ponytail every day without brushing it out. I just didn't care. Nothing mattered. I was hated and there was nothing I could do about it. I was even kind of designing myself in their image, rather than my own. And THAT'S WHEN IT HAPPENED. When a ray of self-awareness shined in and I deemed to wonder: why? Why did these people hate me when they didn't even know me? I was worthless I would sigh to myself, no doubt looking at my greasy ponytail. Plain and simple. And the ray of light faded.
One day, a teacher asked me to take something to the nurse's office but when I got to where I thought her office was it wasn't there and I couldn't find her new office and I hesitated going back to the classroom cause I knew I would be humiliated so I kept looking and next thing you know all this time had gone by and I'd made it so much worse on myself. I had no choice but to go back and explain what had taken so long and why I had not even completed the task which the teacher made me do in front of the class. She chastised me for being stupid and irresponsible and on and on and everyone laughed. She said she would send someone else with "half a brain in their head" but I begged her to just tell me where the new office was and I would complete my task correctly. I was desperate to get out of that room. Hot tears were about to fall and I had yet to let them see me cry.
She let me go and I hightailed it to the stairwell and collapsed in tears on those dusty linoleum stairs. And there for no good reason I had one of the biggest epiphanies of my entire life. And thankfully, it's never let me down.
I sat on those steps, crying, complaining inside: why don't they like me? They don't even know me? I've never even done anything to them. They don't even know me and they hate me.
They don't even know me and they hate me.

They don't even know me and they hate me.

They don't even know me and they hate me.

That was it. They are going to hate me no matter what. So why am I trying so hard to please get in their good graces? Why am I bending myself into a smiling, pleasing, pleading, greasy freak when they will NEVER like me. They don't even know me. No matter who I am, they will hate me, so therefore, I AM FREE. I am free to be me. To be whatever me I want. THEY are trapped. I would watch the lowest among them, clinging to the underbelly of their popularity, desperate to maintain it. But I had no such need. I was free to be AS ME as I wanted to be.
And high school was 6 months away and there EVERYONE would be starting a new school. Many kids would come from far and near and they would all get to meet a new Erin. The real Erin. The true Erin. Like me, hate me...I don't care. I am free. And I am me.
I started immediately with my friend to remake ourselves and by freshman year our old classmates didn't know who we were. And by the following year, I was a free and happy new waver with wacked out hair and a wacked out wardrobe. I was not that girl who wore split sleeves and pastel dresses. I was a girl with a shit load of friends and a shit load of self-respect. I just had to cross over.
As they say, the best revenge is to live well.
Bullies act out of their own sadness and frustration and weakness. Most of my old classmates weren't even aware they were "bullying" me (we're friends on facebook ;-)
I think it might be easier and more effective to educate kids on how to react to bullying rather than trying to end bullying.
And maybe sharing stories of overcoming bullying will help kids learn how not to let someone else's opinion change how you view yourself. Respond instead by becoming more yourself. Don't hide. Don't be ashamed. You might even end up inspiring the bullies to break out of their fear, their cliques, their misunderstanding of how life really works and allow them to see their own path, worry about their own lives and become who they really are...FREE from influence. Accepted by yourself. Led by your own star. Deeply loved.


Robert Inshetski said...

Thank You for sharing. I thought going to Catholic School was very difficult. My brother and I were friends with this boy named Robert B. all summer. Entering 6th grade at Sacred Heart we struggled to be in the "in crowd". We didn't have money and we were teased. We were starving for attention and affection. The other kids didn't like Robert B. as we enter 6th grade we didn't have the courage to stand with our friend. We went against him and feared we would be teased and picked on. We were never popular, we we picked on and we were never in with the "in" crowd. I think about Robert B. all the time and what I did to this kid. I struggle with how mean we were, how mean I was! Robert B. left Sacred Heart. His mother was a teacher there and was treated equally as bad by the student body. She also left. I tried to find Robert B. on the internet and facebook with no success. I only hope that Robert B is successful and Happy. I hope you forgive me.

Anonymous said...

It's a tough story on a more difficult topic. The bullies generally do it to build themselves up, masking their own insecurities. The bullied take it because they can't figure out how to craft a sufficient mask for their own insecurities. Adding confidence and self-assuredness to both parties would help.

We can share and cajole and attempt to bring kids to an understanding that they should free themselves from the judgement of others. However, that new found independence can also lead to challenging reasonable rules and guidelines. The line between "individual" and "anti-conformist" is blurry at best. Can I wear clothes that show off my individualism? Is it okay to dye or cut my hair to prove I'm different? Should I get a tattoo? If I defy my parents does that prove I'm strong and cool? Maybe I'll feel better with a new habit like smoking, drinking, recreational drugs or sex?

How do you teach a young girl to do what they want and feel for themselves, when the world around seems so strong?

Instill confidence. Share deep love. Tell stories of strength, courage and self-worth. Eschew the distain some parents have for the commercial side of pop culture, and immerse your children in the mythical stories of good winning out, of underdogs taking final glory and of the happy (read "Disney") ending. There is a reason that these myths and allegories survive generations, being retold in the methods and medium of the day.

Worry long through the night knowing you have little control if you must. Pray that your daughters (and sons) are able to rebound from practically insurmountable situations like that young Erin, who by her late teens bore a smile that could light up the room.

I know because I was there after the fact. You dealt with (or hid?) the past pain well and became the "popular girl." But I never saw you step on someone else's pride just because they were weak. We all have faults, but the lessons you took away from that painful year augmented your character with that critical piece, giving you a type of caring that could be contagious.

Take it from one who spent time on the inside of a locker in high school, and in other situations that made me more in touch with the plight of the bullied than the adrenaline rush of being the abuser.

May all those bullies have grown up to be better people who would never consider mistreating others, whether they recall their misdeeds or not. And may we all reach out to help the downtrodden once in a while, stand up for the minority, be faithful to our principles and pass on our wisdom where we can.


Holly said...

I had someone come up to me at our 20th high school reunion and apologize for tormenting me throughout elementary school. She and I both cried when she said "I don't know why we did it, you seem like such a nice person, we were awful to you though" All I know is that kids in crowds do strange things to deal with their own insecurities and lack of understanding and that we as parents have to teach them better how to deal with their feelings so this doesn't happen to any other kid again. Thanks for sharing your story, Erin