I’m at a turning point at the moment, and sometimes in these cases you remember other pivotal phases of your life. And I find my thoughts turning to my high school years.
Being a teenage freshman and hoping to have more choice of subjects that interested me was enough to fill up my mind. Some crushes still accompanied me in to the autumn. I wasn’t really thinking about what high school would be like. I just assumed I was grown-up already. Then I walked in to my first class and immediately knew that the next years until graduation were going to be a challenge. And that being grown-up was probably just beginning (though I have felt that way several times since).
What stands out in my memory of that first day was the note I made in my diary. “It’s scary how opposite they are.” I didn’t mind being different, or other people being different. But quite a few people did. And they did things I didn’t want to be a part of. I wasn’t telling them so, I just didn’t need to participate. Our opposites became evident as soon as I declined to go for a smoke, refused to give my homework to copy, didn’t want to cut class, had to sit in the first row due to being nearsighted etc etc. The usual. Long story short, I was bullied all through high school.
There was a pack, as is often the case. But it was a numerous pack, consisting of half the class. There was one other girl I could hang out with, which helped. But they had picked me. And the remaining few huddled together, anxious to be ignored. Swift parental interference after I had overheard some threatening plans being made about me stopped the situation from escalating physically. When I came to school afterwards and bumped right in to one of the bullies, she said, with a strange mixture of disappointment and disbelief, “You told your parents?” Looks, whispers, outright insults, powdered chalk on my seat, noise when I had to make a presentation followed me. It wasn’t easy. But I remember knowing right then and there: they were all cowards.
My family, three teachers who weren’t afraid and setting myself goals kept me going.
Looking back now, I see that I was immediately not compromising on my values and simply not doing things I knew were bad for me. As if it was natural. I didn’t yet know how to put it in to words, but I was plunged in to feeling what it was like to stick with being yourself, living the version you know you should. The one that feels like the real one. I wasn’t proving anything – I simply was.
If meeting yourself was possible, it would undoubtedly be a strange experience. But I would give that girl a hug. I can see her now. She worked her butt off for her grades and was first to be called on the stage on her high school graduation day. The pack were astounded. She didn’t feel any regrets. She didn’t feel any sadness. I remember walking through the school dance area later that evening and some weird drunk guy grabbed my hands. I wrenched myself free and thought, I’ve had enough, I don’t have to be here anymore. I walked back home with my family, and if there is some way to feel as if there are literally wings speading behind your back, I had found it then.
Friends laugh with you if you trip and your skirt flies up, and at the same time they grab your arm to prevent you hurting yourself. “Next time you can tell me sooner” is what they say when you share something you confess has been bothering you for a while. You give back the happiness you receive. You keep getting as good as you want at something, or slow down, and they let you, while doing the same themselves. When they are proud of something they achieved, big or small, you’re proud with them. You remember daily things. You say you’re having a bad day and don’t get judged. You discover you are sometimes quiet next to each other and it feels just as comfortable as chatting. Laughter comes easily.
A few paragraphs about bullies, and you might also ask what does all this matter, it was a long time ago. True. But the experience made sure that I would not have illusions in life, but hope. That I would know friendship when I saw it. Would I have felt as deeply and as purely about good things later in life otherwise? I hope so.