Black and White and Grey all Over

So the lady who wrote me about the girl who was mean to me in junior high and I had a little chat via email over a few days. I actually enjoyed chatting with her. She seems nice. Anyway, I kept thinking about that time in my life, maybe because my brother is living with me for the time being and I think about childhood, I don’t know. One thing I have thought a lot about was what kind of a kid I was back then, especially from about age 12 to age 14. Looking back, I still don’t think I like who I was. I know there are all these self-help growth books blah blah blah that tell us to go back and love our inner child and embrace that kid who felt so rotten about herself.

Whatever. I don’t mean to be dismissive when a person needs that, but for me, what a load of crap. I could perhaps feel some compassion for the kid who was picked on and whose stepfather had turned out to be mean instead of loving and possibly even for the big dork that I was as I tried to navigate through junior high, hormones, and popularity. But in some ways I was exactly like the mean girls, just trying to survive. Funny what humans will do when they think it will buy them some control.

I watch movies like Mean Girls, where the main characters come to the realization that they are selfish and shitty and shallow, and it’s great that this is how it comes to be for them. But in my life, I was not as enlightened. I decided not to be friends with Sandra Gordon based solely on the fact that the other girls I wanted to be friends with termed her a “scumbag.” I purposely pulled away from her for no other reason than that. I wanted to be included with more popular people and if that meant dumping Sandra, then I did it, even while the even more popular girls were picking on me.

And later I stopped being friends with Dee Roberts for the simple reason that I heard others thought we were gay, and I did not want anyone to think that. So stupid. So shallow. It was years before I grew any sort of personal backbone, years before I quit giving a shit what other people think and standing on my own. Luckily Dee and I have some friends in common so as adults we were able to reconnect.

I look back now and am amazed at my ability to cut my friendships off with such precision. Perhaps we would have grown apart anyway, but I will never know that because when I decided that I was not going to be friends with someone anymore, that was the end of the friendship. Thinking on it now, maybe some of that ability was just the age. I had friends who cut me off with the same sharp capacity when they saw me as a hindrance to their own popularity. Friends one minute, not friends the next.

I followed my friends Rae and Wendy around like a puppy, begging them to love me. Especially Rae. She was my best friend, in my eyes, but I wasn’t hers. I was there for her, but she wanted Shawna Peterson. And at some point Shawna Peterson decided that she hated me. So if Rae was hanging out with Shawna then she was not hanging out with me.  I guess I can hardly blame her.  In eighth grade all my friends had braces.  I had perfectly straight teeth.  So one day I wore tin foil to school.  I told Rae the dentist made me do it.  Seriously.  I did this.  Is it any wonder few people wanted me near them?

Rae never openly told me not to let anyone know I was her friend, but she did not hang out with me at school. I hung out with Sandra Gordon until Rae and Wendy told me I shouldn’t, then I didn’t hang out with anyone. Those years in junior high were utterly hopeless, utterly miserable. Then I went home and life there sucked too.

I wonder where the kids with a backbone get the backbone. In movies, the left out child that the others bully comes back with a vengeance, kicking ass and proving their inner strength. Often the bullies realize that they don’t have to be so mean either. In my real life, I did not have any such inner strength. I hated myself. I think I believed them.

Occasionally I would stand up for myself, but I was fucking scared to death of it. One time on the bus, a torture chamber if there ever was one, these girls put gum in my hair. They were perfect. They had perfect clothes, perfect hair, perfect makeup. And they hated my guts, just because I wore the wrong clothes, the wrong hair, wore no makeup, and probably looked like I was waiting to be kicked. I told the bus driver. She told me to put gum in their hair the next day. I waited, planning to do so, but scared shitless to actually go through with it. I ended up just putting gum on the pants of the girl who instigated it all. I don’t think she even noticed.

Another time, the bus driver made me get off early and walk to my house. I was pissed. So I hid in the bushes in front of my house and when she drove by, I threw gravel at the bus. She pulled it over, brakes screeching. I hightailed it into the house and hid. My sister Melanie wouldn’t let her in. I think I got written up, but I don’t remember. Funny, that bus driver was a friend and an enemy. Mostly I did not like her. She let a lot happen on the bus that shouldn’t have.

It is also interesting that when I would stand up for myself and not chicken out, I was ruthless, kind of like with cutting off my friends. Where is that? Where does it come from, that ruthlessness? That ability to be so cold? I just don’t know. But I could do it. Maybe it’s that survival instinct, that belief in some control.

The main person able to incur my wrath without fear was Kim Dawson, Melanie’s friend. She hated me and I hated her. I don’t recall why. But she was constantly after me. The first time I fought back, I had gotten on the bus wearing purple cropped pants before they were in fashion. I think I just wore them because I liked them but had outgrown the length. As was typical in those days, I did not have a lot of clothes and my parents would not buy what was in fashion. My mom tried making me some pants like the other girls wore, but it didn’t make me popular. Nothing could have, I don’t think.

Anyway, Kim asked me if I was waiting for a flood. When she went to get off the bus, I stuck my foot out into the bus aisle as she walked by, smearing mud on her pants. She was pissed. She pulled my hair when I got off the bus. I pulled hers. The bus driver pulled us apart. We both got written up.

Then another time, the bus was really crowded. I sat in a seat near the front with a little boy. She was in the seat directly behind me. She leaned forward and made some comment about me and the little boy. I reached back and slapped her in the face. She grabbed my hair. I kept hitting her until she let go of my hair. I think we may have gotten written up then too.

Funny, I was written up three times in junior high, but all three times were so far apart that each time, the principal said since it was the only time I’d been written up, he’d let it go at that. Makes me laugh.

The final time I fought with Kim, I beat the crap out of her. I was twelve years old. She was at our house with my sister. The two were nagging me, picking at me, egging me on. Finally, Kim said something to me that I do not remember now. I jumped her. I sat on her and hit her. Melanie screamed. I finally got up and that was the last time Kim bugged me, but we hated each other to death.

Luckily for me, Rae hated Kim too, so we would order pizzas to her house and make hair appointments for her at salons in town. This was in the days before caller id and all that tracking. We knew her address and phone number so it was easy. Later, she got a boyfriend who was a really big dork, and Rae and Wendy would tease Kim about him. I just joined as a watcher. I loved it because I still hated Kim.

I can’t believe now that I got in hitting fights. Actually, my fights with Kim were the only fights I’ve ever had where hitting was involved. And mine wasn’t one of those situations where I saw open violence at home all the time or anything. Our home was filled with the stealthy kind of violence, like a gaseous poison that oozes through the walls; words laced with hate, looks of vile hatred, screaming matches between parents while children hid in their rooms, doors slammed. Except when I would get hit for doing something, which was somewhat infrequent, we didn’t witness hitting or slapping like some of my friends did. My fighting with Kim came from my own inner capacity to whack someone. I don’t know where she got hers.

Funny, I read back through this and it’s as though I’ve unintentionally continued the same theme that permeates all my posts lately: nothing is black and white, human behavior is mostly directed by an illusion of control or an attempt to garner control. Like I said, it has not been intentional. It just keeps coming up. Maybe there is some deep dark purpose behind this, but more likely it is just that these are central themes in human behavior and I happen to be noticing them in my attempt to reach a point. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve been writing for a hour now and my daughter is irritated at me because she wants to go bike riding and she says I “always write” and she can’t understand it. She wants me to stop and focus on her. So that is what I will do. Maybe I’ll have to show her the scene at the end of the movie Stand By Me where the dad is writing and his son who has obviously been waiting and waiting comes in and asks him when they are finally going to leave and the dad says in a minute. Then the boy turns and tells his friend his dad gets like that when he writes. See Milla? I’m not the only one.

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Dang Me

So today I pissed off two strangers.  One of them was just plain idiotic and mean.  He didn’t like what I said about Bush and started in on a character assassination of me.  None of what he said had any basis in reality.  None of his assumptions made any sense based on my post.  Among other things, he called me uneducated, stupid, fat, and told me I take no responsibility for my life.  Okay.  Whatever.  None of that is true.  Unfortunately, I took the bait and sent him back 3 emails, one saying my house isn’t in foreclosure, another saying I have two college degrees, and the final stating I’m actually not overweight.  In each case I wished him well.  As the day progressed, I thought a bit more about him and I realized this man is probably a really unhappy person who is undoubtedly completely alienated from everyone.  He is so angry and mean, I seriously doubt he ever listens to what anyone has to say and instead begins every encounter with an attack.  His is the behavior of someone who is not present.  He deserves nothing except compassion because I can safely assume he is miserable.

The other person made some assumptions as well, but at least the tone of “her” email was kinder than the first.  I say “her” in quotes because I do not know what gender the person was because “she” did not give her name.  However she said some things in the message that led me to believe that her gender is female.  She called herself “Tea Rock.”  Tea Rock stated that she knew the person who had been mean to me in junior high.  Tea Rock thought I was the meaner girl because what I said in my story about Kelly was “vitriolic.”  She said she could not believe an adult would say what I had said about what Kelly told me when I saw her some years later.  She was also concerned that Kelly’s children might read my post.

I emailed Tea Rock back.  I told her that Kelly did in fact say the words I attribute to her, whether or not Tea Rock believed me.  I also questioned her assessment of my descriptions of Kelly as vitriolic.  Vitriol means caustic, and while I am certainly critical of Kelly and her actions, I do not believe my words rise to the level of vitriol.  Finally, I pointed out that although I was critical of Kelly, I also offered my belief that something must have been happening in Kelly’s life that she made these choices.  In doing so, I recognized that there is always more than one perspective; this story just happened to be mine.

Because I was contacted by this person who claimed to know Kelly, I edited my post and changed Kelly’s last name.  Hers was a rather unique last name even though her first name is common.  I changed the boy’s last name to a more common one as well.  Their real names aren’t necessary; I just honestly thought no one who knew them would ever care about what I had to say.  I’m not exactly Oprah.

I thought a lot about this second email this evening.  I found it interesting that Tea Rock was concerned about Kelly’s children reading my post.  It is ironic.  Because Tea Rock purported to know Kelly, then her concern was for Kelly’s children.  What if she had known me, would her concern have then been for my child?  Assuming Milla did not know how I was treated in junior high, how would it be for her to know how it had been for me?  It is such human nature to take the side related to us.  Because Tea Rock knew Kelly, Tea Rock’s concern was for Kelly’s children.  If Tea Rock had known me, I doubt she would have cared if Kelly’s children read my post.  In fact one of my friends commented on that same blog and was cheered by the ending.  Since she had been a bullying victim and since she knew me, she found it “karmic” that Kelly ended up as she did.  I don’t know that I necessarily agree that is was karmic.  Mostly I just think it’s pathetic and sad.  I hope she has moved on with her life.  Tea Rock did say that although she did not know Kelly well, she could not imagine her acting this way.  Perhaps this is an indication that Kelly used her early experiences to grow and become a stronger, kinder person.  Who knows.

I’ve talked to my daughter quite extensively about bullying.  It would not be a shock to her to read a story where her mom was picked on because I’ve told her all about it.  In second grade, a girl in her class picked on Milla.  She went out of her way to exclude my daughter and got all the girls in class to do so as well.  My initial thought when this began to occur was, Oh no. Not again. Not my daughter.  Milla is so much more confident than I was.  She’s pretty, smart, and outspoken.  I actually cried at the thought that Milla would have to go through what I did.

I had cancer last year.  The parents in my daughter’s class made us meals and set up playdates.  They were unbelievably kind.  When the Bully Girl started harassing Milla, I did not have the heart to talk to her mom about it.  It just seemed so ungrateful to complain to this woman about her child when she was making us meals and helping us out, along with countless others.  I gave Milla some tips for handling things and when that did not work, I went to the teacher.  He was useless.  There were many, many other problems in his class besides this one and because of his ineffectiveness in handling the bullying and other problems, we chose to change schools.  We are still friends with students from the school and know children in the class.  Unfortunately, the Bully Girl has moved on to other targets.  It is sad.  I wonder what is happening in her little life that she acts this way.  But while I feel compassion for her, it is still my job to protect my daughter and I did that by getting her out of there.

In spite of everything, Milla seemed to handle the bullying better than I did.  Maybe having a mom to support her helped.  I did not have any such support as a child.  In this situation, I began to understand more fully that the behavior of bullies has more to do with them than with their chosen victims, although this realization did not lessen the pain of seeing my daughter suffer through nasty treatment at the hands of these girls.  It is one of those difficult lessons every parent has to learn; that their children have to live their own lives and experience their own pain and growth.  It is what makes them fully human.

While I recognize that Tea Rock’s perspective comes from her concern for her friend, other than changing the names of the people in question, I did not alter my story.  It’s mine, for better or worse.  Kelly has hers.  Mike has his.  I’m not going to censor my life or experiences because it might make someone uncomfortable.  If I had something to say that would genuinely damage another person I would not say it.  But in this case especially, I think my story provides a greater opportunity for benefit than for harm.  My point wasn’t to punish my tormentors, but to show that we grow up and get past junior high.  Even though we might meet more nasty people later and in fact it is probably a guarantee, we’ll survive it.  And seriously, what’s wrong with that?