Sunday, July 19, 2015

When does it stop mattering?

Like most people, a fair number of my Facebook connections are friends and acquaintances from high school. When I get a friend request from someone I knew in high school, I generally accept it. Of course, I haven't seen most of my classmates in many years - particularly since I did not attend the 20-year reunion held in 2008. I regret that I didn't try a little harder to get there. After the reunion, I spent some time looking at the photos that were posted on the Class of 88's Facebook group. We attended Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia. Go Lancers! One thing that struck me about the reunion photos was that there seemed to be less of a divide between . . . popular and not, band and not-in-band, athletes and theater kids, and so forth.  But does anyone really forget who was who?

Recently, a guy from my class posted a photo of the Freshman football team. I guess it would have been taken in 1984 or 1985. There were dozens of guys in the photo. I recognized a lot of them, some by name and some not. A few of them I couldn't remember at all. You know what I could easily remember, though?  Even after 30 years?  I could easily recall which of my classmates were . . . mean. Or at least, mean-spirited. The guy who posted the photo was always nice. I didn't know him very well in high school, but I do remember him as a nice guy.

I immediately spotted a blond guy in the front row of the photo. He used to follow me home from the bus stop and yelled "Casper!" at me.  He and a friend of his would shout all sorts of things in my direction as I hurried to get home, walking as fast as I could without giving too many outward signs that his taunts were affecting me. Fortunately, my family moved to the other side of town after my sophomore year. I still went to the same school but no longer needed to take a bus. There is no worse fate for the bullied than to have to ride a bleeping yellow school bus with the bullies.

As I studied the photo, I spotted another guy who would mock me in math class. He desperately wanted to be popular and I guess he was looking for weak links. And I guess maybe I fell into that category.

I told my husband about the photo and what I remembered.  He said, "That's what guys do."

I responded, "Really? They make fun of a girl who has a medical condition? That's what they do?" He shrugged.

I was a target because I was different. I had fair skin (caused by vitiligo). I didn't come from a wealthy family, so I also didn't have an enviable wardrobe or anything like that. I remember wanting shaker knit sweaters from The Limited and Mia flats, but they were a bit out my reach. I was also somewhat introverted, which didn't help matters much.

Most of my friends in high school were either theater kids or GT/AP kids (or both). I had a few other friends that I'd known since elementary school and with whom I remained friends even if we ended up in different tiers in high school. I guess I wouldn't say that I was wildly UNpopular, but certainly wasn't popular. The teasing in high school wasn't as bad as it had been in junior high. Junior high was just unbearable. I tried to stay home every chance I could get. In Home Ec (it was called something like "Teen Living" but basically it was just good ol' Home Ec), I remember one girl taking a poll of how many people at our table hated me. Just one student didn't raise her hand. I don't know whatever happened to Karena Hubbs, but I will always remember that she was the nice one. At about the same time, my mom and I embarked on a little painting project in my bedroom. We painted the windowsill a bright shiny red. One day I found a razor blade in my room. My mom had been using it to scrape errant paint drops off the glass window pane. I carefully closed my bedroom door, sat on my bed, and then ran the blade over my wrist again and again, breaking the skin just a tiny bit. I was testing to see just how much it would hurt to cut it all the way through. I dabbed the tiny droplets of blood with a Kleenex. I then hid the razor blade so I could give it some more thought later on. I didn't want to die, necessarily, I just didn't want to go to school anymore.

I have watched with some mixture of pride and relief as my wonderful, friendly, bubbly daughter has befriended so many kids - including the quiet ones and the chubby ones and the ones whose winter coats have seen better days. I have talked to her about how some kids will need and appreciate her friendship more than others. If her classmates are making fun of some other kid, I want her to be the Karena. Twenty-five years from now, I hope that her classmates will think of her and remember her as the nice one. Then I will know that I did my job.

Me in sixth grade (with Mrs. Crawford, the best teacher of all time).


The Lovely One said...

I think girls have is SO hard in jr high, and guys simply do NOT understand. I am so worried that my daughter-- who would rather go in to the office and read instead of play at recess-- will fall into the unpopular category. I know it won't matter in 20 years, but it certainly matters now!

Debby Colon said...

Ok, so i read this yesterday and as I said on FB, the tears were pouring and couldn't write. BUT TODAY IS A NEW DAY.

I felt invisible in school. Most of it stems from attending Garfield with you guys, then going to a private school for grade 7, and Key for grade 8. literally all relationships from grades 1 to 6 were null and void when i came back grade 8. High School was lonely. Didn't fit in anywhere...until I found choir.

That freshman football team pic brought up some memories for me too. Not so good. I was surprised how many people requested my friendship from school..."you remember me?" I call bs on most of them. As for the reunion, never knew about it. No emails, no texts...invisible.

Never did I realize you had been bullied. I would've stood up for you. I was given the name "rocky" in grade 5 at Garfield. John Hunt (he's no longer with us) picked on the wrong you remember Queenie Vu? He was picking on her and I hit him. hahaha Hitting is not good but he put his hands on her and wouldn't release her. hahah Mrs. Crawford didn't report me :) Loved her.

Your fair skin...never knew it was from vitiligo. it's just porcelain skin like a doll. that's what my mom told me. :) My heart broke and my eyes began leaking bad reading about your Teen Living class, the idiots, then the blade. I'm glad you're still here on earth. I'm sorry for your pain. You're still a better person than most we went to school's evident in their posts.

And so you were one person who acknowledged my existence in grade 8. thank you. high school...there you were again. you didn't realize it, but you would smile at me - helped me breathe and make it to the next hour. those days were freakin' long.

Anyway, I'm grateful for you. maybe one day adult beverages will be shared.