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).|