You know how sometimes you do something that at the time seems like the brightest idea, and how you think that everyone else is going to look at that bright idea and think how smart and wonderful you are for whatever it is? Yeah, well this isn’t that. This is about how I managed to take what I thought was a good thing, and ultimately become a jerk.
To tell you this story, I need to go back, way back, to around 1993 or 1994, 7th grade. Everything changed for me in 7th grade. The first thing, like just about every girl, puberty hit, and it wasn’t so kind. My face and back broke out, my parents weren’t wealthy so my clothes, while not horrible, came mostly from resale or garage sales, and all I wanted in the entire world was to fit-in and be popular. I had dreamed of being a cheerleader and belonging. Remember, ED had been in my life for years at this point, just hidden as a negative voice. This was the year her made his appearance as bulimia.
I’m not sure when popularity even became a thing because I remember the year before that I was just friends with everyone in my grade in elementary, but in 7th grade, popularity became the golden chalice. The year started out okay. I had thought I had several friends. I was sitting with the popular girls and other kids at lunch, and I was appropriately barely eating like the rest of the girls, but somewhere along the way something changed. I got into a fight with a boy who had tried to put his hand up my skirt, but rumors made it something else.
I started getting bullied.
Back then bullying wasn’t something that was monitored and watched and talked about. It was more, “Get over it kid that’s becoming a teenager”. Kind of like watching the Wonder Years and realizing that what Kevin went through was normal, just a right of passage in life. Anyway, I tried so hard to be the person that the other girls wanted to hang-out with. I tried to look like the girls who were popular, and I watched as they made the cheerleading squad and got boyfriends. (Note: I’m going to change names in this so that even those who know me won’t know who I’m talking about.)
So this story, my path from being bullied to somehow becoming the bully, it’s long, so I’m going to give you the condensed version. Basically, these girls in middle school were outright cruel to me. I was told through the ‘grapevine’, which is the equivalent to Middle School truth, that Jane and her other few pals thought I was a loser. My first mistake was caring what anyone thought of me and not seeing that none of it mattered. I allowed popularity and the need to be accepted impact my ability to value myself except by others opinions. Who wouldn’t feel miserable in that state?
The second mistake, was that my constant companion by this time was ED. A fearless leader in my life, ED made sure I heard every whispered insult, he made sure any rumors were attributed to the right people, and most of all, he made sure I was paranoid that everyone hated me. What made it hard not to believe ED was that some of the popular guys started following me around the halls barking at me, calling me a dog, and throwing milk bones at me. I was humiliated, and any ability I had to not assume Jane’s involvement as the most popular girl in school evaporated.
All the way through the rest of Middle School, and High School I tried to friend these girls, but it was clear that the boundaries were drawn, and whatever the reasoning, it was made very clear that I was not a part of their group. To be fair to her and myself, I have no idea or recollection of what involvement she may or may not have had in my bullying, but the impact was so intense she was forever the cause in my mind.
My depression and struggles got so bad, and the bullying so harsh that my parents pulled me from the school and had me enroll at a private one, but I missed the school and people I grew up around so I talked my way back by using my dad’s soft-spot for me to get my way. Then after I was raped in high school, and a teacher said something inappropriate to me, the one connection I felt close to at the school evaporated and my depression reached critical mass. I asked my parents to allow me to finish school at the another public school in our county. I never did tell anyone about the teacher or what he said, and I never told anyone about the types of rumors that had circulated about me when my parents had switched my school. Everything happening felt so out of control, and crushed me at a time when I was already feeling like quitting life.
Eventually, life went on, and over time the hurt that I felt in Middle School faded with the knowledge that I could be anyone I wanted in college. I continued to battle ED throughout life, until a little over a year ago when I finally confronted my eating disorder and all the different ways life had battered me. As you all know, I was at my break-point when I decided I was ready to beat ED, and life started over for me for the first time with ED’s defeat. For the first time, I had my own thoughts, my own understanding of myself, and my own desire to forgive all the things I had endured in life that had chipped away at me.
Well, life has a way of being ironic, and wouldn’t you know nearly 20 years after high school, living in a suburb about an hour from where I grew up, and Jane lives in a city 12 minutes from my house.
I tried guys, I really and truly tried to be her friend. She was sweet and charming, and honestly still the most beautiful person I know, but somewhere in my heart I was still hurting from the rumors that had been spread about me, and for the perception of how Jane and her friends thought about me. I even had reached-out and tried to friend the other girls at one time because we’re all adults now and that made sense, but I got the same awkward and chilly reaction I used to get as a kid. I still was being made to feel like I wasn’t good enough. Not by Jane, but by the other girls.
I really wanted to let it go, but whether it was intentional or not, I had been hurt so deeply in 7th grade, I simply found myself drowning in the memory of the pain.
As the months wore on and I watched as Jane started her business with a makeup brand that was just becoming popular, I watched her earn a car, and I watched everyone we knew from school seem to say yes when she presented them with this opportunity. I myself bought hundreds of dollars of her products because I, like everyone else wanted to use them. In hindsight, I’m not sure if I really understood how deeply 7th grade had scarred me or whether I just wanted to believe I had gotten past it as an adult, but needless to say somewhere deep in my psyche I was clearly still trying to be friends with the popular girls.
Cut to two days ago when I realized that I was doing to her what I felt like others in my life had done to me. I was putting unfair blame on her for actions and things that had happened decades ago, and worse than that, she may have had nothing to do with my bullying. Further, I also realized that she was genuinely nice and sweet to me now, and for whatever reason I thought if I explained the pain, if I explained how tormented all those years ago had left me, and that I had unfairly viewed her as this person who just had this easy life and got things so easily, that maybe she would understand me better. I wanted to offer her an apology for doing that, even thought she didn’t even know about it.
That was my biggest mistake because she took my words completely different than I intended, and instead of her realizing how sorry I was for holding onto things from so long ago, I hurt her. Now, a friend told me that maybe her response was because she knew deep, down that she had caused some of that suffering I went through, but it doesn’t matter. I should have written a letter that I never sent, or told my husband the apology because instead my need to tell her caused pain. I hurt someone. I became the bully.
I guess my point is, that while its understandable that things that happen to us in life can mold-us and leave a painful imprint for decades, we need to learn how to move-on without always feelings we have to share those pains with the person we felt caused them. Forgiveness, whether needed or misplaced should sometimes be private.
I did reach-back out to her after reading her response to me and offered another apology, which to be honest I’m conflicted about. Upon rereading my message I don’t feel I was harsh, or I certainly didn’t mean for that to be the message I sent. I get why maybe it would catch her off-guard, but I didn’t mean for anything to be hurtful. I’m not excusing the situation, as written communication is tricky and I frequently fail to do it well, but I did ask her to offer a little grace and allow me to meet her for a coffee (my treat of course), to explain myself better, to maybe give her more background on why I reached out with the words I did and why I felt badly for assuming so much as an adult. She hasn’t responded, and I guess if what I wrote did cause her some kind of genuine hurt, then I deserve to be ignored and not given a chance to talk about it, but I also think her assuming the worse about me isn’t any better than my assumptions about her.
At the end of the day the line between being bullied and becoming a bully can be very, very thin. I’m going to leave you with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King that represents why I had thought any of it was a good idea to begin with. My intentions were pure, but clearly I missed the mark on execution.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.