A LOVE LETTER TO A FEW OF MY BULLIES - As We Approach 50
Updated: Jan 16
Do you have any idea how often I think about you all? The ruts in my neural pathways keep your voices on auto-repeat just over my shoulder like insidious little parrots. Kind of annoying, really. I can think of better music for ear-worms, but hey, we work with what we have.
I doubt any of you think about me as often as I am reminded of you. Or heck, perhaps for some of you, I really was Dorothy and the show wasn't The Wizard of Oz, but Wicked. (1) I did, after all, stand above you, basking in vindicated glee when you had to sing, "And we will glorify your name," from your Munchkin knees that one time.
But it's been almost thirty years. In spite of our tenth-year reunion where some of you still purposely sought out ways to hurt me, and in spite of everything I've been writing for so many chapters, I want to be clear: I don't only remember the bad stuff, and I have never seen any of us in terms of Bad or Good.
In order to finally give voice to these tales--and make no mistake, these are tales, not historical records--I've had to let myself write them from the perspective of that traumatized, lost, angry little girl. That's why you've been dubbed with certain archetypal nicknames. (I learned that lesson well, didn't I? The name-calling.)
You truly were, and I happen to have a particular affinity for Princesses. Some of them grow up to be Queens. A Crown Princess even grows up to be Queen By Right of Her Own Hand. Others grow up to be Warrior Princesses, and we all know how I feel about Xena. (2)
You have definitely fought your battles. You're a warrior, and to me that makes you beautiful. In my childhood memories, you were the most captivating girl I knew. Yup, I thought you were even prettier than her. And them. And even her.
Then there was our history. Whenever you called me to hang out, my heart always sang because you were my first girlfriend. My first SiStar, and I always wished I was more like you.
The ease with which you spoke to people, the way everyone wanted to speak to you, the natural, confident way you moved in your body. When you and the rest of the Court strode through the halls, it was like the Red Sea parting, followed in your wake by the sighing waters of adoration--or jealousy. You seemed to know how to walk through that world as easily as breathing.
But maybe breathing was harder for you than any of us ever knew. Perhaps it was a grand illusion that took Herculean strength and every resource you had to maintain it. Is that why it eventually broke in junior high?
Did you say the wrong word to the wrong person? Did you lose the stomach to keep shredding people as the price of popularity? Did you dare to catch the eye of the wrong boy and spark someone else's jealousy? I've always wondered what actually happened to maroon you that way.
The day you gave me that makeover... I could never rock that blue eyeshadow the way you could with your entrancing blue eyes, and my hair in those days was either the 70s boy-bowl-cut or a friggin' mullet. But you, too, worked with what we had. You augmented my assets in a way I'd never learned to do, and in a wing-sheltering way that I'd never experienced because I don't have blood sisters.
You showered your magic upon me that day, and it worked.
Then you took me to the ball where nobody knew me and let me be Cinderella. You held my hand because you knew me well enough to know I would be terrified walking through those doors. At your side, I was safe. I got to experience what widespread Belonging and Welcome in a roomful of people felt like. Under your tutelage, I got to taste Pretty.
One day early in ninth grade, I had to put something in my locker before heading out to cheer at a football game. You walked past Mari and me, and I think there was a moment where everything could have changed between us. Where we could have been, not just Summertime Pals of Convenience, but friends there in school, too.
I cut that off as decidedly as the slamming of my locker door.
I'll admit, I was more afraid of reaching out for a rekindling of our friendship than going to that dance with you. I was afraid that it would come with the same old price tag: betraying my best friend in favor of you, and I wouldn't have done that for anybody. I was even more afraid that, the moment somebody offered you the One Ring, you would throw me under the bus again to win back their favor.
So I let you weather whatever had come down between you and the Court until you finally moved away. That broke my heart to watch, but by the time I walked back into those halls as a 9th grader, I was not the same person who had opened my 8th grade locker day after day.
I had sworn a vow to myself: Never Again. Not to any of you Royal Girls. Not to any boy from our school.
And I am one unyielding fuck when I've set my mind to something, as you well know.
So it warms my heart that we've been able to reconnect as adults. Just a little touch here, a little touch there. I glow when your name comes across my Facebook. I wonder what we might have to say to each other over coffee, and I still cherish my turquoise scarf. I wear it for special mermaid occasions. It is full of your magic and the beauty you saw in me, the way you charmed it to the surface, and the beauty of the times you and I were able to truly connect.
Those were some of my favorite moments when I was a kid.
What makes a Villain? And what makes a She-ro?
What is a Tragedy? And what is a Triumph?
Sometimes it's nothing more than perspective.
(This one's worth clicking onto the YouTube link.
And this musical is worth every penny for the tickets.)
I don't remember if you actually lived on one of the farms outside our town. I only know you had a long bus ride out into the country, you were strong enough to have worked on a farm, and you didn't come to school in dresses or soft frilly things. That wasn't your way. It wasn't mine either. We were tomboys. We didn't tout namebrand this and flashy that. I have no idea if your parents could afford all that stuff any more than mine could. If they could, I have no idea if you would have worn it either.
On Freeday Fridays when Mrs. Fields pulled those rubbery room-divider curtains across the center of the gym so the boys and I could play floor hockey--do you remember that? Well, I was mad when you left the girls to join us for those last weeks of sixth grade. Friday afternoons were one of the few times I could get away from all the girlie sniping and pecking orders and your heavy-handed threats. Because say what you want about asshole boys, when it was time to slap some puck, we just played. Hard.
That, among many reasons, is why I'm tomboy.
Maybe that was one of your reasons, too. I never would have admitted it back then, but when you showed up to play, a sliver of me was relieved to not be the only girl out there. Simultaneously, it sucked having to play against you, which is a high compliment.
I always wished I had your height, your strength, and especially the look in your eyes that said, "Don't mess with me." And once you grew taller than the boys, nobody dared.
Or maybe that's just the clueless fantasy conjured from my vantage point under your sledgehammer thumb while crying, "Uncle!"
You literally stood head-and-shoulders above us, and everybody knows what happens to people whose heads stick up above the crowd. For those of us who were not deemed as gorgeous as the Queen, that had have been loads of fun for you. (Maybe it wasn't any more fun for her either, but we never would have known it.)
Why DID you pick on me so relentlessly? Yours were the threats that terrified me the worst. Yours were the most potent of the cruel hands, and I lived under the certainty that, if I'd stood up to you, you would have made good on your threats to flush my head down the toilet or pound me to pulp. You were a tomboy, after all, so I didn't figure you'd scratch my eyes out. You weren't subject to the same restrictions the boys had about not punching girls (not like that stopped the most ruthless of them), and I doubted you'd bother with hair-pulling except to drag me where you wanted me.
Where did you learn that?
Wherever it came from, I was always sad when you did stuff like that, and not just for myself. I could see you more clearly once I got home and the fear ebbed away. Or in the hush of classroom as we all did our work and you stared out the window with your chin pushed forward and your lips mashed tight after demanding that I let you cheat off my homework OR ELSE.
Don't you know I would have been thrilled to sit down beside you and help you actually learn it? I would have been your friend. I had always been able to feel the anger rolling out of you. That was easy. But I could also feel what lay beneath. There was loneliness there, and your own sadness, and I knew those feelings well. I grieve for that tall, broad-shouldered little girl who had more in common with me than either of us would have admitted back then.
And I know.
"I don't need your fuckin' pity."
It's not pity. I'm pissed. Pissed about whatever hurt you so deeply that you took it out on me like that. Were you just passing it down? Had you learned it from somebody even bigger and stronger than you? Or just somebody who wielded a more potent weapon than a fist?
Even after they changed my status to Class Slut, you still shoved me around and called me Lesbo. Why? Did you put your hands on me so often because you thought I was pretty and it scared you, like they suggested? Or were you trying to deflect the label because people called you a lesbian? After all, in that place in those days, there was no, "Whoa, two chicks kissing? That's hawt!" Far from it. In spite of the fact that you were blonde and had vibrant blue eyes, too, you weren't on the constant rotation list of Dateable Hotties any more than I was, and everybody knows that we tomboys who aren't pursued by all the guys must be "ugly, penis-envying dykes", right?
Plus, they knew you could kick their asses. Calling you down like that was probably the only way they could alleviate their feelings of inadequacy in your presence.
I remember what else they called you. And I hope you found a way to not believe them--another way besides cramming the words back down their throats so they'd stop fucking saying it.
Do you still hear them, like I do?
I still hear you. But there's so much more than that.
You were the true Warrior Princess of our class. You were the closest thing to Wonder Woman or Xena I ever knew, and I admired you for that. That's why I still keep you close to me out of choice, not mere reflexive memory on a bad day when I feel scared or stupid.
Nope. You're there inside me every time my fist blasts into something that gives back resistance. From your hands, my body learned the power of Feminine Force--what it feels like, tastes like. I know its vibration to the core of my cells, so the driving energy of your legs surges through mine every time I turn my shin bone into a club. The ferocity and focus in your eyes--it all blazes through mine as my elbow smashes imagined foes into kindling. Your thunderous voice booms through my throat with every kiyai and every time I bare my teeth to say, "Fuck that. Don't mess with me. Don't mess with mine. Back the fuck off."
It also provides the purring growl of warning amidst any of my more...professional or polite demands of cessation.
And I wonder...do you like pink, too? Do you tend grandchildren like tending the most glorious flowers? Are you the heartiest dandelion of us all, still vibrant and strong and badass after nearly half a century on this violent planet? Or were you so aggressive and mean because, deep down, you were an orchid who got squashed into the mud and said, "Fuck this blossoming shit," in spite of your last name?
Well, you know what kind of flowers grow up out of the muck and shit, right? That's what you helped transform me into. So thanks for that, my badass SiStar.
A few years after we all graduated, I came back home to visit over the summer and got the chance to hang out with a few of you. In that basement I hadn't seen in ages, the three of you exchanged blushing glances to bolster your confidence before confessing, with your big winsome grins and your unforgettable faces, that many of you had crushed on me in high school. Hard.
I was astounded to hear that, because from my spot on the bleachers, you had all seemed determined to simply crush me.
One of you shrugged a shoulder. You all exchanged another round of glances. Another of you said, "Well, you just always seemed to be into older guys from other schools."
"Yeah. So we just figured..."
"We never had a shot."
Ohhhhhh, beautiful, beautiful boys.
You scared the holy living snot out of me with your raging temper, the way you antagonized full grown men into violence in the middle of the classroom, and the threats you made to me and others with your glares, your snarls, and your rending, ripping, gripping, shoving hands.
And you had the softest hair that hung down, sometimes obscuring the intensity of your gaze, sometimes not. You had a killer smile, an intoxicating laugh, and I don't care that they held you back a grade. I always suspected it was because you were bored and unconventional. You were fucking brilliant. Probably still are.
And you...do you have any idea how badly I swooned that time we danced? You smelled incredible and your hair was even longer, softer. It was the kind made for head-banging and for grabbing amidst a searing kiss. My desire to be close to you went all the way back to second grade when we sat at that table, just the two of us, with our noses buried into books and our knees only inches apart.
And you...you left me without words. If this blog is any indication, that pure does not happen easily. I didn't know you well. You were older. A gazillion times cooler. I never once saw you look twice at me, or trust me, if you'd had the guts to take the shot while I was between boyfriends, I would have given it to you because I absolutely wanted to know what you were about.
And you over there with that astounding model smile and your gargantuan brain. You were never cruel to me. Just...neutral. You never lifted a hand to make it stop and you never seemed interested in me, so I just never...thought.
And you...you were my favorite. Did you know that? We were friends for a brief time when we were young. You were so talented and sweet and smart and funny. You had the most magnificent hands around that pencil, and I would have died and gone to heaven if you'd told me you felt that way for me.
And you back there...everybody said you were so cruel and you pushed me around so much because you had a crush on me. I didn't believe them then. I wanted to. There was that one day at the beginning of eighth grade in art class when I thought--
Nope. You were even meaner the next day so I dropped it. Then when I came to school to find that "SLUT" note on my locker...what you did to me in those halls...
And what he and he and he and he did...
Were you all really that disgusted that I put out for a boy? Or were you just mad that I didn't put out for you?
I would have. That actually would have been my preference, to be able to sit right there next to you in class, passing secret notes full of all the things I would do to you the second I got you alone. Stealing kisses and fast gropes in the shadows of the stairwell that led to the art room or in the murky shop hall. Crouching down to sneak into the back of the bus after away games to twine my fingers through your freshly showered hair and become intimately acquainted with your tonsils the whole way home.
I would have liked that.
Until I wrote you all off, I would have preferred to wear your letter jacket, rather than one that pissed off students, parents, and teachers alike whenever I sported our rival school's colors on non-game days. Heck, I could have worn your jacket with my cheerleading uniform. We could have gone together like sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na yippity dip de doom.
But you told me with your sneers and your shoves and your fists and your threats and the way you turned your back as they pushed me down the stairs that you didn't like me. So I turned my back on all of you. What I found was a plentiful sea of other fish clad in everything but orange-and-black, and those boys made no bones about wanting their shot with...
Goofy, geeky little me.
Gosh, who would I have been, had you spoken to me sweetly? Who would I have become if you would have touched me softly? And who would you have been if you'd let me to touch you softly and passionately in return?
Not just one time for that belt-notch, for the Almighty Squirt.
I mean if we had ever truly touched each other.
Yeah, I would have liked that.
(Oh, by the way. The little teenager in me still fantasizes about teenage you, and in my imagination, whenever you put your hands on me, turns out they're more magnificent than destructive. Just so you know.)
The side of me captured in my senior photo shoot that made adults squirm.
Also: the side I had always wanted to share with you.
That's always how it's been with me--no, I'm not referring to my Super-Slut smolder. I mean my ability to see the best in anyone. That's what made me forgive you over and over. It's why I dropped my guard too many times and got eviscerated for it. I had such unswerving faith in people. I just knew that if you gave anyone the chance, if you were kind enough to them, if you believed in them strongly enough, they would choose to be their best selves.
Again, it's that HSP thing. Emotion and Imagination. I was the eternal ingenue.
Until I wasn't.
My mom always called me Annie, as in Little Orphan, because of my propensity for "taking home strays." But most of them weren't sweet, lovey Sandy. Getting my hand chomped by the same people that many times made me mean, too. I was just passive-aggressive about it.
That doesn't mean I ever stopped wishing, believing, imagining "What If." What if we all chose to be our best selves with each other?
In 13 Reasons Why, (3) Montgomery de la Cruz is actually one of my favorite characters. (Spoiler Nation coming up!) Ohhhhh, brutal boy. I can't condone many of his choices. But I also can't help loving this kid. He reminds me of so many I've reached out to pet and who bit my hand every time. Until the end of eighth grade, I held on to the hope that all my enemies would turn out to be a Zuko. In some ways, I still kind of do.
Alas. Too few of us find our Irohs, and I am not the Avatar, in spite of my passion for wielding all five elements. (4)
Another conversation from 13 Reasons:
Winston: I loved you.
Monty: You didn't even know me. And I never would have let you love me. I didn't let anyone.
Winston: But I didn't even get the chance to try...I miss you.
Monty: You miss your idea of me.
I've always had a thing for the underdogs and the villains. I've found that many villains could tell equally compelling stories from their points of view, and that most are the way they are for very specific reasons. Often it's because they don't get the right support and tools at the right moment, or because by the time it's offered, they're already convinced they don't deserve it. They don't know how to take it in. Don't dare trust it. Don't fucking want it--or at least, they tell themselves that.
It's not an excuse for what they do, but it's a factor that could have been prevented, way back when. Instead, they make choices based on all that. Sometimes they pay for it. Sometimes other people pay for it. Occasionally, millions of people pay for it.
To this day, I make shit decisions for all those same self-destructive, untrusting reasons, and the greatest battle I fight is to not let cruelty make me cruel. To not let hatred make me hate. To diligently work at seeing things from other people's perspectives, and to find the balance between causing no harm and accepting no harm.
That's the other reason I never hit you back.
After all, when push came to shove, I loved you. Nearly two decades of my life was spent intertwined with yours. You were my brothers, my sisters, my peers, my classmates, my hardcore crushes, my enemies, and all I wanted was for you to love me back.
From my perspective, I actually think the bullies have the harder path to tread, and the higher price for the choices they make. If I'd turned around, becoming violent and abusive myself, that would have broken something in me I don't know that I ever could have repaired. It's easier for me to repair the damage others have done to me.
And I don't know. Maybe bullies make those choices because, from their point of view, with the way they're wired, the sacrifices and costs of what it takes to go my route are the things that would break them beyond repair. (5)
Isn't that the thing we're all trying to do? To keep from being broken past salvaging amidst the curveballs life throws at us? Sometimes we succeed.
Sometimes we don't.
Feeling into what it is to be the bully:
1) The musical Wicked that poses the question: how much of wickedness is nature? And how much is nurture?
4) And the way I still keep dreaming it could be. Just a few reasons why *the animated* Avatar, Last Airbender is one of my favorite stories ever told. So many important lessons. So much inspiration. (Don't let the live action travesty turn you off.)
5) "It’s like it’s so much easier for people to cause pain than it is for them to feel their own pain..." ~Brene Brown - in a podcast interview about loneliness, the balance between sacrificing who we are in order to fit in, and about finding True Belonging. Her longtime calling that has made her one of my She-roes: "I think one of the greatest casualties of trauma is the loss of the ability to be vulnerable...there is no courage without vulnerability."
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: THE DAY I STALKED DEATH - with my camera
--OR if you'd prefer to follow this timeline, my high school adventures begin here with TRUE BLUE - The Quarterback & the Cheerleader
--OR if you want to know the references I made to my history with these kids, you can find those tales under CHILDHOOD BULLYING and SEX, LOVE & VIOLENCE here: