Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Facebook flashback

The other day I got a Facebook friend request from a guy from my 5th and 6th grade classes. I was a little surprised. I don't remember being especially friendly with this guy, and I kind of assumed that if I wasn't good friends with someone in that era that I would be totally forgettable. He was a nice guy from what I remember and I considered accepting the request, but ultimately I chose to ignore it. Why? Well, mostly because that part of my life is a trip down memory lane I didn't feel like taking.

Let me explain a few things. The summer before 5th grade my family moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Tigard, Oregon. I went from being in an environment where I was more or less comfortable to being a total fish out of water. I was a chubby, shy kid who all of a sudden was out of her element, and I went from loving school to hating every minute of it.

Part of the problem was the differences between the schools. In New Mexico, being smart was more or less celebrated and encouraged. Advanced learners were given all sorts of opportunities and challenges. Once I moved to Oregon, being smart seemed to be more of an inconvenience for teacher than something they encouraged. If you didn't hit the middle of the curve, you took up time and effort they seemed to resent expending. And I more or less shut down academically.

But that wasn't the big problem. In Oregon, I had my first run in with mean girls. There was one girl in particular who seemed to delight in hassling me. It was completely unnerving. Being new in the class, being a head taller than everyone else, chubby and speaking with a slight southwestern accent, I was singled out for harassment. At every turn she was there beating my self esteem into the dirt and encouraging her little clique to do the same. By the time I moved to 6th grade I was so terrorized I'd given up on fitting in. I kept my head down and hoped to skate under their radar. That never happened. The more I tried to avoid her, the more she seemed to seek me out. I felt like a cornered stray being poked at with sharp sticks by the neighborhood bully.

The harassment continued into middle school. But in that environment it was easier to separate from that clique. Classes started to be separated into standard and advanced placement tracks, I went into one, she went into the other. I insulated myself with a new group of friends. We didn't worry about fitting in so much, we wore our differences on our sleeves. I skipped a grade and graduated a year ahead of my class and though my path crossed hers a few move times before graduation and she managed to sneak in a few ego sucker punches along the way, but by that time I'd set my sights on getting the hell out of Oregon.

After graduation I spent a year in the Netherlands. I developed a better sense of myself. I discovered I had strength I had never tapped into before. When I returned to the states, I was more secure and far more confident. I moved to San Francisco for college and like so many students who had been awkward or felt like outcasts, I flourished in my new environment. For me, in many ways, I consider that my true starting point.

So when I got the friend request, and saw that this particular girl was in the requestor's friend list, I decided to pass. And I couldn't imagine that it would matter that much to the person asking. But I misjudged. The next day I received an email explaining that he wanted to reconnect with people from our class. He was trying to get every person in those classes connected on Facebook. The fact that he bothered to follow up, to reach out again, changed my mind. I accepted his request.

I got a couple of other friend requests from that class. I accepted those too. So I spent some time catching up with people I'd more or less forgotten. It was weird. But the strangest part is how much the resentment I developed as a 10 year old has stayed with me, hidden under the surface, just waiting for this opportunity to bubble up. In retrospect, I wish I had been more secure and stood up for myself. Ok, really I wish I'd socked her in her bitchy face. I clearly have issues.

Anyone else have tales of bullying to share? Come on, don't leave me out here on my own.


Anonymous said...

It was my 6th grade year. I spent my entire life to that point moving every 2 years; luckily every place was pretty transient so a new kid was a good thing, not a bad thing...until we moved to Nevada. My torment wasn't so blatent - much more passive aggressive. I really didn't have a friend until halfway through my 7th grade year. I see people that snubbed me in middle and high school on FB now and wonder how they are doing (secretly hoping that things are hard for them). But I'm a bit of a grudge holder and I also don't have time for pettiness in my life, so I don't want to waste my time on people that don't fit into my life as it is now.

followthatdog said...

I think that age, that preteen/not quite little kid age, is an especially hard time for kids to make big moves. I'm sorry you had such a rough time. And THANK YOU for letting me know I'm not the only grudge holder out there. I secretly wish this one person has had some tough times of her own to deal with. And I feel a little bad about that.

Kaza said...

This is so why I won't join Facebook... no desire to be found by certain parts of my past!

I had a few run-ins with mean girls through the years, starting with two mean 5th graders when I was 7 or 8. They were terrifying. But the worst was a girl who was allegedly a friend (our parents were friends and pushed us to get together often). I'm sure she had "issues," but I don't care. I could never forget how awful she was to me for YEARS.

Anonymous said...

In 6th grade, due to financial reasons and my parents' divorce, I had to transfer from my small, private, liberal. 'gifted' school to the local public school.

I was smart, kind, shy and loved school. To the children at my new school, this translated to nerdy and dorky. I was teased (mainly for being smart and a teacher's pet, secondly for being 'ugly').

7th grade at the middle school was much worse. My problem wasn't mean girls. I never had a problem with girls. It was boys. One boy in particular (looked like Rob Lowe, very popular, athletic, not smart) used to ride my bus and sit in front of me every day. He would turn around in his seat to face me and insult me the entire way to and from school. He told me I was the ugliest girl he had ever seen. That I had a big nose. I was hairy. I was a nerd. I was a loser. A few other kids would join in and laugh. No one stood up for me. I would cry. Every single day. I would go home crying every day and not wanting to go back. (Why I was not put on anti-depressants, I don't know).

I never had self esteem problems before but I developed them due to Mr. Asshole and his entourage. I actually made a list of people I wish would die (or transfer to a different school). Don't worry--I was a total pacifist and would never actually hurt anybody. I hated school.

We moved the following year and I got to start again at a new school. The kids were much nicer. The honor's program was better. By high school I had become one of the 'popular' girls. And I think it's because I knew what it was like to be ridiculed, taunted and teased. I made it my mission to be ultra-inclusive and to be kind to everyone.

I recently had a high school acquaintance tell me (via Facebook) how much she appreciated the fact that I was kind to her when she felt like everyone else at school treated her like shit. Made me feel good. The only good that could have come out of the bullying--my greater sense of compassion for the underdogs and bullied ones.

Do you think 'verbal bullying'is taken more seriously by school administration these days?

followthatdog said...

I think it is being taken more seriously, I think people are finally understanding how devastating it is to those who get bullied, but I still think it is pervasive and probably still a big problem.

I'm so sorry you had that experience. I hope that asshole has met some of his own hard times.

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