“Don't blindly follow your friends into self-destructive behavior in order to be accepted by them.
If they were truly your friends, they wouldn't expect that from you in the first place”
Last week, I wrote about how tough the high school I attended was and ended it with this:
I was never really aware to what level of nastiness the ‘bad’ girls could climb – I’d never needed or cared to find out – until it hit close to home and was literally shoved in my face. Until that day I was living in my idyllic world where ignorance truly is truly bliss.
And I will share that story with you - next week.
Well, it’s ‘next week’, so here is that story...
When I was in elementary school, I was really good friends with a girl named (let’s call her) ‘Ashley’. Sometime toward the middle of our elementary school years, she moved away and changed schools. Because we were so fond of one another, we decided to keep in touch. By writing letters to each other. And we did, regularly.
|Hanging out with a best friend. (I'm on the left)|
For years to follow, we mailed letters back and forth; sharing our news, talking about our lives, friends and schools, and basically growing up together through words. It was a joyous event whenever I received a letter from her, something I always looked forward to. None of my day to day friends knew about this part of my life. My cherished friendship with ‘Ashley’ was my secret; a place I visited alone --- like a secret garden.
Because we were quite young when we started our pen pal adventure, we were not quite clear on distances, so we were convinced that the area she moved to was exotically far away. This made our correspondence that much more exciting. But when we started high school and become more ‘worldly’, we discovered that we weren’t as far away from each other as we had always assumed - no more than 8 to 10 kilometers (5 or 6 miles). It was about that time that we started to hint at the idea of reuniting in person. And since we had learned by this time how to get around by public transportation, we knew it was only a matter of time before we would make this happen.
|Girls I hung out with in high school. (I'm on the right)|
I never did see Ashley that day. I just knew that she had been there. She had traveled down with her friends to see me, but never got a chance to find me.
Here is what happened...
During lunch period on that day, I entered the school foyer (a big open space where we hung out during the colder days and listened to music from our school’s radio station run by students that volunteered as DJs), and as I strolled along, several students ran up to me to inform me that (let’s call her) ‘Jenny’ – a leader of a callous gang of girls in our grade level – was searching for me. And that she looked angry. My heart stopped. Looking for me? Angrily? No one wanted ‘Jenny’, a bona fide bully, ‘looking for them’. Especially in such a foul mood.
|(I'm on the left) The girl whose arm is around me was one|
of my best friends in high school. We're still great friends.
When I reached halfway through the foyer, I spotted ‘Jenny’ and thugs. They saw me and started heading toward me with determination. I tensed, preparing myself for the worst. Nothing good could come out of this. They stopped in front of me, five of them, ‘Jenny’ in the middle, and two cronies on each side. It was always that way with them – traveling en masse with the leader center stage. She towered over them, not so much in size as in ruthlessness. Her followers were looking up at her in admiration. As if being hardhearted was something to be proud of.
‘Jenny’ looked straight into my eyes as she dropped devastating news right into my lap. My heart was pounding so hard against my chest, and I was drawing such deep breaths, that I was convinced that any minute I was going to pass out as she rambled on.
“Ashley...said she came to see you...”
My head was spinning so hard at the mention of her name that I could hardly make out Jenny’s words. The background faded and was replaced by cut-out figures of students. I was no longer in a sensible reality. I was standing on quicksand that was sucking me into a gruesome abyss.
“...with her little friends...taught them all a good lesson...”
I heard laughter. Her cronies were laughing, nodding their heads in approval, proud of this bully, and of themselves. I felt the nausea building as ‘Jenny’ fed me this poisonous information. This couldn’t be truly happening; the scene was too surreal.
“...think they can come around here...”
I never took my eyes off this vicious girl, frozen, feeling my head throbbing. I couldn’t feel the rest of my body. Had it gone numb? Had it vanished altogether? Had the quicksand finally managed to pull me all the way down leaving only my head and its – my eyes, my ears – as witness?
“...never show their faces here again...”
‘Jenny’ was shaking. Pumped up with adrenaline. It was clear just how much pleasure she had derived from the experience. It was like a drug that she needed to keep her cold heart pumping.
“...had to let you know...”
More laughter. And then silence. Suddenly all eyes were on me. She was asking me something. I didn’t hear what she was saying at first. I was too mesmerized by the look in her eyes. I’d never seen a look like that. It was like looking in the eyes of a wild animal after it’s hunted down its prey.
|Hanging out with friends. (I'm on the seat to the right)|
I couldn’t breathe. I felt as if my lungs were being squeezed. I opened my mouth to speak, to ask ‘why’ they would do this and felt my tongue twisting inside it, paralyzed. I closed it, opened it and tried once more. Nothing. But they didn’t care for an answer. They never really expected one. As quickly and forcefully as they had arrived is as quickly and forcefully as they turned around and left. En masse. Always, en masse.
I never heard from Ashley again after that. She never contacted me. I never contacted her. We disappeared from each other’s lives, each one of us hiding behind our own wall. Perhaps for her it was anger. Perhaps it was embarrassment. Perhaps it was even the feeling of betrayal -- my betrayal of her. I never did find out. But my own wall was multi-faceted. Regret. I should have warned her. I knew what type of school I was in, what could have awaited her. And yet it had never crossed my mind. Because I’d always been safely ignored by these nasty girls, I’d assumed that she’d be safe, too, simply because she was my friend. Anger.I was angry at myself for not having protected her. Shouldn’t I have kept an eye out for her, checking every now and then to see if she had arrived, running out the minute I saw her approach to meet with her? Would this have kept her safe? If those girls had seen me with her, might they have left her alone? Shame. I had stood before the demons and done nothing. I’d stood before them shocked; immobilized by fear and horror. For years and years I told myself that I should have pulled myself together and punched that bitch in the face, right then and there, and simply lived with the consequences that would come from it. Even if that meant being relentlessly bullied for the remainder of my high school years. But I didn’t. And struggled with that.
It’s been over 30 years since this happened, and yet, whenever I think about it, I’m transported back to that foyer, staring into that vicious girl’s eyes, stunned by the iciness in them, and shocked by how proud she was of herself. How keen she was to gloat about victimizing an innocent human being.
In the present, ‘Jenny’ is friends with good friends of mine; friends that never knew what happened back in high school. Recently, one of my friends sang praises about ‘Jenny’, saying “She’s such a wonderful person. And even back then, she wasn’t that bad. She was a good kid. It was the other girls in her gang that were really bad.”
Maybe I would have shared that perspective if not for my own unpleasant experience with her. I guess it all depends on which side of the fence you’re standing on. And who’s telling the story.
Another friend recently said about high school bullies: “All that happened a long time ago. We should forget about it.”
And she went on to say about another notorious female bully: “Remember (let’s call her) ‘Macy’ [last name omitted]? I’m good friends with her now and she’s turned out to be the sweetest, nicest person.”
And that’s great. But it doesn’t change what happened back then.
She went on to add: “We’ve all done stupid things in the past. We learn from them. They help shape who we are today.”
They absolutely do. But the abuse that bullies dish out also shape the victim they dish it out to. Should we not ponder how those moments have affected a victim? What it’s done to them? It’s not one-sided, after all. And the other side is always more devastating.
What puzzles me is that making a reference to anyone’s debauched past, even our own, seems to be taboo. What gives? Can we simply sweep misdeeds and elements that we are ashamed of under a rug and pretend they never happened? Is there a statute of limitations on ruthlessness? Or do we grow as human beings by owning these moments, and feeling the guilt and remorse that these actions should rouse? And what about the people that were victimized by these bullies? Do we simply wave away the impact those days had on them because it’s easier to just ‘forget about it’? Isn’t that a lot more convenient for the bully than the bullied?
I will write a little more about my thoughts on this next time...
“There is one thing alone that stands the brunt of life throughout its course: a quiet conscience”