Saturday, September 3, 2011

13 again, just like that...

A few weeks ago I did that thing when you're out and about and suddenly see someone who you don't want to talk to, and duck into a shop/aisle/behind a tree. I was blithely shopping in a local department store when I suddenly noticed coming my way a girl from high school. You might think 'Why would you not want to say hello to an old school friend?'. Except that she wasn't a friend. She was a bully.

This girl, let's call her Jane, was everything I wasn't. She was popular, pretty, sporty, confident and always had a boyfriend. She was a cheerleader and had a spiral perm. I was an extremely naive country girl from a tiny country primary school. I was shy, small, underdeveloped and sickly. I wore clothes my mum made on casual clothes days (I think that's cool now of course!) and had lunch from home instead of the tuckshop.  I didn't really have many friends as I was the only person from my primary school to go to my high school in my year, and I was too shy to strike up much of a conversation. I spent a lot of time in the school library, reading or helping the librarians. I missed weeks of school at a time in hospital and was permanently excused from sport. So in contrast, I was a bit mesmerised by Jane - she appeared glamorous and super-cool.

But Jane had a way of making me feel poor, unsophisticated and quite frankly, not needed. I felt like the joke was always at my expense, that she and her friends were talking behind my back and having a giggle at how childish I was. She was the cause of many tearful episodes and tore strips off my already fragile self-esteem. Thank God Facebook didn't exist then.

There are several incidences which I can recall where Jane made a point, in front of other people, of putting me down. Mainly it was just an attitude towards me, of looking down on me, ignoring me, general looks of disdain. One morning in homeroom our teacher was going through general business and announced that one of the teachers was starting a lunchtime liturgical movement dance group, and that any girl who wanted to join needed to have some dance or ballet shoes. Looking for a change to my exciting library routine - hey, why not try something as cool as liturgical movement! - I put up my hand and asked if Jiffies would be okay. When the teacher asked what Jiffies were, Jane announced loudly that there were cheap ballet shoes. It really wasn't a big thing, in hindsight. But I felt about an inch tall. And so it went.

I actually saw Jane for the first time since school about 5 years ago. I did a double take when I saw her at a friend's engagement party. Finally my friend said, 'Hey, one of my friends is from your old high school!' and I was forced to look her in the face and say hello. And I was 13 again, just like that. Jane was gushy in an overdone, long-lost-friends sort of way, and I was a bit lost for words. I made an effort to ignore her for the rest of the night. At my friends wedding, to my own shame, I managed to avoid her for the whole evening.

So when I reflexively ducked out of view at the department store a few weeks ago, I immediately regretted it. What I would have liked to do was eyeball her, let her gush how good it was to see me, and then let her have it with both barrels about what a bitch she was to me for 6 years of high school, about the damage she did to my confidence which took years to heal. But I couldn't, because I was 13 again, and that 13 year old was too busy feeling inconsequential to talk up.

So maybe next time. Maybe next time, some 20 years after the experience, I will have the guts to say, 'Actually, Jane, no, we were never friends, don't you remember? All those times you made my life a misery? So please don't pretend.' And then walk away. Which is what I should have done in the first place.

Or maybe I should just forgive and move on. We're talking a long time ago, when we were all young and dumb and in need of validation. She probably has no idea of the impression she left on me, and might be genuinely shocked to hear the truth. There were no heads flushed in the school toilets (my biggest fear when I started high school!), no fist fights, no dead cats on the front step. So what point is there is making someone feel bad for something they didn't mean?

So I'll move on. Rack it up to experience and a future proverb of sorts for my kids. Have a chuckle at what a nerd I was. Because actually, 13 was a long time ago. I won't forget it, but with the benefit of being older and wiser, and could probably forgive and get on with more important things.

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