It was a long time ago, and it is far far away, yet still, I remember that day. It defined me. Its tattooed on my soul, probably.
It was the day I found out how cruel the world could be, how alone we all really are, and that we should learn that ultimately we are on our own, usually just when you need someone the most. I learned that when it really matters, most people would turn away, or watch the spectacle before their eyes, but certainly few stand by your side as the verbal bombs are thrown at you.
Bullying is a hot topic, and I have shied away from it. I’ve started to write about those last days of high school, but I have always stopped myself; went back and trashed the post. Poof.
Today though, maybe it was because he said he was leaving, wants to go back home, probably in the spring. Everything for him has gone to hell in a handbasket since his off again on again girlfriend of 25 years died this last July. He is self-employed, and as she lay dying, he cared for her and lost job after job after job; and now he can’t pay the rent, is living off odd jobs friends give him. Couple weeks ago his phone was cut off, so he finally broke down and got the blackberry a friend gave him hooked up. His landlord is only giving him until spring, and then he has to go. D3’s from way up North, outside Sudbury, and his sisters would drive down tomorrow and get him, but he said no, least until spring.
I get it. I had to go home after Tim died. Like me, he’s going to be living with family for the first bit, going to be starting over. But confident he’ll get back on his feet quickly, just like me, but it will take time.
Since that day those girls turned on me, since the days of walking down the hall as they threw their taunts, their lies, their fantasies of who I was, what I was. Still, I don’t understand. It’s like one day in high school all my girlfriends grew horns and a devils tail and turned to me hissing and screeching like banshees. Calling me names that did not even come close to me. Me the quiet pretty girl. Me the extreme introvert. The one they thought was a bitch, was only shy. Me the one who always had more in common with the guys then the girls, since I was bored with their tight designer jeans and expensive runners, black leather jackets and concert T-shirts and I wanted more than to steal eye pencils and lipstick from the BIG V. I wouldn’t play along, and somehow that threatened them? Who knows.
So, I told D3 about all that. About how in Grade 8 I had stood beside a friend as all the girls we had known since nursery school turned on her, and how that day in the fading days of Grade 12 how not one single person came to stand beside me, if only to give me courage.
So I drew that courage up from inside myself, and told them ALL, the whole school, to F RIGHT OFF. Screamed it at them as I turned away, tears running down my face, as I walked home alone.
And so I went off to BealArt, and all that went farther and farther in the past, as I tucked it away, and day by day tried to figure out what made me so different? Why were they so cruel? And why are people so afraid to stand up for others who are different? Why on earth would I want to be the same? Think the same? Be the same?
But back then, when you’re in high school, all you want to be is the same; unfortunately, I just wasn’t ever very good at that.
So, I told D3 all this, and I didn’t cry, not one tear, but I was angry, and I guess I was angry cause I was going to lose a good friend, but there was more to it than that.
He’s taught me, showed me really, how to be myself. Allowed it, encouraged it, expected it, and still says every now again, “I still don’t know how to take you, you are not like other girls“. Damn straight, hell no.
Girls can be cruel, and since those days so long ago, I have rarely made friends, certainly rarely made them with girls. Those days in high school made me wary of women, and the young idealist girl I once was isn’t so innocent anymore, isn’t scalded by the mediocre, as their simple-mindedness always bored me. I just don’t care what others think, least not anymore. They had no idea who I was.
I guess D3 has taught me, maybe, that it is best to dress like the weirdos so that the others can find you in the crowds of sheeples. Not that he’s ever said that in so many words, but I see how others gather around him, and how we are all going to miss him.
As I was walking back home, after going over to his house for breakfast, after telling him all that. About those bullying girls, and my deep feelings of betrayal, and how today I look around and all I see are cruel and selfish people, throwing abusive words and scorn at those who are not like them. How they now have a King to rally around, to give their barbs more power, and I, damn it all if sometimes all I can do is stand up, speak up, even if sometimes I am all alone, well so be it.
There are still girls from back then who I have never, and will never, forgive. Ever. Yeah, I still hold a huge grudge. Whatever.
What they did, those cruel taunts as they walked together down the hall, finding me alone, it changed me. How quiet they were when they were on their own, yet so brave in their little gangs. So I learned to depend on myself.
There is one part of the story that is important, there was one girl who stood beside me, who they were afraid of because she was black, and because she was one of the athletic academics, and she was my knight in shining armour. Of course, the one day she stayed home sick was the day they pounced, and there they stood, the group of them, yelling at me things that I no longer recall.
Over the years we completely lost track of each other, as she headed off chasing her dreams and I mine. If it had not been for her though I would have, well, those last days of high school would have been horrible. Or, er, more horrible.
The woman I am today was forged between classes on those linoleum floors. As I walked alone, clutching my books in my arms to my chest, like a shield, as they said all those mean things, embarrassing me, making me stand out, which was like walking naked. Stripped bare, standing out from the crowd, all alone, is really hard when your only 17 years old, and even more so when you are so so terribly shy.
But she knew me. We had spent many nights together, sleeping over next door at my Grandma’s, giggling late into the night, talking about God alone knows what. She even came on vacation with us, and my Mom after those cruel last days of high school when she took me under her wing, well, Mom loved her even more.
So this morning, as I was walking back home after breakfast, he’s running down the slippery sidewalk, shouting “Paula, Paula, so I turn and walk back and we meet at the corner, snow softly falling all around us, and he says: “I’m downsizing, so later on this afternoon why don’t you come back over and pick out some of my books“, and he has this look in his eyes I’ve never seen, and I know.
I know he gets what I was trying to tell him.
Beyond missing a good friend, we are a rare breed, him and I, the ones who are not afraid to be different. Heck, as if either of us really ever had a choice.
I’m not afraid to be alone anymore, and as I walked away today, down those snowy sidewalks of the village back home, tears glistening on my cheeks, I knew he was going to miss me too.
Oh, and that one girl who took me under her wing all those years ago, well, we found each other on Facebook, and Mom would be so happy about that. All it takes is one, you know. Just one person to stand up with you, beside you, that’s all it takes. Just one.