Friday, September 5, 2008

At which table would I sit?

I was looking around the other day at all the back-to-schoolers. I watched the high school bus come and go. In my day, I attended a Catholic high school that didn’t have a bus. We drove and carpooled. Watching the highschoolers board the bus got my brain spinning 6 degrees to wherever and I was taken back to high school momentarily.

When I think back on high school, as well as cheerleading, big hair, homework, late night telephone calls, learning to drive and my BFF, I am also reminded of one particular person I can’t get out of my head. There was a girl, CF, in my school to whom I was less than pleasant. When I say less than pleasant, I should say downright MEAN. I mocked CF behind her back as did most all of my friends. When I had the chance, I would engage her in incriminating conversations in which she would reveal more things that showed her peculiarity like where she bought her clothes or how she differed from the rest of the ever-conforming high school girl me and most of my friends were becoming. I got her to reveal that she shopped at K-Mart and that she thought K-Mart rocked which was TABOO for anyone to ADMIT in high school. (For the record, I do not shop at K-mart much now, but it is CERTAINLY not beneath me. It is just not convenient for me.)

In my puny defense, CF was odd. She spoke in a strange monotone way. We wore uniforms, but she dressed strange for most highschoolers. She was shorter than even me, which said a lot at my 5-foot height entering high school. Maybe that is why I picked on her. Maybe it was because she was too forthcoming and eager to try to meet people and make friends. Most likely, it was because I was just insecure and ignorant and found one easy prey. I don’t know, but I am not proud of it. At. All.

I think of the years that CF was tormented by not just me, but by most of the class. She wasn’t cool and she didn’t try to be. And what I remember the most about high school was constantly trying to be cool – at the expense of the law, my dignity and purity, my family, kindness and my grades.

I think of how my heart would PAIN if my boys' classmates were not treating my kids nicely or fairly. When either of my boys tells me of a bullying situation, we address it, discuss it and remove them from it if possible. Because, who wants their kid hurt? But that is what most of my class and I did to CF for all 4 years of high school.

CF would find a friend here and there to hang with. Her freshman year, she seemed unscathed and would find some folks to sit with at lunch or during assemblies. She showed up for many school functions by herself and would mingle with a few. In the next few years, as we grew and *ahem* matured (said rolling my eyes), our class seemed to have less and less to do with CF. She would resort to hanging with younger classes who didn’t know yet that she was somehow labeled by the rest of the student body as odd. She was welcoming to others and always interested in making a friend. When she came to school events, she resorted to hanging with the teacher chaperones. Eventually, she stopped attending altogether. She was probably beyond lonely.

I remember finding out later that one of the reasons CF was so small was that she had many health problems as a child. She wouldn’t dress in front of anyone at gym class (and come one, for whom ISN’T that act awkward at that age) because she had a huge scar from open-heart surgery as a child. It didn’t faze most of us in the class. Sadly, it just cemented her weirdness.

At lunch, I always sat with the same people. We had our group of friends. K, T, N, G, L, and I were always at the same table. Some would rotate in, out and around with other tables, but if you looked around the cafeteria, there was always the same people give or take a few that sat with the same people. Not necessarily because anyone was being exclusive, rather because that was our group of friends that we hung with mostly on the weekends, too. That is whom you tend to migrate towards. That is natural.

I can remember CF sitting by herself many times during our senior year. If her lunch coincided with the freshman lunch or with a person from one of the other classes that was nice to her, she would have one or two people to sit with, but it didn’t always happen.

It breaks my heart to this day to think of her sitting there by herself at lunch.

I think about myself today as I walk into a social situation and look around a room not knowing anyone. To whom do I migrate? I tend to migrate to those who look like me, dress like me and act like me. Why? I know when I leave situations like that, if no one befriended me or it was simply awkward the entire time, I leave feeling lonely and empty.

Where would I sit today in that cafeteria knowing everything I know today? Would I sit with the person who looks the loneliest and saddest?

I often wonder how my boys are doing at school. Are they getting along with their teacher? Are they obeying? Are they grasping the concepts? Are they struggling? But mostly, I wonder… Are they getting along with the other kids? Is anyone being mean to them and are they being mean to anyone else?

I picture CF sitting there alone in that cafeteria full of her classmates when I think of my boys at school and I don’t want that for my boys in two ways. I don’t want them to be her all alone and I don’t want them to be me ignoring her.

What would make me beyond proud would be for my boys to be the one to look beyond the taboo that stained this awkward high-schooler and befriend her. I want my boys to be the ones to tell others ‘they are ignorant and cruel and that is a person just like you inside with fears and ambitions and a past and a future’ and simply be her companion even if just for 25 minutes a day.

I wish I had been that person to CF.

I publicly, humbly, and ashamedly apologize to CF. I have no idea what has become of her and I think still think of her often.

What about you? Any regrets on how you treated someone?

KEEP BELIEVING

24 comments:

  1. Yes. I have regrets about high school. If I could go back and do it all over again, there are things I would change.

    I think most of us are like that. Since we can't go back, I guess the best we can do is try to be kind and decent human beings now.

    I hope I am a nicer kinder person now that I'm older. I think I still have a lot of work to do though.

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  2. I had a friend growing up who lived down the street from me. She was a year younger than I, but we did everything together. When she got to middle school a year after I did, we rode the bus together. The older kids NEVER shared seats with the younger ones, and the first day she came down the aisle, she stopped and looked at me, and I refused to let her sit down. That was pretty much the end of our friendship, and I've always regretted that.

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  3. Dude do you remember Susan? I used to be friendly, well I guess neutral would be the right word, to CF but I was horrible to Susan. She outright told me that I made her high school life hell. She told me I was the reason she ate lunch in the library by herself. She was the reason she was going to switch to another school. I have a hard time forgiving myself for that one.

    At the same time, I pray that her parents gave her (as well as CF's parents gave her) the tools to deal with mean girls. I pray that they were there to comfort her and tell her that if we were mean to her, then she shouldn't want us for friends anyway. That really we'd be no good for her.

    The sad thing is, I think she, and CF, needed someone. Anyone. And really, they had no one.

    Basically, high school sucks. The only way I got through it and actually enjoyed it was to try to stay below the radar, except when I was making an ass of myself, then no one could call me an ass because I had already called it on myself. Simple immature defense strategy.

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  4. This made me cry. What a great post. I have no words. It was just heartbreaking to read because now that we have kids, you see it from a different perspective.

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  5. Oh Angie, this was so great in so many ways. One, because my son said someone was mean to him at school and it broke my heart. Furthermore, I often wonder about people that I might have ill treated. I too am so sorry and only hope that my children will be treated nicely and treat others nicely.

    Love this post.

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  6. This post just broke my heart. I was always on the fringes of popularity (never hugely in or hugely out), so I don't really have any sad school memories like that.

    But I've certainly been bitchy behind someone's back and that is just as bad. In the last few years, I have become pretty strident about not gossiping. I try to keep my catty thoughts (and I have them)in my head.

    Thank goodness most of us become kinder and smarter as we age.

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  7. Angie, my heart is aching reading this. Because I had my own CF in high school. I wonder now how I could have been so mean. I too hope that nothing close to that will ever happen to my children. And as a high school teacher I saw so many kids sitting by themselves at lunch. With no one and it broke my heart.

    What a great post you wrote. I think just remembering how awful I was to others can help to stop the cycle. I hate to think that it is just how school is. I refuse to accept that it is just how school is.

    What a great reminder to make sure that we are raising people not just kids.

    Thanks for making me think tonight! :)

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  8. I think it says a lot about you that you are so introspective and seeing the mistakes you made. Many people never do that.

    I have a feeling CF is doing better than most. Often people whose highlight is high school soar in adult life.

    This was a great post!

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  9. I've blogged about letting my smart mouth hurt a friend, and treating a friend's neighbor terribly when I was in Jr. High.

    I'd have to say that I was a pretty neutral party in high school (not cool, not not-cool) and I hung out with my group of field hockey players and track guys.

    I always had a soft spot for the underdog though, so I would have been the one to reach out to CF on occasion. My younger son has that same approach and it really touches my heart.

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  10. Don't be too hard on yourself. I know you are forgiven.

    I know my boys will not escape these ups and downs, but it does hurt to think of others picking on your kids.

    You are a wonderful writer!

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  11. i know which table you'd choose today! =) in seeing life from a grown up perspective i would like to change some things from my past as well. i love your heart in this and i think you've become a very thoughtful balanced lady/wife/mother! yah!! you rock!!

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  12. That recipe I have posted, that you asked about, it is a Beef chuck roast... soo yea... you can finally use up all that beef you said you had laying around :)

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  14. *Sorry I had to delete and re-post as there was an unfortunate typo that would be very easily mis-construed!!*

    I think kids who were outcasts in high school make the most interesting, self-assured, confident adults. They learn to not let other's opinions hold them back a lot quicker than those who use them as fodder for their own self-esteem issues. Some people never "unlearn" that trick, so congrats on facing your past.

    I would much rather have my child be unique and learn early in their life that it is BETTER to be different (because we all ARE different) than waste your life trying to be the same as everyone else, a truly futile effort.

    This is brave of you! Your children will only benefit from your experience. Be confident that you are leading them to the right path!

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  15. It's very brave to admit this and to now be the sort of person that recognizes how hurtful and wrong it is. I think some people grow up and never change - you know. I think it is not uncommon for kids to be hurtful, but I too am proud when I see my kids do the right thing over the "cool" thing - especially when it comes to caring about their friends and strangers.

    Have a good weekend - Kellan

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  16. Good post. I am sure we all have some things that haunt us from our teen years. Some things we would love to change. That is what growing up is about. Realizing that you screwed up and taking ownership for it. I recently ran into my "arch nemisis" from high school and realized that she had actually turned into..dare I say it...a nice lady. I know I am a much nicer/more sensitive person than I was in highschool. I try to teach my boys that rooting for the underdog is not a bad thing.

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  17. Oh yes, I remember those days. As wonderful as high school is to remember, it kind of stunk back then when we were in the middle of it.
    I tended to be on either side of this line. I was one of the cool kids, was a cheerleader and a majorette, and I was friends with most of the kids in my class.
    But there would be times when I would see one of the other "cool kids" picking on one of the special education kids and I would jump in a stick up for that kid. I would sqash the picking on real quick but in turn I would lose that friend who would go on to talk about me. I would be that persons new target.
    But that was the way high school was. We were all trying to find where we belonged, trying to be somebody that we weren't so that everyone would like us.
    But now I worry about my kids two, and I have two girls which makes it all the worse. My oldest just went into third grade and they already have cliques and groups and last year my daughter got excluded from a lot of things because of this. It made me angry, furious, and helpless because there was nothing I could do about it.
    What do you do in these situations? You said you remove them from it if possible. How do you do it?
    Sorry, I just found your blog and I wrote you a book.

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  18. I so feel ya. There was this one girl who had Leukemia (OH HOW I HATE TO TYPE THIS) that looked different and was sadly alone. What I wouldn't do to hit rewind and be kind.

    *le sigh*.

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  19. You know what? I don't. But I think I must be blocking it out.

    I am however now reading 'Queen Bees and Wanna Bee's' to help my daughter, she's thirteen and the stories SHE tells just break my heart, why can't they all just be nice?

    Sigh.

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  20. Oh Angie,
    This was beautiful.
    I fear for my children. I hope I achieved my goal in HS and was nice to everyone, but I often fear that I fell prey to peer pressure.
    Thank you for putting so much to light.
    I pray that CF has found peace and happiness in her life.
    I pray that you know what an amazing light you are.

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  21. I find myself thinking of things I would have done differently now that I am a mother myself. I probably was not the nicest person in high school and didn't pay attention to those who did not concern me - since apparently everything was supposed to revolve around me. I am a much different person today than I was then. If only we knew then what we know now right?

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  22. I just finished reading Jodie Picoult's Nineteen Minutes - about a boy who was picked on his entire school career and commits a horrible school shooting when he is a junior in HS. Good book, but disturbing. The really disturbing thing is how you can sort of see where he's coming from - how awful would it be to be picked on all the time? I can't imagine. Luckily I wasn't picked on much, but I too have regrets about picking on someone else in MS and HS.

    Great post! It certainly makes me think back and also makes me look forward and hope I can pay closer attention to what's going on with my own children and hopefully guide them to do better - to stop and think WWJD?
    Marcie

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  23. Wow, Angie, that was deep. I know it's corny to say but I too have been thinking about a girl, Jennifer, who was different and who, of course, stuck out like a sore thumb. I remember one day saying I would play with her after school and she showed up at my house but I wasn't there (my mom told me later). How horrifically sad must she have been?

    I think it's beneficial to remember these episodes now so that we can pass on the hurt feelings and the REAL meaning of cool -> believing in yourself and befriending anyone who needs a friend. Have you thought of trying to track down CF?

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  24. Why is it that quiet, timid, shy kids get picked on?
    That was the catagory that I fit in. And most of my friends too. I guess some people think that means you have no confidence, and no backbone, or your not smart enough to speak up. Your seen as weak. But I was raised to avoid confrontations, and trouble. If you were slapped on one check, you turned and let them slap the other too.
    Well, I don't believe that anymore, and I did not teach that theory to my kids. They were not, and are not trouble makers, but they know how to tackfully stand up for what is right.
    I remember walking home from school one day with my friend, Barbra. She was a quiet girl, and her parents were going through a divorce. That wasn't as common as it is today. But she had "spider veins" in her legs, when she got cold, and they really stood out. Another girl, the class bully, followed closely behind us, taunting her, calling her names. But she did not defend herself, nor did I. We kept walking along, hoping the bully would go away. She didn't. Then she started pushing Barbra. But we didn't do anything. I had my fist doubled up, just trying to summon up the courage to hit her. I didn't. But I still remember the bully's name, and the whole experience. If I could do it over, I would have defended my friend, and slugged that girl.
    I love your blog, praying for you and your family.. Lis, from the PNW...

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