In just about every high school you can find someone who fits into your typical categories: The jocks, the cheerleaders, the popular kids and the class clowns, the student government kids, the drama nerds, the band geeks, the chorus girls/guys, the loners, the stoners, the emo crowd, the weirdo’s and the ones that seemed to get picked on and pushed around. I just happened to fit into the latter in my freshman year. The “skinny dark-skinned chick with the big boobs and the ashy skin” is what I believe was what I was known as. I had eczema on my legs and arms and weight 100 pounds, soaking wet with Timberland boots on and when puberty hit, it seemed to be all in one place. Eventually though, thanks to the Track team, indoor and out, (All conference, thank you very much), the step team, and a few people who gave me a chance and got to know me, I graduated to being, um, I’d say well known, but not the “popular crowd.”
Last night I got to go to my 20-year reunion. (Yikes, did I really say the word TWENTY?!). In the days leading up to the night of, I had a few people reach out to me, asking if I was coming that night. “Are you going to be there tonight,” “Are you coming to the reunion?” At the time I had no idea. I didn’t know if I could face those demons again or be back in the space that, once-upon-a-time I hated being in every single day. As I drove towards my High School, I had about a million emotions as I pulled into the parking lot. The green and white “SW” painted on the outsides of the building, the gym, the football field, it was all surreal. I chuckled at the fact that I never had a car in school, so it was kind of cool to be able to park in the student parking lot in my car. I remembered going to class in the trailers just behind the school. I remembered many an afternoon, changing in the locker room and making my way down to the track for practice. Those fun times on the bus on our way to and from the track meets, singing the latest song on the radio, most of which we had no business singing. I thought about all the notes that been passed between friends with “Your Eyes Only” written across origami style folded paper. My friends and I got really smart and would break up our letters in different patterns or orders so that to anyone who found it couldn’t make sense of it, but to us, our souls had just been bared. You know, as much soul as a 15-16-year-old had at the time. I remember being invited to one of the popular girl’s birthday party in December of my sophomore year and thought that I had FINALLY been accepted. A tiny part of me couldn’t help but think it was going to play out like a scene from She’s All That and some mean prank was going to be played on me, but it turned out that I was actually just invited to her party as a friend. I remember having the best time and was so excited that I could actually join in on the conversation when everyone was talking about the “big party” that happened over the weekend.
There were days that I had some of the worst days ever in school, but then again, who doesn’t have those? I have been vocal about my experience with bullying in the past but being back in that atmosphere sent my anxiety through the roof. I got butterflies in my tummy, my palms started sweating, heart started beating fast. I had to tell myself that I wasn’t 15 anymore. I’m a grown woman and all that was behind me. I remembered one day being in the bathroom by myself and the lights went out. I had no idea what was about to happen, I just knew that when I came out of the stall I had to be ready for anything. I emerged from the bathroom to a crowd of students pointing fingers and laughing as I walked out from the dark bathroom. I thought about how many times my purse or bookbag had been stolen and tossed down the “dark hall” as a joke. Nothing had been stolen out of it, they just watched me panic, frantically look for my things and laugh when I emerged with them on my back. It was all coming back to me, a thousand miles a minute.
The year I turned sixteen, my “bad girl year” is what I like to call it, was a turning point. I skipped school a couple of times, met a “bad boy”, did a few things I probably shouldn’t have done. You know, lived life on the wild side, until I almost got kicked out of the house and I straightened up. I thought about that time that a rumor had been spread about me halfway through my Junior about me and a boy from another school, but I also remember that was the year that I had absolutely had enough of being the butt of everyone’s jokes and pranks started standing up for myself. Life at Southwest Guilford got much easier after I started snapping back. That was the year I made myself proud. From then on friendships began to blossom. People started greeting me first in the halls, asking me how my weekend was or if I was planning something for the following weekend. All my best friends were either in the grade above or below me, so a lot of times I would sit by myself, go to the library or sit in this spot by the English hall. Eventually though, instead of sitting by myself or with someone who I felt would take pity on me, I got called over to sit with people. Like, COOL people. It. Was. AWESOME!
I think my Junior year was when I finally started to feel like I wasn’t the one that was picked on, but I was actually just…a kid. When I sprained my quad from a track meet and had to be on crutches for two weeks, I remember friends who didn’t even know my name or ignored me the year before would grab my bag and walk with me to class, or help me onto the elevator to go to the next class. Some even waited for me after school was over and helped me onto the bus. People not only knew me, but they wanted to help me! By senior year, I was truly just like everyone else. My twelfth-grade year was a breeze! No bullies, no rumors, no one taking my stuff, no name-calling, just everyday school stuff! Even some of my arch enemies would greet me in the halls with a high five and a smile. I did my best on the track team that year. I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling of winning first place at home in the 200 dash and hearing not only my parents cheering for me but a few of the students too. I felt like I had won a gold medal in the olympics! I went to the homecoming dance, I was working two jobs (yes I’ve always been a hustler) at a clothing store and at the movie theater, I had friends at other schools…Life was good. By the end of senior year, I went to prom WITH a date, my yearbook had TONS of signatures, I had a ton of pictures with my friends to look back on and I felt like I had successfully conquered Southwest Guilford High School.
As I walked into the football field, I saw one of my good friends that would always put a smile on my face at school. When he gave me a hug, I was so glad that he was the first person I saw. All anxiety and nervousness just melted away and I was ready to have a good time. It was like I was in a movie where everyone comes back to see what everyone is doing now, who looks the same and who looks totally different. Which “underdog” could finally go up to their “bully” years later and realize, they aren’t so scary after all. I had that moment, and I thought “She’s not that intimidating, I don’t know what I was so scared of her for.” That was a moment of growth for me. People were telling me that it was great to see me, and some of the stuff they remembered about me, all good. (Dust my shoulders off 😉) I felt like I had come a really long way.
Last night was truly a milestone for me. I will still continue to be vocal about bullying and doing what I can to try to get awareness out about it. Kids today have it a hundred times worse with social media and smartphones. It used to be that whenever bullying you endured during the day or whatever rumor or gossip that you were the subject of would be old news within 48 hours or by the weekend. Now with social media, it can be posted, shared, liked and commented on. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would’ve been like for me. Kids need to know that they aren’t alone, someone has been in their shoes and were able to overcome the stress of being a teenager and they will too. They need to know it will get better. It’s not the end of the world. You are enough, you are valued, you are more than a conqueror and you will overcome. That is something I want every kid that has been bullied to experience. Knowing that it got better, you aren’t that scared, awkward kid anymore. You will get into college or go start a job, you will meet people who will make you forget about those stupid people who make you feel like you are less than. You’ll have relationships, and dates with someone hot who likes you for you (I promise, it’ll happen and it is great!) You will find out that those bullies will teach you how to handle your manager, those nerves you get when you walk into a room full of people that intimidate you will teach you how to nail that presentation or that speech you have to give. Those rumors that are spread about you will teach out how to handle bad press and turn it around in your favor. One day, you will pull up to their reunion with confidence and have an outstanding night with some amazing people and you will absolutely know that everything you went through made you the awesome person you are today!