Back to School
When you're not looking forward to it
This morning, my daughter reminded me she only has two more years until middle school. This set me into panic mode. I’m not sure why actually. It was one of those visceral reactions you can’t control. It’s two years away. And honestly? It’ll be probably totally fine once she gets there. She won’t necessarily have the same experiences I did. Right? Right?! I mean, she could have the most fantastic experience of anyone in the history of middle schools. Ever! She could… But then again…
I see so much of myself in her.
I need to be honest about something here. School was rough for me. I never had many friends. I was never the pretty one or the smart one or anyone of note. I felt alone much of the time. I was extraordinarily sensitive.
There was one year in particular I was ‘iced out’ by my group when they wouldn’t speak to me.
“Can I sit here?”
“What’s going on?”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“PLEASE JUST TELL ME WHAT I DID! I’M SORRY! I’M SURE I’LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN!”
Someone had left an anonymous note in the nurse’s box saying I had lice. I was called out of class by the nurse to be “checked.” When I returned, there was snickering. I’d sit down at lunch and the group would get up and leave.
It went on that way for months. I never told anyone about it. My mom could tell something was wrong, but I wouldn’t say anything. I would just cry whenever I was alone and sure no one could hear.
There was one evening, however, when the group of girls did finally talk to me. It was by way of a prank call. My family was in the living room watching tv. The phone rang and I ran into the kitchen to answer it. This was of course, the days before caller ID.
“WE LOOOOOOOOOOOOVE YOU JENNYYYYYYYY”
Shame. It flooded my body. I don’t even know why. I think because they knew I was so desperately seeking their approval. I had even purchased gifts for them to try to make up for whatever it was that I did that I didn’t even know I did. And yet their message of affirmation, all twisted up in sugary sweet tones that ended in a fit of laughter, hit me with far greater force than a physical blow ever could. I would never have their acceptance.
From the next room over, my mother asked who was on the phone. I hung it up as fast as I could.
“Uh. No one. Must have been a wrong number.”
Now honestly, I can’t say I didn’t play any part in this. I set myself up seeking affirmation from others when really I should have been seeking it from myself. But knowledge is something only age can bring. And childhood is rough sometimes.
I think that’s why I feel so protective of it.
One time, not long before this incident happened, I had sought the advice of an older girl who lived up the street from me. She had risen to new popularity. I was taking a walk up the street, she was walking down to fetch her brother. We met in front of a yellow house underneath a dogwood tree.
“You looking for Travis?”
What happened next was a moment of boldness. The words flew out of my mouth before I realized they were gone.
“How do you get to be popular?”
“You make friends with a popular girl, then team up against someone in the group.”
“I gotta go.”
“Okay. See ya.”
It was like a lightning bolt. Simple. Terrible. True.
After the prank phone call that night, I changed. I crafted invisible armor. Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me, don’t notice me. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I wouldn’t allow myself to be me.
It took me a long time to shed that thick protective shell. And sometimes when I’m in a new situation, I can still feel that old urge to run and hide. But I fight it. Now I just look for someone in the room hanging out in the corner and go and introduce myself. Because I know, she’s probably feeling it too.
I guess what I’m saying is this, if you’re not looking forward to the school year ahead, it’s okay. I understand. Let’s hold hands and be brave together.
You and me.