I was the kid who will ruin your school year.

As the library empties for two of our slowest months, I can’t help but reflect on my own childhood excitement as the school year approached. I suppose it’s no surprise that this present day librarian was unceasingly enthusiastic, kindergarten through senior year, about the first day of school. Even as a kid, I loved the fresh start of the new year, which when you’re eight, happens sometime toward the end of August, not the beginning of January. A new school year meant a new backpack and new crayons and new folders and notebooks. Just as neurotic as a child, I loved how clean everything was. All the crayons were freshly sharpened and there were no graphite smears on my kitten folders or tears in my new backpack. My new classroom was freshly decorated with fun themes that hadn’t yet faded into the background. I had a room full of potential friends awaiting me and I couldn’t wait to meet them and my new teacher.

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In the early years, when my mother put me in cute Disney-themed princess clothes, did my hair in pigtails, and helped me navigate the waters of childhood friendships, I imagine the feeling was mutual and that I blended in quite well with the rest of the class. I was too energetic and talkative to be the class pet, but I was well-liked and fit in with the other kids… until about halfway through the second grade. Indeed, it is a bittersweet realization, that as excited as I was to meet these new people every August, for the majority of my school years, they weren’t very excited to meet me.

I was eight when the shift occurred and you can actually see it in family photos. At the beginning of the school year, I was just an average kid. My clothes were never overly stylish, but no one’s were in the 90’s. I got in trouble on occasion, probably sitting out recess once a week or so, but I wasn’t a problem child. My parents weren’t helicopter parents, but they were involved and had me in after-school activities. As the year progressed, however, I gained weight, stopped bathing and brushing my teeth regularly, started wearing dirty clothes to school, and acting out. I once snapped at my teacher to stop calling our workbook by that name, because it was just a book and we weren’t babies. I made her so angry that she went to the classroom next door, grabbed a textbook, shoved it under my nose and told me that this was a textbook and that it was much harder… to which I rolled my eyes.

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That was the year I began picking on other children, ruling my friendships through fear of being on my bad side. I continued to do so in third grade and by fourth, when the district transferred me to a new school, I don’t imagine I had any friends who would miss me. I wore a dress on my first day of fourth grade, because I wanted to look nice and fit in, but had no concept or understanding of how to do so. Overweight and the victim of unfortunate genetics, I should have been wearing both deodorant and a bra, but wore neither. I made my teacher a present, because I just really wanted her to like me and I thought that a pickle jar full of Easter grass with her name on it was the key. It was not. She didn’t like me. I smelled. I was bossy. I was a bully. I made good grades and always turned in my work, but I was absolutely the kid in the class that every teacher seems to have, who keeps the year from being perfect. I was a hall kid, sent out for interrupting and mouthing off, for picking on other children and bossing them around. By fifth grade, I was no better.

I ate fast food every night and put on more and more weight. My fifth grade teacher blanched when she bought KFC for everyone as a reward and I asked for my usual of two breasts and a leg, something I wouldn’t order now. I was fat and I was mean. By middle school, I had few friends and anyone who rejected me was the recipient of my own cruel bullying, like the boy who didn’t like me back… who I threw soda on at a school dance, or the girl he did like, about whom I spread rumors. It wasn’t just one teacher who dreaded having me in their class, anymore. It was seven.

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What none of those teachers knew, of course, was that second grade was the year my parents began spending every evening fighting in the garage. There were no more family dinners at the table and my Gramma brought us fast food nearly every night, in an attempt to bring some happiness and normalcy back into our world. That was the year my mother stopped washing my clothes on the regular and checking to make sure I was bathing myself and brushing my teeth, because I was eight and incapable of taking care of myself.

Third grade was the year my dad snapped at me that I stank and was disgusting for not wearing deodorant, the first time anyone had mentioned I should and still, neither parent helped me to remember consistent and proper hygiene. It was the year I got lice on Thanksgiving and my aunt bought me my first training bra for Christmas, because my mother hadn’t thought of it.

Fourth grade was the year I decided to sleep in my clothes each night, so I wouldn’t have to get up early to get dressed and went to school sweaty, rumpled and tired. It was the year my mother took us to Disney World alone, because my father refused to go. I hit puberty that year, before the other girls, and was embarrassed that I needed to shave my legs and confused about why I had hair in other places that only grownups did. No one had told me it was normal, so I shaved it with a secret shame. I still have the scar from where I shaved my arms, because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. That was the year that the golden boy everyone liked began to bully me relentlessly when no one was watching. When I told the school counselor, she didn’t believe me. 

I’m sure my teacher knew about my mother’s brain surgery in the 5th grade, followed closely by her grand mal seizure, during which I called the ambulance, myself. I doubt she knew my father left a month later and that my mother got me up at midnight every night to pray over a statue of Saint Thomas Moore that she buried in the flower bed, as if it were a magic spell that would bring my father home. She was convinced it had worked, when he returned a week later… and devastated when it didn’t after he moved out for good and took my brother with him, leaving me alone with her. That Christmas break, I broke my arm and my father refused to take me to the ER, dragged me to see Patch Adams in theaters and yelled at me for falling asleep. Despite being a nurse, my mother didn’t stand up to him. It wasn’t until two days later that my Gramma told her they could take me to the hospital or she could take me… and they discovered my arm was broken in two places. That was the year the other girls told me it was gross that my tongue was completely white, because I didn’t brush my teeth. I got my Gramma to buy me a new toothbrush, chose medium bristles instead of soft, and went home and brushed until my tongue and gums bled.

When middle school started, I couldn’t understand why my old friends, no longer forced to include me, had chosen not to do so. After a boy told me my shirt was too tight, early in the year, I wore a jacket every single day to cover my disgustingly fat arms. The boy down the street, who had chased me and kissed me on the playground in the first grade, now threw rocks at me when I took my dog for a walk. When the popular boys at school were over at his house, they joined in… even the ones who were usually nice to me. It was in the 6th grade that I started cutting myself. In the 7th, my mother told my father that she’d only get back together with him if I agreed. When I didn’t, he refused to come to my birthday party and we didn’t speak for several months. That was the year my mother started hitting me. That was the year I started sucking my thumb again. It wasn’t until the next year that my mother told me unspeakable lies about my father molesting me, to keep me from leaving her abuse for him. I wouldn’t speak to him again until my senior year of high school.

For most of my formative years, when my crushes, my friends, and even my teachers didn’t like me back, there was no one around to teach me how to handle the disappointment, the rejection, because my parents were too busy with their own drama… and it wasn’t until 8th grade that I was able to somewhat navigate these interactions for myself. Until then, no one liked me at school. No one liked me at home… except, perhaps, for my Gramma. No matter how angry and hateful I was, no matter how badly I smelled, no matter how dirty and mismatched and unstylish, I always had a warm hug from Gramma and that was my saving grace.

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In the next month, as I’m introduced to my new after school crowd at the library, I’m going to remember the angry, smelly bully I once was. I’m going to recall how much it hurt to be so disliked by everyone, how devastating it was to try to face it all alone… and I’ll remind myself that not all of those kids are going to be blessed with a saintly Gramma… to insist someone take them to the ER, to hold them when the bullies make them cry, to buy them toothbrushes and new bras. This fall, I’m going to try to remember that these aren’t the kids who keep my year from being perfect, but the ones who give my professional life the most meaning… because the smelly kid, the bully, the girl in the ill-fitting dress… they look to us, their teachers and librarians and school counselors, to be the few people who want them. I’m going to remember that it is so hard to be unwanted. We are their safe haven. We give them hope that things will be better, when no one else does.

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“KARMA IS NOT A THING!”: The biggest lie they told us in high school.

So, I know that I am not supposed to take joy in another’s misery. I get that. I also know that I am flawed, as are all human beings.

When I was a kid, I was bullied a lot. I’ve told you before, but I was just an easy mark. My parents weren’t giving me any guidance on how to treat people, or dress, or even wash myself there for awhile… so school pretty much sucked. While I was, indeed, a target for many, three bullies stuck out, in particular. Starting in the fourth grade, there was Sal. Sal was the boy who threw chunks of brick at my dog and I, while screaming obscenities daily, as I walked by his house. When he had friends over, they were extra sets of hands. If they took up for me, he accused them of having a crush on me, so they’d hurl a rock extra hard to prove him wrong. Ah, childhood.

Along with Sal, there was Chuck, who joined him on the roof several times, once middle school started. You know that bully that just doesn’t quite fit? He’s short and goofy looking, but still a mountain of dicks? That was Chuck.

bullies a christmas storyIn general, after the 9th grade, the bullying tapered off. My friends and I had our very own lunch table in front of the auditorium and none of the cool kids wanted to join our spinning contests or learn how to knit, so they mostly let us be. I’m telling you, if we’d just been born five years later, after being weird was cool…

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Ugh! I have an exact fucking copy of this picture from when I was 16. Only I looked a lot less hot and the black framed glasses and that film camera I carried everywhere were just “nerdy.” Suck my dick, pop culture.

Anyhoo…

There were still a few scattered moments, but I don’t even think Sal bothered me come 9th grade. He sort of just faded away. Chuck, though? Chuck was quite the persistent little shit, and decided to go free agent, as he spent our entire 10th grade year taking things from under my desk and hurling them at my head, in Geometry class. Every. Single. Day. Even in our senior year, it was not unheard of for Chuck to continue his antics. It wasn’t just me, either. Six years after Gertie Lake wet herself in our 6th grade reading class, Chuck still called her Gertie Leaky Lake. That’s not even clever for an eleven-year-old, and I’d be willing to bet money he calls her that at the 10 year reunion.

Speaking of which, what are Sal and Chuck up to, today? Because I research for a living and I’m an epic Facebook stalker, I can say that Sal and Chuck are living the lives that all of those teen movies swore to me Sal and Chuck would live. Sal is a felon, who does little beyond recreational drugs and Chuck is working as a cook with no plans to move forward, if the last eight years are any indication. I don’t know that they’re miserable, but I certainly don’t envy them. Now, Carl, the guy who used to fool around with Malik on the weekends, then call him a fag and toss his CD’s all over the school parking lot? He’s a registered sex offender who’s lucky to have finally been transferred out of that Texas prison. Indeed, Rachael Leigh Cook would be proud.

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Do not even get me fucking started.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that we all had our bullying moments. I know I sure did. I don’t care if you were sweet as pie, there was at least one time when you made someone else feel less about themselves, even if it was just for not being sweet as pie. You know what, though? We grew up. I am fully willing to admit that the girl who had a screaming match with me in Algebra class is an adult now. She’s a Facebook friend and I like seeing her happy. The friend who turned on me in the eighth grade and intentionally made my life hell? He’s close with his family now and has a full time job, which he enjoys. The girl who mocked me for dressing as 2020 on decade day? The last I heard, she was a dance major. The girl who threatened to cut me at the seventh grade dance? Okay. Maybe I’ll just stop there. 

My point is, I don’t wish bad things on every single person who ever said something mean to me. I’m happy that they’re happy. I’m also making a disclaimer, because I’m about to Dramatic Rant… about Nate.

Nate was… hmm… how shall I put this?

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Nate: age 2.

Sal and Chuck, while walking penises, clearly didn’t have the best of home lives. I get that now. I mean, really, what parent lets their son sit on the roof with his friends and hurl rocks at passerby? At the very least, these people didn’t play an active role in their children’s lives. Neglectful parents, or parents who reward meanness with laughter, create bullies. It sucks, but that’s the way of the world. Nate, though? Nate was a child of privilege. He was cute and funny and made good grades. Everyone loved Nate.

Except me. For the last two years of elementary school, just as Sal was working up a sweat, Nate just hit the ground running. Living on the outskirts of town, I was the third to last stop on the bus route, meaning I spent about an hour a day on it. Through some misfortune, though I never recalled seeing Nate live nearby, he was the very last stop, so he spent that entire hour with me… calling me fat… and ugly… and stupid. The kid would sing songs about my weight. He’d get the kids who lived near me, who’d known me my whole life and played with me when we were little, to sing along. It was epic. One day, after overhearing me confide in a neighbor about my parents’ pending divorce, Nate acted concerned and asked “Your parents are getting a divorce?” When I sadly told him yes, he got right in my face and laughed hysterically. 

I kid you not. The truly disturbing part of all of this was that no one believed meI told friends about the bullying, even the guidance counselor, and they all swore that he was just the nicest guy. It was bizarre. Looking back, the idea that this kid could go from All American Boy to the fucking Chucky doll… it’s really kind of creepy. Like, “Honey, where’s the kitten and why are you covered in blood?” creepy. My kid would be in therapy. Maybe he should’ve been. Maybe he was going through something.Who knows?

So, the other day, just out of curiosity, I decided to look up Nate. I knew he’d come from fairly wealthy and supportive (apparently blindly so) parents, so I doubted his fate would be teen movie worthy. I assumed he’d be dating someone seriously, probably just beginning his career, maybe married… you know… normal.

But no. Facebook done me wrong, y’all. “I HATE SOCIAL NETWORKING!!!!!” screamed the blogger… in a restaurant with Gaily.

Me: “I want you to guess what his wife does. Just guess.”
Gail: “I don’t know.”
Me: “She’s a fucking model. The boy who tormented me, for two years, is not supposed to marry someone whose Facebook profile has the words ‘Ended work with Miss America’ on her profile! Freddie Prinze Jr. fucking lied!!!!”
Gail: “So he married a hot chick. Who cares? What does she actually do for a living?”
Me: “I just told you! She’s a model!”
Gail: “I thought you were kidding.”
Me: “NO. She was seriously in the top five for the state. Her profile actually said ‘Ended work with Miss America Company.’ KARMA IS NOT A THING!!!!! Ugh. At least he grew up weird looking.”
Gail: ::looking at picture:: “He looks totally normal to me.”
Me: “It says he’s a builder. Maybe he’ll fall through a roof or something. No. That’s terrible. I don’t actually wish harm on him.”
Gail: “You do know that a builder isn’t the guy who builds the houses right? My uncle’s a builder and…”
Me: “Shut up! You’re such a bitch! I need more supportive friends!”
Gail: ::laughing:: “I mean, he does dry wall and he’s really unattractive.”
Me: “He does too look weird. See?”
Gail: ::looking at new picture:: “Yeah, okay. He looks weird there.”
Me: “So, how much does a builder make?”
Gail: “You don’t want me to answer that question.”
Me: “NO. He is supposed to be making mid-range wages, bitching about his wife, and longing for the glory days from high school. Your elementary school bully is not supposed to be fucking Christian fucking Grey and married to Miss America!!!!”
Gail: :laughing:: “Calm down. Is that all she does, though? She doesn’t have another job?
Me: “I don’t know. Let me check. … It says she works at a retail shop.”
Gail: ::looking at phone:: “Huh. The good news is, this dress is half off. The bad news is, it’s still $542.”

So, there it is. That’s the biggest lie they ever told us in high school. All those movies where the wealthy popular guys become losers? Horseshit. They take the charisma and charm that convinces elementary school guidance counselors that they can do no wrong, and they rule the fucking world with it.

* Disclaimer: I wish this guy no actual harm. Freddie Prince Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook, however…