Hello my dear friends.
I guess it’s about time that I should write something here again. I’m sorry if you’ve worried or wondered what happened to me since I sort of disappeared in November, but it seems that I’ve been lost.
Not “lost” like lost in the back woods without a wifi signal and no GPS, or “lost” as lost in Yonkers without cab fare… just lost. Lost inside myself, somewhere that I haven’t been able to find my way back out of, feeling displaced and off kilter. Returning to work has been … a challenge. I’m still sorting through that whole stress-ball of a therapy session, it’s been five months and I’m not quite settled back at my job, not quite complacent and definitely not anywhere close to in control with my position or the pressures required of me that come with it, but I try to take one day at a time. One difficult step, one stressful situation, one anxiety-fueled panic attack at a time. It’s getting better, in little inching increments, slowly, but still better, and now and then little things come along that open up a small hole in the gloomy gray clouds and let a bright ray of sunshine come through to shine down on me. In the last few weeks the sunny spots have been echoes from the past, serendipitous moments that have been surprisingly …surprising.
It really started last fall when I happened to look up an old girlfriend from high school on Facebook and after a happy chat over old times and reconnecting, a couple of our other girlfriends whom she had remained in touch with also connected with me. We all had been among a group of slightly nerdy girls who hung out together through our school years, but, after graduation, life took us in various directions. Having been nerdy and sort of outcasts among the school social culture, our conversations weren’t about fond high school memories, since most nerdy kids didn’t exactly enjoy high school, but rather they were about where life had taken us, the roads we’d travelled and where we were now. It was reassuring to find that we still looked pretty much the same as we used to, just a little wider around the middle and more tired around the eyes, but we were still “us”. It was comfortable and happy and it felt a lot like visiting your old neighbourhood – it was like going back “home” again.
And then something incredible began to happen in this past month. I began to get notifications of other old high school classmates wanting to “friend” me on Facebook. At first it was a couple more of the girls that I hung around with, then one of the guys that was in my homeroom class but who wasn’t really someone that I “hung around” with. As the weeks went on the “friend” requests continued and it seemed like I’d find one old classmate and then suddenly two more would find me! Most of them were kids that I was social with and seeing their names pop up on my Facebook wasn’t too unusual but when the names of a couple of the “kids” who I recalled as being “popular” and who, in my memory, had been … well,… not “kind” and not what I would have called “friends” of mine, asked to be my Facebook “friends”, I was a more than a little shocked and perplexed as to why they would even want to be my Facebook “friend” unless only to see if I’d grown up to be the big loser they expected me to be when I was young. Initially, I wasn’t going to accept their requests. I didn’t want them to look through my pictures, see the photos of me in my size 14 swimsuit on our trip south, or the ones where I have no make-up on and the cat’s sitting on my chest so I’ve got my head scrunched down in a way that makes me look like I have three chins and a forehead like Squidward’s. I didn’t want them to find out that I didn’t go to university and get a BA like they did, that I didn’t have adorable kids like they did, that I don’t have beautiful grandchildren and a successful career like they do. I didn’t want to let them have another chance to mock me like they did when we were kids. Looking at those “friend” requests, I was suddenly tossed back into the mind of that 13 year old girl again: I was afraid of being judged by the other kids, I was afraid they’d laugh at me, I was afraid of being the “loser”.
It’s funny how life changes, looking back on those years from these years. When we were teens we saw the world so differently, saw each other so differently. Even now, as an adult in the later mid-life years, I find it hard sometimes to recall those angst-filled, emotionally-draining times when we were all trying to figure out who we were, who we wanted to be, where we wanted to go and who we wanted to go there with. It was painful and frightening and exciting all at the same time… but for some of us it was often a very terrible struggle, sometimes heart-wrenchingly horrid, and, on the worst days, unbearably unbearable.
Memory is a temperamental and fickle thing. It will allow you to keep and cherish some of the best moments in your life at the same time that it reminds you of the worst ones, and then it steals from you in later years the ones you want desperately to hold on to while it leaves you with the ones that matter the least. For some, it never lets you forget the times that still cause pain and heartache, those days of lost youth that we wish would actually get lost, when children were children and cruelty was simply a way that stronger children acted out against weaker ones and parents simply encouraged their sons and daughters to become more assertive and confident in themselves to overcome it.
Some of us did just that: we stood taller, we spoke up, spoke back to the smart-alecks, grew comfortable in our ability to stand up for ourselves, to stand equal to the rest, and in doing so became an equal, a peer among our fellows. For those of us that were able to face forward against the bullies, life moved on at a normal pace, we grew up, we graduated into the real world, became adults, took on jobs, careers, families, debt and responsibility like every other adult, and life turned into …well, Life.
But not all of us were created with the same capabilities to adapt and survive in a hostile environment. When faced with cruelty, despite all reassurances and support from loving, caring family environments, some of us did not learn to be stronger, we learned to retreat. When our classmates faulted us for imagined wrongs, whether it be inferred lack of intelligence, unpopularity or poor fashion sense, we believed every word, we soaked it in like sponges and sloshed our way through our school life getting heavier and soggier with each passing year. We let it build up on us like layers of old tacky wallpaper, every joke cracked at our expense, every snicker passed in the locker room, every eye-roll over the lunch table, became another layer of who we believed we were: loser, failure, ugly, stupid, fatty, beanpole, zitface, geek, nerd, emo. Each name spelled different but meaning the same thing: that we were not a person who mattered, that we had no worth, that we were nobody, and that we would remain so for the rest of our lives.
So we wrapped ourselves in all those layers, cowered deep down inside them trying to make ourselves invisible, as if in allowing ourselves to silently shrivel up and disappear into the shadowy corners of the school hallways we’d somehow eventually be overlooked and forgotten and in that in being so, the cruelty would just stop… no one would notice us, no one would take a second glance, no one would laugh or make fun of us anymore… ever.
And in time, that’s exactly what happened. We disappeared to the rest of the kids in our school. We ceased to exist to them. After graduation we faded away and were forgotten by all but a very few who had been friends, mostly others like us with whom we’d clustered and hidden and hung out with, who were trying to disappear too. As the years went by the alumni at the high school reunions (those events which we avoided like they were invitations to be exposed to the Black Plague) would look back on yearbook pictures and when they’d turn to the “R” page, someone would point to that picture, and pull out an old memory of “…that time she gave that speech in grade 7… you remember, don’t you?” Then the laughter would start and of course a few would remember, how could they forget that morning in English Lit. class, especially when they all mocked and joked behind her back for the rest of their school days, even to her face when meeting in passing at a mall years later, no doubt thinking it was marvelous to see her light up red as an apple in front of her adult friend who was, of course, full of questions once muttered goodbyes were said.
In younger years I never thought it possible to un-hate someone who had caused you to feel such repeated humiliation that you despised them completely. Even as I became an adult and learned that in youth the blood runs hot and many young people have a lot of “growing up” to do emotionally and mentally before they learn about how words can cut and wound as sharply and deeply as any blade, I still hung on to that hatred, that deep-seated anger was clawed into me and didn’t want to let go. Whenever I thought back on those awful teenage years when I wanted to crawl under a rock and die more than I wanted to marry David Cassidy or be a back-up singer to Freddie Mercury, that singular cringe-worthy memory returned full force to smack me across the face just as brutally as the day it happened and every failure that followed in my life seemed to bleed out from that first stab, leaving me blaming the smirkers and the gigglers for my self-loathing, my inability to lift my eyes up from the ground as I walked down the street, and my drooping shoulders’ inability to keep my bra straps from sliding down my arms. Sure, I could understand that I was responsible for my own life, I had the power to shape my future and my path, I chose how I allow other people to affect me and make me feel, but the difference between “knowing” these things and “doing” these things was as far apart for me as the Sun is from Pluto, and in my younger adult mind I lay much of the blame at the feet of my student peers.
Yet now, now in these autumn years of life, a simple thing like a friend request on Facebook made me realize that even when I thought I’d done all my growing up, I still had growing up to do, and with that growing up came healing: slightly miraculous, unexpected, profoundly simple healing. I accepted every friend request from every old classmate that came my way. In the past two weeks I’ve found out that most of the alumni from my high school have stayed relatively close to “home”, either remaining in the same town or settling in suburbs around it, while a few have traveled to distant places. Most have families and grandchildren. Some have been through divorce, some through loss and grief, some through health crisis and financial crisis. Some have had blessings and success while others have had hardship. But the one thing that is the common denominator among each and every one of them is this: not a single one recalled that anyone had ever had a mean or terrible memory from those years so long ago, and every one has expressed excitement, joy and genuine honest pleasure to make these re-connections to a time when we were someone else, someone who still hadn’t figured it all out, who still had the whole world in front of them and a whole lifetime ahead of them, and now, as we approach our middle-aged years, we only remember that we shared those green years together. We have bonds, we are connected to a common past. We are friends. In the moment that I realized this, every ounce of anger, every speck of spite and hate that still sat balled up deep inside me over that old decrepit horrible memory suddenly broke loose and dissipated. It just …went “poof”. It let go. I let go. (…no, I’m not singing…. Ok, yes, I may be singing just a little bit)
That young girl who was afraid of judgement, afraid of being mocked and poked by a memory from so long ago suddenly realized that that memory wasn’t painful anymore, it was so old and so insignificant now that it didn’t matter if people who knew who I am today knew about it – so what? A terrible, embarrassing moment in the school life of a 13 year old awkward, shy teenager who suffered from depression but nobody knew it, was an event from a long and distant past that may have shaped who I became after those years, who I was and who I am now, but the person I am now had accepted that event as one that was just that, an event in the past. It stays there. It’s gone. I’m an older woman who can tell the tale of it and laugh it off even though it’s still slightly embarrassing and uncomfortable, but I’m a big girl and I can deal with it now. And I can accept that the kids who once were mean aren’t mean anymore, they probably don’t even recall being mean, and in reaching out to want to reconnect with their past, they’ve helped me to get over a difficult and painful piece of mine.
So, I have been lost. I didn’t really know where I’d gone off on that wrong turn, where that misstep had happened, but at least I do know that I was lost, which is a very good place to start being not lost, and in finding my way, in finding myself again, I’ve found old friends who have turned out to be new friends.
And one of them is me.
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” ~Albert Schweitzer
PS: As with my usual modus operandi, there are now new pages under the Poetry pages and the post below is an extra: poem plus song recorded to Soundcloud for your earworm pleasure. (I proclaim to have no professional skills as a singer or songwriter, so feel free to offer whatever constructive criticism you wish and it will be happily disregarded with a pleasant “I thank you.”) 😉