There is so much talk these days about bullies and kids getting tormented by others over Facebook, ask.fm, etc. It's terrible. As much as we'd like to say it's technology and kids just being exposed to too much too soon, this is not a new concept.
I remember growing up being relatively happy. My home life was a little screwy, but wasn't everyones? I thought I had an incredible group of friends. We took turns sleeping over an one another's houses, celebrated birthdays and did just about everything together.
We talked extensively about going to middle school the next year where a number of primary schools came together and we'd meet hundreds of new kids. We lived relatively close to our grammar school and walked, so it was the first time on the bus too. It was SO exciting.
A couple of weeks before school started, I remember getting a phone call from my best friend. I was standing in the kitchen just before dinner while everyone was getting ready to sit down. At that time, there was just one main phone and I was limited in my mobility by the coiled tan cord. She said she wanted to tell me something important. I was excited by the possibilities, but suddenly there were four voices on the line and in unison they shouted at the top of their lungs, "WE HATE YOUR GUTS!" Then suddenly silence.
I stood there frozen. With my family staring at me, waiting to sit, I pretended they were all still on the line and said shakily, "OK, see you tomorrow." I moved to the dinner table, all the while feeling my heart break inside and confused as to what I could have done to have brought this devastation into my fragile pre-teen life.
After multiple unsuccessful attempts to reach out to my group of friends that now became my tormentors, I suddenly found myself completely alone. School was starting and when I was once looking forward to meeting new people with my posse' in tow, I now had a trembling fear overtake me as I walked to the bus stop.
Once on that corner, I walked slowly up the steps and realized no one was calling out my name and asking me to sit with them. No one was making any room for me to sit anywhere. I panicked and again found myself frozen. The bus driver motioned to a little space at the seat in front, "Just sit right there - I need to close the doors."
I squeezed in and it was a long silent drive to my giant new school. Now that I was facing it alone, it was even larger than I remembered.
I moved about silently for months, almost the whole year with not having anyone talk to me. I silently cried during class and sat alone at the lunch table. The pain of 7th grade still makes me feel like a dagger is poking my heart. I'm pretty sure that was the year that caused me to be so guarded as an adult. I think I'm still waiting for my friends to call me to tell me they hate my guts. I guess it's hard to take the twelve year old out of your head.
Toward the spring, my locker was moved. I was right by one of the most popular girls in school. Carrie. She had a boyfriend and they wore cool T-shirts with arrows pointing to one another with a caption that said, "I'm HIS" and "I'm HERS."
On her way into the crowded locker scene, she dropped her pencils. While everyone laughed, I helped her pick them up. She struck up a conversation and said some kids were coming over to her house that weekend and asked if I could come by. Are you kidding me? Is this real? You know I'm not in your crowd, right? You know I'm not in any crowd, right?
She didn't care. She wanted me to come over.
I went to her house that weekend, and pretty much every weekend that summer. I sat at the dinner table with her parents and sister and we'd play endless card games of hearts and spades. They'd let us have full-sized sodas and we'd bite off both ends of licorice and use them as straws. It was truly the happiest summer I've ever had.
Things started to change for me that next school year. Carrie opened up doors for me and she didn't care that I had a group of people that thought I shouldn't be invited to the party. She liked me and that's all that mattered. She changed my life that day she asked me to come over. I didn't sail through the rest of my youth unscathed, but the confidence she showed in me helped me find it in myself.
To this day when I take my kids on vacation, we stay up late into the night and play cards. I've never told them why I get so much joy out of spending that time with them, but they continue to be some of my favorite moments.
Thank you to all the heroes out there that don't even know it.
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