Tag Archives: school

High School Reunions, Or The Time I Farted Publicly

15 Mar

My high school career started off, quite literally, with a bang.

A few weeks into ninth grade, I was lounging around in drama class, leaning nonchalantly on something or other, when (sorry, there’s no way to be delicate about this) I farted. Loudly.

To make matters even worse, I immediately sat up and said in the most prim-old-lady way possible,

“Oh my goodness, excuse me.”

To say that I was mortified would be like saying … actually, I don’t even know what it would be like saying. I can’t even think of anything clever enough to explain how I wanted to stab myself in the eyes every time I had to go to school.

Up until then, I suspect that I’d already been teetering on the edge of “uncool”, but that one little (actually not so little) fart sealed the deal. I was banished to High School Loser Hell forever. Although there had only been about fifteen people in the class, within a few hours the whole school seemed to know. For weeks afterwards, people would come up behind me in the hallway and make farting noises. My face turned a permanent shade of red.

Imagine being a fourteen year old girl and having to live your life as the girl who farted in class.

My dreams of ever being prom queen or joining student council or even of ever having a boyfriend were all dashed in that moment.

I mean, comedic hyperbole, etc., and I actually did have one or two high school boyfriends, but still. It felt like the end of the world.

I’ve written before about how high school wasn’t exactly great for me. Which, whatever, it’s over and I’m a grown up and I don’t care anymore because my life is awesome now. Right? I mean, right?

Except for how I apparently do care and ended up throwing a little tantrum on Facebook about how I don’t want to go to the upcoming 25th anniversary/reunion of the arts program that I was in.

(Incidentally, this is a really good example of why I shouldn’t be on Facebook, because I just use it to vomit my feelings all over the internet)

Look. It’s not like I didn’t have any friends in high school. It’s not like there were never any good times, ever. It’s just that a lot of factors combined to make me feel like an unlovable weirdo social pariah and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to get over that.

It wasn’t just the farting (oh God, I cringe every time I type that word, STILL, EVEN NOW, 16 YEARS LATER). It was everything. It was the fact that I was already socially awkward to begin with, and I had no idea how to dress, use makeup or make myself attractive in any way shape or form. It was the fact that I was depressed, and none of the adults around me seemed to have any fucking clue how to handle that. It was the fact that we were poor and I couldn’t afford to do half the things my classmates could.

I wish I didn’t have to use the word poor, because that sounds so, I don’t know, dramatic or self-pitying or something. And the truth is that compared to a lot of people, I had it pretty easy. But it still sucked. Part of it was that I didn’t really have a lot of experience being poor; up until midway through grade eight, we’d lived in a nice area of town, I’d had decently nice clothes, and I’d never had to miss out on anything due to lack of funds.

Then, when I was thirteen, my dad suddenly left, and my mother, sisters and I moved into low-income housing where things were, well, interesting to say the least. Our next-door neighbours (who, by the way, had a ten year old son) spent Christmas day drinking God-knows-what and then taking turns going outside to vomit on their front lawn. We regularly heard gunshots going off in other parts of our complex. Once, when I was in grade thirteen, I saw a man naked and stoned out of his mind lying on the front doorstep of the townhouse across from ours. He was begging his brother to let him in. Instead, the brother called the police, who came and beat the naked man while he screamed, Oh God, please stop.

And honestly, I swear, I’m not telling any of this to you to make you feel sorry for me. It’s just that I felt like my friends, with their intact families living in their mid-century bungalows in their nice, tree-filled neighbourhoods, maybe didn’t really get where I was coming from. Or maybe they did. What the hell do I know?

Anyway, we didn’t have any money, which sucked for a variety of reasons. My clothes were ugly and didn’t fit properly. I couldn’t afford to go on a lot of the field trips my classmates did. I had to miss out on a bunch of stuff because I always had to babysit.

Oh, and I was awkward, which has nothing to do with money, but I just want to mention it again, in case you forgot. And ugly. I had acne like it was going out of style (hint: it was never in style).

All of this was somehow manageable, though, until grade eleven, when I was hit, hard, with my first major depressive episode. I cried all the time. I started cutting (which is another fact that makes me wince with embarrassment, but I figure that since I’ve already told you about the farting I may as well go whole-hog with the unflinching honesty). My grades plummeted. I tried antidepressant after antidepressant, but none of them really worked. I couldn’t sleep at night, so I started napping during class. I lost the ability to concentrate.

And you know what? Almost none* of my teachers seemed to give a shit, or even seemed to have any kind of clue what to do with me. None of them offered me any kind of help or sympathy. One of them, in fact, tried to have me kicked out of the arts package because I wasn’t putting enough effort into school and extracurricular activities. She even scheduled a big meeting with the administration and made my mother attend, which was pretty much the opposite of what I needed right then.

And like, I get it, you know? These teachers were all tired and overworked, and here I was, yet another teenager who wouldn’t do her homework and just wanted to mope around all the time. And they were so used to seeing their students fucked up on pot or acid or heroin (NO BUT FOR REALS, I AM NOT KIDDING, THERE WERE KIDS AT MY SCHOOL WHO DID HEROIN), that maybe seeing me strung out on Paxil and Prozac didn’t seem that different. I wasn’t especially close to most of my teachers, and probably I didn’t really make it worth their time to care.

But weren’t they supposed to care? I mean, wasn’t that their job?

Or maybe they did. Maybe I misread everything and misunderstood their advances and offers of help because I was just too wrapped up in my own misery. Maybe they wanted to be kind to me but eventually got tired of me pushing everyone away.

I was a fucking treat to be around in those days, let me tell you.

The real kicker came in grade thirteen, when I couldn’t even afford the twenty bucks for a student card. The thing was, without a student card you couldn’t collect participation points. And you needed those points to win a White E, which was the participation award that my school gave out every year. You had to do a ton of extracurricular stuff to get a White E, and I’d been only one of, like, three to win one in grade nine. I’d received one every year since, and I knew that if I got one in grade thirteen I would receive a Silver E which was, like, a Big Deal at my school.

But because the school wouldn’t let me collect those points, I had no hope of winning one. And while in retrospect this seems like an especially stupid thing for me to care about, at the same time it also seems incredibly petty of my school to not be willing to just waive the fee for me or whatever.

So anyway, then high school ended, and if I’d had any bridges to burn I would’ve burned them, but I didn’t, so I couldn’t. I just hightailed it the hell out of Ontario and decided to start a new life in Halifax as an Especially Cool Person Who Does Not Pass Gas In Public. And by and large, I succeeded.

Then I moved back to Ontario and joined Facebook and had to face all of my demons former classmates and mostly it was fine. I mean, actually it was all fine, and everyone is super nice and lovely now and no one has made fart noises within my hearing or anything like that. And some of the people I knew in high school are now my closest friends, and I don’t know what I would do without them. And I no longer dread visiting Kitchener because I’m afraid that I’ll run into someone I used to know only to have them point at me and say, “That was the girl we all laughed at in high school!”

But that still doesn’t mean that I’m able to look back fondly on my high school days, you know? And I definitely have a hard time celebrating the administration of a program that didn’t really want to lift a finger to help me when I was at my nadir. I get that lots of people found the program inspiring and life-changing and blah blah blah, but mostly it just made me feel like I was a talentless hack who was going nowhere in the arts world.

Mostly I’m just super jealous of everyone that had a good time in high school. Mostly I don’t want to go to this reunion because I don’t want to hear everyone else’s largely positive interpretations of events that were miserable and embarrassing for me. Mostly I’m just incredibly embarrassed that I’m fucking thirty and I’m still so insecure.

Fuck, you guys, I don’t know. High school fucking sucked, and the shitty part is that it sucked to a greater or lesser degree for everyone, so it’s not even like I get to be alone and special in my pain. I just happen to be the loudest about it, apparently.

Maybe we can just use this as an opportunity to wallow in our collective former misery together?

Maybe that’s the point of high school reunions, after all.

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*There were a few that cared. My grade ninth and tenth grade English teachers come to mind. In particular, my grade thirteen English teacher, gets my undying thanks for the kindness he showed me then and still shows me today. Apparently I did well, at least, with English teachers, hah.

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Bullying (or, nolite te bastardes etc.)

7 Oct

I’ve written on here about some of the less-than fun stuff I went through as a teenager, but I think that last night was the first time that I’ve ever publicly referred to it as bullying. And now I kind of want to talk about it?

A little bit of background:

I’d had the same group of friends throughout most of elementary school. The five of us had been pretty tight, spending every recess and lunch hour together, pairing up for science projects and book reports. On the weekends we would force our parents to shuttle us around the city for various playdates and sleepovers.  I’d known them for so long that I couldn’t imagine ever not being friends with them.

Then, one mid-day recess in seventh grade, my friends told me they had to talk to me.

We sat in a circle on the schoolyard pavement, near the edge of where the grassy field began. It must have been October or November, because I remember that the sky was grey and there was a chill in the air. My friends started out by saying that they’d been talking about me, and had realized that they collectively found me annoying. They told me that they’d come to the decision that they didn’t want to hang around with me anymore, and asked me to stop joining them at lunch and recess. I tried to argue with them, then tried to bargain, but it was pointless; their collective mind was made up.

Basically, they broke up with me.

What had already been a difficult year went from tough-but-manageable to downright miserable. Even before I was de-friended, I was already being picked on by my classmates for my bad skin, the way I dressed, and the nerdy things I liked. Now, not only was that all still happening, but I suddenly had no one to protect me, and no one to tell me that I wasn’t an ugly pathetic loser.

As the year went on, the kids who made fun of me became braver, making more and more publicly humiliating comments about me. One kid said that I didn’t need to use whiteout, because I could just use the pus from my pimples – the teacher laughed at that along with everyone else. Another kid wondered aloud why my clothes were so terrible, since my father was a lawyer and could almost certainly afford something better than ill-fitting sweatshirts and track pants. Boys from my class prank-called me in the evenings, pretending to ask me out – then repeating everything I’d said on the phone the next day to the rest of my class.

I didn’t tell my parents what was happening because I was embarrassed, although they must have noticed that I wasn’t being invited to my friends’ houses anymore. I didn’t want them to know how much of an outcast I’d become at school, because it seemed like it was mostly my own fault for being unlikeable. Anyway, I reasoned, even if they did know, what could they do?

When I started high school, I chose a school that almost none of my classmates were going to. The only person from my class who was coming with me was the girl I’d become close with in 8th grade, so that was fine. I figured that this was the perfect chance to start over. No one at this huge new school knew me, or knew my past; I would walk through those front doors in September as whoever I wanted to be.

I didn’t get to start over, though. Does anyone ever really get a fresh start? I still had all the problems that had led to being teased in the first place: bad skin, the wrong clothes, and geeky interests. Even worse, the last two years had left me with zero self-confidence, which meant that I was constantly second-guessing myself. Because of this I had a hard time making friends, and when I did I was clingy and jealous. I was even more of a mess when it came to boys. Boy, was I ever.

Bullies can smell a victim, and I was soon back to being the butt of the joke. I went to an arts high school where I majored in dance, and the girls in my dance class were saccharine sweet to my face (most of the time), but made fun of me as soon as my back was turned. By the end of the year I was so tired of it that I transferred out of dance class and instead majored in visual art, where I was surrounded by pretentious art school kids, stoners and comic book nerds – on the whole, a much nicer group.

I don’t mean to make it sound like I was totally friendless. I mean, yeah, I had people that I hung out with – a pretty big group of friends, actually. But even within that group I was teased. Early high school was pretty much just as shitty as late grade school.

My later high school years were better, and the same goes for university. I moved out east for school, made some great friends, and became the stunningly self-confident adult you see before you today. Things are mostly totally fine now. I am mostly fine now.

What’s strange is that now I’m friends on Facebook with a lot of the people who made me miserable (maybe some of you are reading this now – hi guys! kind of awkward! sorry!). We’ve never talked about or even acknowledged what happened; after half a lifetime of not knowing these people, we mostly just “like” each others’ statuses and comment on photos of each others’ kids. Initially, I felt awkward having them back in my life, mostly because I worried that they were still judging me and still finding me wanting, but now we’ve settled into a sort of comfortable camaraderie, reminiscing about our collective school days as if we’ve been friends all along.

Maybe they’ve forgotten what happened, or maybe it just never seemed like a big deal. Maybe they feel bad.  Maybe I’m the one with the problem. Maybe they were right, and I am a pathetic loser. Maybe they were dealing with their own stuff at the time and didn’t realize how much it sucked for me. Most likely it’s a combination of most of the above.

I find that when I talk about what happened, I use a lot of euphemisms; I’ll say that I went through a tough time when I was younger, or else that I had a bad year the year I turned 12, or any other number of variations on the same thing. I’ve been hesitant to use the word “bullying” when talking about my own circumstances, for a couple of reasons:

1. Was I even bullied? I mean, yes, I was teased, but does that count as bullying? When does it cross the line from normal kid behaviour to bullying? Or is bullying so pervasive in our culture that it now seems normal?

2. Weirdly, I feel anxious about what the people who are my friends now will think of the fact that I was such a loser. There’s a part of me that thinks that they’ll start to reconsider our friendship, start to notice all of the less-than-stellar components of my personality.

3. Saying that I was bullied is admitting that I also became a bully later in high school. I made fun of people, talked behind their backs, told secrets. I was even party to making a girl cry in 11th grade chemistry class. I was mean, and I liked being mean.

I do think that it’s important to start a dialogue about this, especially in reference to the first point. In the wake of Jennifer Livingston’s on-air response to an email criticizing her weight, in which she refers to the man who sent her the email as a bully, there has been a lot of discussion about what qualifies as bullying, and whether or not it was the appropriate word to use in that instance. David Dickson, chairman of the Bullying Prevention Initiative of California, says“Bullying, normally, is what someone, in a very mean spirited way, continually and on a repeated basis, does to another person, typically in a social setting in front of other people…It was a stupid letter he wrote, but he commented privately.” 

Now, I’m not an expert on bullying, and none of the definitions that I’ve found online have really been satisfactory, but it seems wrong to ignore this entire discussion just because what happened doesn’t fit Dickson’s fairly narrow definition of what bullying is. Whether or not the letter sent to Livingston was public, it was certainly hurtful and unnecessary, especially considering that she’s likely spent a lifetime of facing comments like that. Also, it sucks to have a so-called bullying expert be so condescending and dismissive, especially when bullying in our culture is so often dismissed as kids just being kids (or, in this case, fat ladies just being too sensitive).

Maybe Dickson wouldn’t consider what I went through to be bullying. I mean, sure, it was public, and it was often mean-spirited, but maybe it wasn’t very mean-spirited, or maybe it wasn’t repeated or continual enough. Maybe it was just teenagers being dicks to each other, and I’m just an oversensitive lady-type. Usually writing things out here makes them clearer (and hey, it’s cheaper than therapy), but this time it just makes them seem murkier and more confused. Was I the one with the problem? Were they the ones with the problem? Was I undeserving of friends? Am I still?

What I do know is this: I’m tired of pretending that nothing happened, and I’m tired of feeling like I did something wrong and have something to hide. I’m tired of waiting for all of my friends to discover that once-upon-a-time I wasn’t cool, and then to high-tail it out of my life – so take that, brain, a pre-emptive admission of uncoolness. Most of all, I wouldn’t want any other kid to feel as shitty as I did.

So yeah. Can we talk about this?

Me at age thirteen, centre, with my cousins and sister.