Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It Gets Better, Pt. 3

As a child I learned how to dream big. The downside of dreaming big, is if the dream is not acheived, the feeling of failure is just as big.

When I was 10 years old my parents decided we were moving out of the urban jungle of Littleton, and moving to the small town of Castle Rock. They painted a landscape of stretches of farmland, small town ideal, and small town people. My first day of school at Rock Ridge Elementary I imagined meeting kids who looked like the children from "The Waltons": dressed in sensible farm clothing with warm and welcoming small town attitudes. Dream big, fail big.

My teacher, Mrs. Carter, warmly greeted me and sat me at a desk pod with two other girls. I was amazed by them: the prettiest girls in class, wearing very nice and expensive looking clothes. When Mrs. Carter introduced me to them, they were very welcoming. They never really spoke to me much after that, except to express their distate with me. My very first day in a new school, in a new town, my hopes of a fresh start were very quickly dashed. Dream big, fail big.

In fifth grade I was introduced to "Jungle Gym Politics". The jungle gym was a heirarchy of sorts; the popular kids had first access and whoever they invited was allowed to be graced jungle gym time. I was never invited. Ever. I spent a lot of my time, as I did in Littleton, underneath the Jungle Gym. I occasionally had the audacity to climb onto the jungle gym without permission, which would be met with jeers and teasing. I would either quietly ignore them while I took my turn on the slide, or fiercely defend myself.

On one occasion a group of girls cornered me, accusing me of stealing a headband that was similar to another girls headband. I was so tired of being teased and bullied I did something I never did before: I fought back with physical force. A circle of girls surrounded me and kept trying to snatch the headband from me, and all I could think of was my prior experience of having my clothes ripped off of me and being cornered like an animal. When my accuser took another swipe at my headband, I leapt at her, grabbed her by the arms and started kicking her shins as hard as I could. It was at this moment of self defense, that a teacher finally interjected. She swooped into my mob and snatched me.

"Summer! Why are you kicking her?!"

I was in shock. I thought she'd be on my side immediately, without having to explain myself. I was surrounded by a mob of angry 11 year old girls. In my head I couldn't understand why I shouldn't kick her. I mumbled a poor excuse that she was being mean to me, I was defending myself, etc. The teacher shook me and told me it's always wrong to kick and hit and told me to go inside. I wasn't punished by the school, but being reprimanded in front of my angry mob hurt worse. I felt weak, vulnerable, and unworthy of being protected by the faculty.

After that I decided I'd never let anyone tease me again. I'd fight every word, every push, and every tease. They would be met with my vitriol. If anyone pushed me, I'd push them back. If someone teased me I would think of the nastiest, meanest thing I could think of to say back, and if I couldn't think of a clever stab I'd simply say "F*ck you!". I began cursing at a very young age. It hasn't gotten any better with age.

The sixth grade was much less painful than fifth, mostly because I actually started making friends. I remember one night before going to bed, I asked my mom to pray with me that I might make friends at school. She clasped her hands over mine, we closed our eyes, and I prayed as hard as I could for friends. The next day a new girl started in my class, who reminded me of Dawn from my "Babysitter's Club" books. I had to be her friend. I don't remember how I approached her, or how we even became friends, but I do remember being overjoyed to run home and tell my mom that I made a friend at school that day. (And if you're reading, thank you for changing my life)

Sixth grade also carried my very first confused feeling for a girl. A tall, pretty, full-lipped, dark haired girl. I remember not being able to stop looking at her, and being afraid of why I felt that way. When I was little, my feelings for my friend D never confused me. They just were; but the way I felt about this girl haunted me. While all my female classmates were cooing over Corey or Anson, I couldn't stop thinking about her. That was when I learned to make up fake crushes. If I said I had a crush on Anson, nobody would know my unforbidden crush and make my life even worse than it was for being the class chubby girl.

I entered seventh grade at Castle Rock Middle School. I was lucky to have a small handful of faithful friends by this point. The bullying wasn't as frequent, but where I stood on the social ladder was probably beneath the bottom rung. It was in seventh grade that I learned that I was not the only person in the world open to teasing and bullying. I also learned of a social class that I learned very much to love: The Nerds.

Unlike my classmates at the time, I don't use Nerds as a negative connotation; on the contrary, I used Nerd as a lable of admiration and respect. To me Nerds were intelligent, committed to their hobbies and studies, and unapoligetically themselves. They weren't willing to change for anyone. In my science & math class, I sat next to the most prominent Nerds in my grade. I had never before seen boys get as badly teased as they were. I hated how they were treated, but I was afraid to stick up for them. I learned the hard way when I was younger; sticking up for a fellow down-trodden would only get me in trouble. As an act of self-preservation, I never stuck up for the Nerds, but I always treated them with kindness. In turn, they helped me with class assignments. It was a kindred understanding between two of the underlings of school society.

The forum for most taunting was usually the cafeteria, and it was always the same kids: the fattest boy in class and his jock friends, and the "cowgirls" (female hicks to me) who, I'm sorry, were the ugliest and most unintelligent girls I'd ever seen. They all took turns coming to my table, and would make fun of me for the simple act of eating my lunch. I can see why I might have made a reputation in the seventh grade as being an angry young girl, because I was never afraid to scream "Go f*ck yourself!" across the cafeteria. Their twisted red faces would laugh back at me, unaffected.

For all the downs of middle school, I did have many ups. I had made some of the best friends I've ever had, who are still my friends to this day. In addition, my love for theatre was born, after being cast as Mrs. McCready in the school musical, "Narnia". I also experienced a random act of kindness from a boy, which I'd never experienced in my life before.

It's never fails to amaze me how a moment in time can have such an impact on a person's life. A small random act of kindness or patience can stay with a person for the rest of their life. This particular random act of kindness started with a random act of slapping.

In science, the class was gathered around the teachers station, to view whatever it was she was teaching that day. Very unexpectedly, I felt a slap on the back of my head. I spun around to look at the culprit; a boy who I never really paid attention to before. "Sorry!", he said, smiling down at me. Anyone else might have taken his sorry and smile as sincere, but I took it as sarcasm for a purposeful slap. I gave him a nasty look and turned back around, biting down on my trembling lip. "No really, I'm sorry, it was an accident!", he said, and put his hand on my shoulder. I looked back and smiled at him and muttered thanks, and turned back to the lesson. In that seemingly small and unimportant gesture, he instilled hope that at some point in my life, things will get better.

Unfortunately, when high school started, things got worse before they got better.

This is the third part of a series of short stories in accordance to the "It Gets Better" campaign. I would have done a video but I'm having a bad hair day.

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