I had a very best friend in elementary school. From fourth grade on, we were inseparable at school and shared a love of horses and Charlie's Angels. She even had a horse, so in the summers, I got to go along to her uncle's farm and ride and take care of horses. I took pride in the fact that our sixth grade teacher had to separate us because we talked too much. It was fabulous.
We started 7th grade and everything changed. She wasn't my friend any more. If I sat by her, she would walk away with her new friends or her new boyfriend. There was no explanation. I can't remember what , if anything, happened the summer leading up to 7th grade - if we had just been out of touch or if something had happened - but the school year was a painful experience. The girl who had the locker next to me also started slamming hers open, blocking mine, and being a real pain. I don't know why - she wasn't the nicest girl but we had actually had sleepovers in years past. I responded poorly to these things - particularly by 7th grade standards. I'm sure I was supposed to cry and beg to be reinstated to the pack, but instead I got a different locker - away from everyone else. I isolated - hiding out in the library during break time and not even attempting to sit with anyone at lunch. And I got weirder and weirder. Keep in mind I was a year younger than most of the kids in my grade - having started school at age 4 with a November birthday. So at the start of 7th grade, hormones had likely kicked in for everyone else but I was only 11 - perhaps that was a contributing factor. But I also started refusing to shower and comb my hair, and I know that I said and did other weird things, probably all in a defensive response to hide how much I was hurt. It was awful.
By 8th grade, I had gravitated toward the other misfit kids. I had a new best friend who was so bitter and angry at the "popular crowd" that it made me uncomfortable even then. She still carries that resentment with her to this day. But I had already firmly affixed the "kick me" sticker to my back and I was the target of lots of bullying, even by kids two or more years older than us. It was awful but I never let them see me upset and I never fought back, oddly enough. I take a small amount of pride in that. But I didn't want to be involved in anything. I hid in my room at home and rarely left the house. Instead, I read hundreds of books and fabricated thousands of stories to entertain myself.
In 9th grade, it was decided that my family was moving out of state. My dad had taken a stab at self-employment which failed and I'm sure home life was stressful for financial and other adult reasons, but I have to admit I was self-absorbed enough that I had no idea. I met a boy from another town that fall, when I was at an out of town football game with friends. He was a sophomore. I remember he wrote me at least one letter (classic memory of my 6'5" brother holding it over my head and teasing that "someone got a letter from a booooyyy!" I probably punched him in the stomach...). When our girls basketball team played in his town, he came to my 9th grade game and then sat with me during the older kids' games. It was horribly embarrassing to me. Then in November there was a girls basketball tournament for the varsity teams in our town over a weekend. He came and actually put his hand on my knee at the game and tried to hold my hand. I was horrified! Poor guy. I hid from him after that for the rest of the tournament. Maturity in relationships has clearly never been my forte.
In any event, we moved to Minnesota in November of my 9th grade year. I was thrilled to be leaving, even as I was scared about it. My poor isolated self didn't know what to do in my new school. At 5'10", the basketball coach immediately approached me - I probably growled at him. Remember Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club? I might not have looked like her, but I felt inside like she looked - just wanting to crawl into my turtleneck sweater and hide. The rest of 9th grade was a bit of a dark blur. I wasn't happy but I wasn't being teased and tortured either, so maybe hope was starting to rise in me that life could be better. I worked at the nursing home that next summer, so I was out of the house and keeping busy.
By the time 10th grade started, I knew I wanted a different life than this isolated, depressed hole I was in. I spent the first couple weeks of school thinking about what I wanted instead, and at one point I decided to make a move. This really friendly, bubbly girl rode my school bus. I often saved her a seat, since she was in my grade. Friendly, social and bubbly was not anything even remotely familiar to me - at least not in the last three years - and maybe that's drew me in...one day on the bus I asked her if I could hang out with her and her friends that day. She said "sure!" and she meant it. That was a life changing moment. Looking at it from this distance, it brings tears to my eyes. That I had the courage to say those words, and that the right person was there to hear me say them...(since I know you are reading this, a side note shout-out: I am blessed to know you my dear friend and I hope you know how grateful I am to the 16 year old you for being so kind to the 15 year old me).
I have been thinking of this blog as another step in my series of personal growth periods - the times when I consciously took a big step or a big turn in my life, knowing that nothing would ever be the same. I initially thought that there had probably been three or four of those periods - and I've credited most of the iniative for personal growth to outside influences. But the more I write about various events in my life, I see so many conscious decisions I took along the way, based solely on my own desire to find a happier way to live. I can't tell you how empowering it feels to say that out loud.