Middle school killed my innocence. That’s all there is to it really. Although life at home was overly dramatic and stressful, I still thought that we were pretty much normal. Going to middle school meant a new group of friends, new experiences, harder classes and the emergence of peer cruelty.
I remember being so excited on day 1. I walked into my English class (favorite subject) and sat down in the front. I was determined to be the best student in the school, to prove my intelligence. The teacher, I shall call her Mrs. Holt, was calling role. Upon reading my surname, she looked up at me and her kind expression changed in a heartbeat.
I have failed to mention up to this point I think, odd thing with my brothers and I, although we were many years apart in age we all looked the same. We all had fair skin, long blonde hair, green eyes and were tall.
Apparently, the resemblance was stronger than I realized because she spotted me. It had been at least five years since my brother had graced her doorstep (and ten years for the other one), but her gaze settled on me. Those initially friendly blue eyes turning icy, her lips pressing.
“Are you related to ***** and *******?” her words were frigid, her disdain palpable.
Not realizing the fact that I was standing on a steep slope I responded, “Yes, ma’am. Those are my older brothers.” She moved towards my desk. I was still completely unaware of the danger approaching. When she pulled the knife, I didn’t even notice it until my decapitated head was rolling along the floor.
Ok, that’s a lie. I was worried that you might be getting bored, thought I’d amp it up a bit. She did not in face murder me, at least not physically. What she did do however had the exact same impact on my fragile soul.
In the nastiest voice that any adult had ever used against me she said, “You can go ahead and choose now. Either move to the back of the class or get out, I won’t put up with another one of your family disrupting the class.” I was mortified. I heard the whispers all around me. I wanted to melt. She stood before me waiting and I realized she meant it. I got out of my chair and moved to the back of the room with thirty sets of eyes on me and a reputation that I would never be able to shake off. In that moment I hated school, I hated her and I hated myself.
That was day 1. I had good days and bad days, just like anyone else. I was excited because I had a new set of friends, they were eighth graders and I was in sixth, which meant they were extra special in my eyes. I ate lunch with them, had PE with them. There were four girls total. The first two, Tiffany and Jaime, were both kind and quirky and I adored them. They were both shy and self-conscious.
I quickly became close to Tiffany. As we talked and starting spending time together outside of school the weird irony that our grandparents and parents had been friends came out. Our families had been connected for literally generations.
To me she was the prettiest girl I had ever met. She was naturally thin with beautiful dark curls and blue eyes. At first it was impossible to not be jealous of her. I soon realized how kind she was and forgot that I was the ugly one. I will not go into every aspect of our friendship (which lasted years) but I do want to illustrate two things in particular that I learned from it.
I learned that truly kind people don’t judge. Tiffany and Jaime were truly kind. We went skating together, they came to my house, I went to their homes and I never felt different. I always felt welcome and comfortable. They never pointed out any differences and so, although I knew that my family was poor by this point and believed theirs were rich, it was never mentioned. We were just friends.
I decided I was going to have a slumber party for my 13th birthday. I didn’t bother telling my parents because, well it just didn’t occur to me. I invited all four of the girls that were my “friends” and that I hung out with every day. On the Friday Tiffany and Jaime came home with me after school and my mother was horrified, warning her would have been nice.
A third “friend” I shall call her Amy Bitchell, also came home with me. She walked in my house looked around with wide eyes and said, “Oh my God, this is disgusting.” My mother was standing in the front room with us and I saw her expression. The hurt in her eyes is something that still haunts me. Bitchell either did not notice, or did not care.
I can’t remember what all Bitchell said, she went on and on ranting. Tiffany and Jaime tried to get her to stop; I could tell they were embarrassed for me. I was mortified. Bitchell called her mother, in front of us all.
“Mom, you have to come get me I’m going to get lice if I stay here.” and on, and on … By that point, my mother had turned away and went to her room crying. I was shaking with rage. Once off the phone I told her in no uncertain terms to get the hell out and she said “Gladly” and slammed the door behind her.
Have you ever fallen down so hard that your breath is knocked out of you? That solid heavy feeling that you get in your chest; like a weight is crushing you and you can’t even gasp? That is how I remember feeling.
There was an awkwardness that had never existed before with my friends as Amy left. I looked at them and I silently questioned why they were really there. I realized how unimportant I was, how different. I felt completely separate from them. My mind said that it had all been fake. They had been pretending, because they were kind. Amy was not.
My world felt shattered and I don’t think I recovered from that feeling for many years.
Thanks a lot, Amy. Hope you’re doing well.