Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Growing Up

I’m feeling contemplative again today, so here’s another story about my distant youth.

When I was in Junior High there were “clicks” whose lines were never crossed. Parish the thought that a nerd should date a jock or a band geek attend a cool kid’s party.

The top of the food chain were the girls I’ll call the Sweethearts. They were the ones afforded their popular status by their beauty but who reigned with a benevolent hand, being incongruously kind and intelligent as well as gorgeous. These girls (for they were mostly girls) were the ones whom the rest of us revered from a distance but who seemed at the same time attainable. As if they MIGHT be your friend if only you were lucky enough to have an “in” like a seat next to one of them. These were the girls that you would have hated if not for the “but”. They were the ones whom JR high fame was a right, a given.

Below them but always scratching desperately at their door were the Climbers. These were the kids who WANTED to be cool, who declared themselves cool, who were cruel in their quest to dominate; these are the kids who would tear you down to impress the rest, who would make an example of lesser mortals whom they would seek to destroy. I think that these are the type kids whom the recent school shootings are caused in part by. Nothing makes them happier than to “dog” someone to the point of tears. Sadly, they were “cool” and the rest of us would have given ANYTHING to be one, blind as we were to their toxicity yet conscious of the fact that Sweetheart status was unattainable but Climber status could be bought.

The third rung down were the Fringes; the kids who were neither cool nor uncool. This was the group that housed the regular kids. The ones whose clothes were not right enough to be cool but were right enough to not be lame. This was the swing group; if you were here you could see yourself there. Out of pity or old alliance you might find yourself at a cool party, you might be called upon as a lab partner to someone cool, your nerdliness might buy you enough time to catapult yourself up a rung or two. Fringe kids had fun amongst themselves and mostly escaped adolescence unharmed.

At the bottom, of course, were the Losers. These were the REALLY fat kids, the really poor kids or the really weird kids. There weren’t very many of them and they kept to themselves. Wary was the soul who was stuck with one for an assigned partner for they were potential social death and much was made of the horror of accidentally touching one.

Though firmly a Fringe, I found myself inexplicably a Climber one day. How I got there, I do not recall. But I was grateful. I changed my hair, my clothes and my friends; throwing out the old like so much dirty water. For nine months I was one of the in crowd. Even at the time, I think I did not like them so much. But once you have felt the sun, going underground seems a ridiculous idea.

In the spring of that year, now comfortable enough with my status to no longer consider myself an outsider, I was surprised to find no seat saved for me at lunch. The Climbers didn’t bother to explain; instead looking at me with the thinly veiled disgust one generally regards squished bugs or dog poo. By the end of the day I was hearing rumors about myself. Nothing outrageous, but none the less hurtful. By the end of the week notes that said “U R A FAT LOOOOSER” or “BITCH” were being left on my locker, in my book bag, on my desk. By the end of the following week the rumors were the sort that gets kids today suspended or arrested. Junior High had officially become one of the deeper levels of hell.

Somehow, I had lost my tenuous hold in the Climber world and was at limbo. The Losers were still beneath me and I doubt they would have had me anyway and the Fringers; having been unceremoniously ditched by me were none too welcoming either. I was alone, well and truly and on some level deservedly. I was miserable. I hated going to school. I wanted to die. My confidence was shaken to a level that it would not recover from during my school years and maybe not even now. What I had viewed with such ease, what I had believed; that I was likeable, that I was pretty, that I was smart, that I was something, was gone. I was adrift, confused, and morose. Looking back I wonder how I made it through eight hour days five days a week of unrelenting mind fucking by people who days before had been my BFF. Proof that kids are resilient I suppose.

Luckily summer came and with it a respite from the torture. By the time school started again, I was sick. Desperate not to be a Loser, I wasn’t willing to whimper my way back into the Fringe pack. In the way that kids do though, the prior year had been forgotten. The queen of the Climbers and her closest minions had fallen out and she was out. The Fringe had welcomed me back; forgiven after my summer of banishment, but B the queen Climber who had orchestrated so much pain was left in the cold. Lunch tables were closed to her, all bus seats were taken, lab partners, gym teams and report groups were chosen with her left on the sides to beg a spot. On one hand, I think I felt bad for her. But mostly not. Mostly I was glad that she should see what life was like for everyone else.

Seeing her dethroned and unceremoniously cast out was the single best thing that could have happened for my self esteem. I spent the year floating between the Sweethearts and the Fringe carefully avoiding all the Climbers.

By the end of the year we scattered to different high schools across the city and B moved away to California never to be heard from again. The rest of the Climbers one by one fell away and joined other groups and some even became human again. Many did not, but they ceased to matter in my world.

As much as I would still skip that part of my life if given the chance to rewrite it, I learned a lot. I learned that true friends forgive and that truly beautiful people are the ones who are kind and welcoming to others. I learned that what other says matters more than we like to admit and as such being judicious in our words is important. Most important, the lesson that I carry to this day is what goes around comes around.

I sometimes wonder what happened to B. I hope that she grew a conscious. I hope that life was cruel enough to her that she learned to be kind. I hope that the kids at her new school saw her for what she was and kept their distance. I hope that she made friends who didn’t bond through torture.

I hope she remembers me. I hope that some day she thinks back to what she did and feels guilty and wishes she could find me to apologize.

I just hope she doesn’t want to do it on the Jerry Springer show, because I also secretly hope she got fat and we all know what fat, bitchy trash does on that show and I’m just a little too ghetto not to throw a chair right back at her.

0 little kittens say Meow: