Thursday, October 14, 2010

Worst thing about Middle School? Chompers.

There has been a lot of talk about bullying lately, in the news media and elsewhere.  It's a big issue, and one that is close to my heart.  I've thought about writing down one of my bully stories as a "blast from the past" entry before, but figured it would be a bit too personal.  However, after reading this post by a great blogger, I decided that writing what you're afraid of isn't such a bad idea.  The writing below isn't great, fyi (a lot of showing instead of telling - it's a memory, after all), but if you feel like reading a bully story, read on!

Not much in life is more difficult than being thirteen.  I mean fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen were pretty bad, but thirteen really stands out to me as one of my worst years.  It was the year I was offically Defriended.

When I was younger, my mum had this book about workplace politics.  I think it was from the seventies or something, because the cover had that swirly seventies font on it and the colours were all faded and retro.  The book simplified workplace politics by using shapes.  It said that each person was a circle of energy.  We all start out the same size, but as we go on, some circles can shrink or grow.  The most common way for circles to grow was to take bites out of other circles.  But, then, where does that leave the circle that was bitten?  Smaller, of course.  And, apparently smaller circles are easier to nibble on, so the smaller someone’s circle gets, the more of a target she becomes.  It went on to talk about more positive ways to grow and yadda yadda, but the main thing that stuck with me was this image of a person’s energy just taking a chomp out of another’s for their own gain.

For me, that’s what being thirteen was all about.  Middleschoolers are chompers.  I’m not going to delve into the why, because there are plenty of people out there now talking about that.  I’m just going to give one example of how, my own.

I moved to North Carolina after grade six.  Most kids in the little town where I went to school had been living there since they were in diapers.  Their mum’s smoked pot together.  They knew each other’s secrets.  They’d dated each other’s brothers.  This was something I just couldn’t relate to, having moved around so much in my younger years.

It was really difficult to break in.

But, by grade 8, I thought I had.  I mean, I’d encountered a chomper here or there through the semesters, but I always felt like I had a relatively close core group of friends that I could turn to.  I’d even landed a boyfriend at one point (even though I dumped him two weeks later because I didn’t like the blue plaid vest he wore to the school dance).  

I was part of the alternative crowd, the kind of grungy artistic misfits.  There was a girl in this group who, I’ll admit, I admired.  We’ll call her Raven, because that (tacky as it is) kind of suits her.  Raven was a no-nonsense kind of chick who always had the greatest school photo because she stared down the camera with a death glare.  Despite all that, her personality was magnetic.  People were drawn to her been-there-done-that confidence.  She was frank, honest, and really good at soccer. :)

Raven and I were both in the drama club in grade eight, when the high school handed us this amazing opportunity.  A select few from our club could go up and be extras in their production of Alice in Wonderland.  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven because, in my mind, I was destined for the stage.

During rehearsals, there was a lot of down time.  We were extras, after all.  I still remember the banana coloured tiles that lined the hallway outside the theater in the high school.  We all sat in on the floor, resting our heads on our flannel shirts and listening to the Grateful Dead on our walkmans. (walkmen? lol)

People huddled in pairs or threes, chatting about weekend plans or their latest Alice in Chains cd.  This is when I started to notice the pattern.  The pattern that I was left out of.  I was never in one of those huddles, unless I forced my way in.

I still remember the day I really realized something was off.  There had been hints here and there that I was being excluded - concerts that people “forgot” to invite me to, rides that never showed up, giggles behind my back.  I always managed to explain them away somehow.  My friends wouldn’t exclude me on purpose, would they?  

But this one day, I returned from the bathroom to our little squat on the hallway floor to a series of hushes.  Like a director had been there to orchestrate it, the open spot in the circle was swallowed up and all I was met with were backs.  Chompers, I like I told you.

The feeling defies words.  Your cheeks sting, like someone’s burning the skin from behind.  Then, the needles hit your eyeballs and you have to blink because you know you might cry, even though that’s the last thing you want to do.  A sort of lump rises in your throat.  No, it’s not like that.  It’s more like everything above your abdomen seizes up and twists together into a giant knot.  You can’t breathe, you can’t swallow, your heart is pounding.

The worst part is, in your mind, you just keep playing all of the stupid things you’ve done.  Awkward comments you’ve made, ridiculous questions you’ve asked.  They all hit you like slaps while your brain tells you, “Of course they don’t like you.  Look at yourself.”

I can’t tell you how alone I felt.  I mean, these were my friends.  These were the people I went to when other people chomped on me.  I didn’t realize that your own friends could chomp you too.
I went, with my book, to find another corner in the banana hallway.  Whatever, if they didn’t like me, I didn’t need them anyway.

But I did, of course.  When I got home, the tears came.  My poor mom, always a bit too connected to my emotions, frantically tried to figure out a way to make it right.  Sidenote to the Moms out there: let me just tell you, it’s beyond your control.  Anything you do can make things worse.  She listened, and didn’t call their mums to bitch them out, thank god.

I wanted to know why, though.  I couldn’t just let sleeping dogs lie.  So, the next day, with shaking hands, I picked up the phone and called one of my “friends.”


“Hey M, it’s Amanda.”


“What’s up?”

“Um.  Nothing.”

Deep breath.  “Okay, so I’m just going to jump right in.  I noticed that you guys, well - everyone, has been ignoring me lately. it my imagination?”  My voice seemed to raise two octaves over those three sentences.

Silence.  Finally, “No...."

“No what?”

“No, it’s not your imagination.  We just...decided not to be your friend anymore.”  Pause.  “I’m really sorry.”

My mouth fell open.  “WHAT!?”  People do that!?  They just decide to de-friend someone, as a GROUP!?  Apparently they do.

“Yeah.  Well, after spring break when you came back with the same haircut as Raven, she called you a poser.  And...well, we all agreed.  So...”

“I got that haircut over Spring Break!  I hadn’t even seen Raven!  How could that make me a poser!?”  

Actually, scratch that.  I didn’t say that.  At the time, I had no spine.  Instead, I said, “Oh.  Okay.  Well, thanks for being my friend till now.”

And then I hung up.

Time to find new friends I guess.

WHEW!  I feel like I just vomited into my blog.  Sorry, guys.  Anyway, do any of you have stories of being bullied?  Come on, share with me your war-tales from the battlefields of junior high.


  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing that. I'm sitting here crying now because something very similar happened to me. And even though it was...well a very long time ago, it still hurts. You described it so perfectly it really took me back to that time. Don't feel bad, that's what great writers do.

    Aren't you glad we're all grown up.

  2. Man, I hated high school. Seriously. (I guess I was lucky enough to avoid the phenomenon of junior high!)

    I was never obviously bullied or was like people didn't even care enough to do that. I was a cheerleader, but not cool enough to hang with that clique. The irony was that I was 'too' cool to be accepted by non-cheerleaders/jocks, and all my good childhood friends went to a different school. So, while I didn't have any painful one-on-one encounters like you did, it was just a very lonely four years! It doesn't seem like a big deal, but when I think about it, I know that it's had a lasting impression on me. Now, I always go into a new situation/environment just assuming that I'm going to be alone there, and am pretty surprised when people actually show interest in me. But on the positive side, it has made me really appreciate my 'real' friends. I'd much rather have a handful of people I can count on than be the most popular girl, and I have that, so I can't complain!

    It's kind of funny though...when facebook hit its peak a few years ago, I had alllllll these random high school people, especially the ones who NEVER gave me the time of day, requesting friendship. I'm like ' know my name?' Go figure, eh?

  3. Melissa: Oh no! I didn't mean to make anyone cry! Things got much better in college. The story ends happily after all. :)

    Laura: Funny, while I was writing this, I was thinking about "bullying by exclusion." It happens to so many people, but has a much smaller profile than real hardcore bullying like name calling or even physical things. But it hurts just as much. (okay, maybe not quite as much as getting punched in the face. But maybe!)

    Also, the facebook thing? Yes. Like everyone wanted to be friends. I wanted to be like "You know you never once spoke to me in school?"

  4. OMGosh, you have just taken me right back to high school, and exactly the same feelings that I had (gulp. Very well written. I too was bullied by what I thought were my friends. It is the worst feeling in the world and should not happen, but it does. I guess it's what only makes you stronger. But does it? I agree what Lo said - it does make an impression on how you go through life, and if you are a fairly emotional sort of person like I am, when I go into new situations I get down right nervous on whether people are going to like me. It's amazing what kind of effect these childhood memories can have later on in life isn't it!

    Big smiles though... and breath... we are older now :)

  5. The Mom's side of the story:

    Call from daughter - OMG! My world is ending! I have no one on earth who cares about me (Moms do NOT count) and everything is horrible and I have no friends and it will never be right again ....

    Mom - no sleep for 24 hours worrying that it's totally her fault that said child is suffering what must surely be the end of her social life, if nothing else.

    Mom - calls child the next day in something of a panic - ARE YOU OK??? Ready to apologize for every wrong - because, as we all know, all daughters suffer from any number of pains and disabilities and injustices as a result of errant parenting.

    Child - Mom, oh, gee, sorry - I'm too busy because, right after I talked to you last night (before your totally sleepless and guilty night) all of my many friends called me and now I'm trying to juggle multiple social engagements. So, after I decide which fabulous thing I'm going to do with which of my favorite friends (who might have totally dissed me last night), I might have time to give you a call - maybe Wednesday? Does that work for you? Oh ... wait! Wednesday won't work - how about Sunday?


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