This morning on the wonderful KEXP, the equally wonderful John Richards was talking about the nasty effects of bullying and mean kids, and sharing stories listeners had sent in, which made me decide to write up this little anecdote. It’s not as dramatic or harrowing as many a mean-kid story, but it’s ultimately rather satisfying. And maybe it’ll make some other fellow nerd feel better.
So: in middle school, in the late 1980s, I was probably the shortest kid in my class, due to being also the youngest. (I had skipped first grade. I don’t recommend anyone do this to their kid, especially if the kid is already small and shy.) Nonetheless, I had a sweet friend—we’ll call her Sara—with whom I hung out at lunch break. As you know perfectly well, having someone with whom to hang out at lunch break is EVERYTHING.
In seventh grade, this savvy popular girl, whom we’ll call Jen, befriended Sara, and with her flankers of popular friends, started hanging out with us at lunch too. Cool!
Or maybe not cool. Because one day during lunch break, Jen said to Sara, “We need to talk about…” and made a friendly wince, which somehow I knew was about me. Indeed, she then turned to me and said, all apologetic, that while we were still friends, “they” just didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. Sara, to her credit, was looking unhappy and mumbling, “I don’t want to do this.”
But it happened anyway. I backed off—why hang out with people who don’t want you?—and Sara stayed with Jen, and I wandered around wondering what I was supposed to do at lunch break now.
Fortunately two other girls, at a popularity level more equal to my own (ha, I love you guys, you know what I mean, though) invited me to sit with them after a while, and we stuck together the rest of middle school. (We went to separate high schools, though, alas.) So I wasn’t friendless. But I wasn’t exactly undamaged, either.
I ran into Sara in the neighborhood some time later, incidentally. She apologized for what had happened, and said glumly that Jen did the same thing to her not long afterward. Nice. Poor Sara. Still, the rift had been made by then, and Sara and I never really hung out after that, even though as far as I knew she remained a truly nice person.
Jen and I went to different high schools and I didn’t see her for a long time. Then we both ended up at University of Oregon. I joined a sorority in the first “Rush” (recruitment period) of the year. So I was a member of a house already when Jen’s name showed up in the next Rush, in the spring: she had apparently decided to join the Greek system too.
One day I happened to be in the dorm lunch line right in front of her. She put on this big smile and said, “You’re…(squinting, searching for the name) Molly, right? From Corvallis?”
I smiled coolly and said, “Yes. We were at Highland View together.” Emphasis on the name of our middle school. Like, you do remember what you did to me there?
She said nothing about it if she did remember. “I thought you looked familiar! So you’re in a house now, right?”
I said yes, Tri-Delta. She said great, she was looking forward to Rush! I nodded, wished her luck, and moved ahead to get lunch.
I didn’t have to talk to her when she toured our house during Rush, as far as I recall, which was probably for the best. Maybe she had changed in all those years anyway, I thought. I shouldn’t hold middle school behavior over anyone’s head. So when the Rush day was over and the whole sorority gathered to collect notes on who everyone had met and what they thought and thus who we should invite back, I kept my mouth shut about her. The sorority sister in charge of recruitment said Jen’s name and looked up for comments, pencil at the ready.
I didn’t move or say a word. But other women’s hands shot up, those who had met her just today.
“I found her kind of negative and judgmental,” one said.
“When we were done,” said another, “I walked her to the door and she said ‘bye’ all cheerfully, then she marched over to her friend on the sidewalk, hit her hard on the arm, and said, ‘Where WERE you?’ She just does not seem like a very good friend.”
There were other similar comments. And I just sat there smiling calmly, saying nothing, feeling the flow of the sweet, sweet karma.
Needless to say, she did not join our house, and I never had to deal with her again.
Jen’s “crimes” were minor compared to those of many mean kids and bullies. Wasn’t I probably that mean to some other kid, at some time, if I search through my past? True, I don’t think I ever told anyone I didn’t want to hang out with them anymore, in front of their friends who I was stealing, but I know I was a jerk in some way to some people. And to those people I absolutely offer a heartfelt apology, if they’re out there reading this. So, Jen, if you ever apologize to me, I suppose I’ll forgive you. But I have the weirdest suspicion you wouldn’t even remember me.
How unfortunate for you that I’M A WRITER NOW AND CAN MANIPULATE OUR STORY IN WHICHEVER CONVINCING WAY I CHOOSE, muhahaha.
Moral of story: don’t be mean to anyone at all, because some of those people might grow up to be writers.