I'm deep in the throes of my memoir classes... let's get sappy, shall we?
Broken hearts are a part of life. There are just so many people to love and ways to love them that we're all bound to be let down by shitty timing, or selfish choices, or our own misaligned intentions. I've broken some hearts. And my heart has been shattered a few times, mostly by friends, and most of them female.
My first real heartbreak came in the 5th grade, not from my sweet mutual crush, Josef Nelson, but from my three best friends. Two blondes and a redhead. Varying degrees of girly, tomboyish, dark humored, and mischievous. I don't know at what point we all became shit-disturbing bullies, but I know it turned a lot more sour than any of us thought was possible. In the fifth grade our games were numerous and nuanced. We were learning how to curse, and make fun of the younger kids in the elementary school next door (our small town school went from grades 5-8, and high school had to be attended in one of the bigger, neighboring towns). We were pranking other kids and laughing at so-called 'dorks' from various posts on the playground. We had certainly shifted paths from our inseparable 4th grade days of flying kites and doing rain dances at recess. We cared a lot more about our hair and nails and outfits, about gossip, and status, and finding ways to seem better than our peers or teachers.
"You guys are f**king stupid," I exclaimed one day in a huff, and stomped off. I don't remember why I thought this or why I felt compelled to state it out loud, explicitly. Especially with the f-word... not usually my style but I was frustrated with our little group. I didn't like the pecking order. I was tired of pranks and manipulation and intentionally malicious gossip. I was tired of caring about so many things besides school, which had gotten more difficult and required a lot more attention and study. I was struggling to understand wind cycles in science class, and I wanted more time to focus on my love for Josef Nelson. It was the birth of my lifelong aversion to 'cattiness'. But it didn't end with my calling it stupid and storming away. .It had only begun.
It was three against one, and they made that clear. They cornered me in the gym locker room to make me feel small, snickered in my periphery when I spoke up in class, and used their rapidly growing gossip muscles to turn other students against me. It sucked. I tried to ignore it and it got worse. I made it through one particularly ruthless morning, then called my mom from the school payphone outside the gymnasium. Upon hearing her voice, I immediately burst into tears. One of my former best-friends-turned-bullies caught wind of my sobs and summoned every other nearby kid. Seven or so 5th graders surrounded me at the payphone in a semi circle, chanting 'Cry baby!' and 'Who needs her mommy?" loud enough that my mom could hear. I continued to sputter and sob, glued to the phone with nowhere else to go, more in shock than anything. It was insane to me that calling three girls stupid could make them act even more stupid, at my expense. It spiraled even further from there. One of the girls' older sisters threatened to kick my ass in the girls' restroom before class. I don't know if she'd been asked to wait there for me or had just taken it upon herself when we both ended up there, but that sh*t freaked me out. We'd gone to the same dance studio the year before, smiled in cheap lipstick and jazz boots in some of the same competition numbers. Now she made it clear we were mortal enemies.
My mom taught me to let their taunts and pranks slide off me like water. "I'm OK with that," she trained me to say, when they tried to threaten me or make me feel hopelessly alone. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it failed miserably. After Josef Nelson's much older and much scarier sister retaliated on the girls on my behalf in their own restroom run-in, it felt like the whole school got involved. Everyone chose a side. Some riled-up kid threw rocks at my mom's car one day. We got called individually to the principal's office for stern talking-to's, and then we rode out the last few weeks of the school year relatively unscathed. I stopped talking to Josef and studied extra hard for final exams. I switched schools in 6th Grade--we commuted 15 minutes to St. Ben's Catholic Elementary in a suburban part of Leduc, AB. Later that year I received handwritten apology notes from each of the girls who were my best friends until they bullied me into leaving town. It was bittersweet. The apology only reminded me of the whole embarrassing escapade: how I'd permanently lost my best friends and started a war and had to start over. I moved on fairly easily, but I was quieter and avoided conflict at all costs after that.
I started to view friendships with girls differently. I gravitated towards nerdier kids, was comfortable saving my extroverted self for dance recitals and family gatherings. I never stopped finding solace in school work. Teachers were so much easier to please than the popular assholes who sat in their classes. Teachers told me exactly what to study, where to study it, and how much to know. Popular kids searched endlessly for ways to catch me in what I didn't know, and I didn't know a lot. Popular girls would secretly listen in on three way calls with the boys I liked, and spread rumors about me based on their shifting daily moods. Popular boys would brag about the sex they were having with girls in older grades or other schools, and prod at the pockets of my backpack until they found something humiliating (like my purple teletubby keychain or the pair of flowered panties I'd changed out of at dance class the night before). They would flash their 7th grade penises in shop class when the teacher was out of the room, or in a corner of the computer lab when we were supposed to be practicing our typing skills. In the more boisterous afternoons, they would call me funny names, that I would later learn were racially significant, and turn around and ask to copy my homework the next morning, which I got caught doing more than once and had no explanation for. If I wasn't so scarred from the 5th grade, I might have felt brave enough to call them out: "Knock it off, you little sh*ts." I didn't know yet that the boys weren't as catty and vengeful in general and probably could have used the message. Instead, I just pinched my eyes closed when they reached for their belts, and let their slurs, which carried no weight on my ears, roll off me.
I just wanted to be liked, and not be rushed into caring about sex--a theme that remained a kind of constant lesson in my life.
Part 2 to come. :)