When I was 13 I thought the world, the universe, and God specifically, had it in for me. Either I had done something in this life to deserve the name calling, the threats, the laughing and the ridicule that I met with every day, or I had been born defective in some way. It was not unusual to hear “There’s fat Wendy” as I walked through the junior high hallway. It was not unusual to hear that or worse. This was my lot in life due to genetics or fate. Less than other people and never going to be good enough. That’s what I thought.
When I was 14, I thought the same. Fifteen, same. And for every year after that for a long time. Punished for something I couldn’t understand, I carried a shameful secret and was treated that way in return. Always chunky, awkward, bookish and shy, I was the perfect target for cruel children and teenagers. At first I cried easily and often. And then I learned how to live in my own world. There was an alternative; I kept that in back of my mind. But I learned to pretend, fantasize, disappear. And eat. I ate to cover my mistakes, the hurt. When I was laughed at on the bus, I walked briskly home from the bus stop. I did’t cry. I dropped my books on the stairs, ran to the kitchen. I lifted the lid on the heavy ceramic cookie jar, feeling the vibration of its scraping the lip of the jar, reached in, replaced the lid, leaned back. Ate. At last, I was okay.
I believed in God from a young age. I was scared of Him. Certainly, I had manifested some offense to deserve this treatment. I learned to make deals with Him, to hide from Him. Please, please don’t let them be waiting for me at school today, and I promise I’ll be good.
In high school, I was the fat friend. I was a good friend, this is true, and I had friends. But I was sad and lonely and wished I could trade places with my pretty friends. Even for a day. I was not as good as they, and it was not hard to find people to remind me of that. I was the third wheel on dates because my friends felt bad for me, but the boy always looked at me with disdain in his eyes. I was smart; I knew what was going on. It was so much worse that way.
We often hear people speak of their past, a past that might have been unhappy or unfortunate, and they say they wouldn’t have changed a thing–because all those things made them who they are today. I would change everything. I would in a second. I spent my thirties trying to undo my teenage years. If I could be pretty, thin, funny, popular enough now–it would erase who I was then. The things that happened to me. It won’t matter to whoever it is we think keeps score of these things. I’d come out even or ahead if I could just get it right.
I say that. Yet I know who I am today. I feel a great deal of pain for other people. I care if someone is being ridiculed. I am not perfect, and I have done my share of harm at my weakest, most insecure moments. It is easy for me to join a group in gossiping about, or worse, ignoring another woman. But I try to let empathy and compassion guide me more and push me harder than fear. I am competitive and have a deep need to be recognized, to win an unseen, unknowable prize. Everything in me shakes at having to back off, but I am learning in a very real way that supporting others opens all the good in the universe. It comes back to me tenfold. I trust there is a loving Creator. And that he hasn’t singled me out. I struggle, but I come back, slowly, eventually, to a place of faith, however weak. I don’t want to be a source of pain; it matters to me that I might make someone’s day easier by holding a door, smiling, sharing a burden. It is my ideal; it is not always my reality. This familiarity with humanity, which has come at a cost, is the instruction, the gift of my past. It is the thing, if pressed, I would not change.
This post is an entry in a writing contest at Suess’sPieces. The prompt I wrote from is “When I was 13, I thought…”
This is a beautiful post! My daughter is about to turn 13 and I dread the emotions and self doubt that is beginning to overtake that innocence. Maybe I will let her read this. Thanks for sharing!
I went to your great blog and your girls are lovely. But, oh how I know what you mean. my oldest is 4 now, but I already feel anxious… Without sounding cliche I really do hope I can impart on my 2 girls and 1 boy that the pain of adolescence does get better. or replaced. We grow and survive as best we can. We move on and past it.
thanks for coming by!
There’s a great CBS show this eve, 48 Hours, re bullying.
I posted about it.
I know– I missed the show unfortunately. I have a little bit of a hard time with shows on bullying sometimes. it’s so very disturbing. It is a good thing that it’s so much in the public conscience now.
This post is beyond amazing. You are such a gifted writer and I am so proud that you are using your voice to spread awareness. So much of your words resonates with me; so much of your story. As a former teacher/ current counselor, it amazes me how many adolescents out there are lonely… in a crowd. What a great piece. So brave and so honest.
Good luck on the contest.
thank you alicia–you are inspiring. this means a lot.
This made me cry..for a little girl that I never knew.. I wish I could tell her how sorry I am that she felt that pain. I would also tell her about a fabulous woman I know who is, in addition to being all that she wished to be, incredibly kind, wonderfully funny, and an extremely inspiring writer. I would also tell her how breathtakingly beautiful she would look on her wedding day…. These are the things I would tell that sweet 13 year old little girl. Thanks for reminding us all how to carry compassion and empathy in our hearts and minds.
oh. Kelly. how I love you. how are you my dear? let’s see you soon?!
this is beautiful.
it has me wondering about how pain has shaped me. in some ways it has softened me but in others it has made me harder.
very interesting…and worth thinking about.
I agree with that too. in some ways more empathetic, and in other ways I have more defenses. thank you.
I’m so sorry you had such difficult teen years. I see the kids at my older twins’ school who clearly don’t fit in all the time. I feel sad for them and I hope that at least my children treat them with dignity.
Thanks for sharing this.
isn’t that tough? we don’t want them to be victims or bullies. I don’t know how they learn these lessons other than going through it unfortunately.
This post breaks my heart. You wrote so passionately, so transparently.
many thanks. you know how I admire your writing, so I thank you, thank you.
Now I am sitting here in New Zealand and I am crying. I just started outreach work with migrants. Yesterday I gave a lady a lift home, she invited me in for coffee which I accepted, even though I had somewhere to be. She carefully used her instant coffee to make two small cups. She lives in a room with a shared bathroom she pays $300 a week for with a small futon for 3 of them to sleep on. She has very little even after 3 years in this country. I asked for her husband’s cell phone number so I could arrange a lift for her next week. She catches the bus an hour each way to get to the meeting. She texted me afterwards. “Thank you for your help . I am really happy to have a true real friend today.” That just stopped me in my tracks. It was just so succinct and touching. I am known as being kind, I am a big softie who just feels that hey have had a fortunate life and needs to make the effort to give back. That something as small as driving someone somewhere I was going anyway and taking 30 minutes to listen. I am teaching my children to reach out and be kind to everyone. Being kind costs nothing and can make the biggest difference in the world to some. Isolated but surrounded by people. Not bullied, just not part of things. Thank you for your absolutely beautiful piece of writing. If shoud be required reading for all kids at school.