For quite some time, I've been meaning to do some writing about my teenage years and how they were a huge part of my becoming the open, straightforward, accepting person that I am. But I've struggled with how to even begin a blog entry like this, because there is just so much to say. In fact, I'm still struggling with where to start - but I figure now's as good a time as any, especially considering that I not only just finished reading Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, but I also recently heard Taylor Swift's song "Mean" for the first time. I guess I figured that these occurrences happening back to back was a sort of sign that it was about time for me to post this, even if I haven't figured out exactly what I should say.
The thing is, I post pictures in here often enough that even if you've stumbled on this blog and don't know what I look like, you can scroll back a few entries and there will likely be enough pictures to tell that I'm not overweight or unattractive. I certainly wouldn't define myself as "beautiful" or "gorgeous" or "sexy" or "thin", but I'm a healthy, happy, decent-looking woman. And honestly, if all you knew of me were these pictures, you'd probably think "Who is she to talk about being called awful things? Who is she to talk about being bullied?" Well, I'll show you.
That's me in 7th grade. Awful haircut. Round face. NO fashion sense. Not the straightest teeth in the world. And the glasses...oh, the glasses. And I'd looked like this, only maybe younger, since at least 4th grade when I got glasses.
And no, it didn't get better for quite some time. Not until 9th grade did I start caring about my clothes, get contacts, wear makeup. And I lived in a really small town, so by then who I was had been carved in the stone minds of my 150-odd classmates in Ellington, Connecticut. Therefore, even when 11th grade rolled around and I had shot up to 5'8", weighed 135 pounds, knew how to apply mascara and wore the same clothes as everyone else, people still went out of their way to find something about me to pick on.
Was I at the bottom of the totem pole? In middle school and freshman year, yes. From sophomore year on, no, but I was also nowhere near the top of it. And despite the fact that I had "friends", much of the time I felt like I was faking it. I felt it deep within me: I didn't belong, couldn't belong, any minute they would realize this and kick me to the curb and I'd be back at the bottom. I did everything in my power to keep this from happening, but even then I would discover when every single one of my friends went to a Wolfpack hockey game in Hartford and didn't invite me. When my "best" girl friend quit answering my phone calls and making plans with me and talked about me behind my back because it meant she would fit in better with our other "friends". And all of this was possibly worse than everything else, because these people called themselves my "friends". No matter who I hung out with, I was still the Tara from middle school:
Four-eyes. Geek. Nerd. Fat. Ugly. Weird.
And then when most of those words apparently didn't fit me anymore, it was worse: the "fat" word was still flung around, but I was also a slut, a whore. In fact, one time when I was still a virgin I was pregnant...according to school rumors. I'm not sure what was worse: people thinking I was pregnant, or having to explain to them that I couldn't be because at 16 I wasn't ready to "give it up" yet.
Of course, I can't forget the time that I cut my hair short, just before my senior year - because then I was a dyke. And as someone who now professes to be solidly pansexual - although I really only see myself with a man, it's easier for me to find women to be attractive - I have to admit that the first time someone actually walked up to me in the cafeteria and said, "Nice hair, what are you, a dyke?" I felt sick to my stomach that this was the newest slur about me. If someone called me a dyke today, or three years ago, or seven years ago, etc. etc...it wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest. But in high school? You bet your ass it did. It scared the shit out of me. I didn't want people to think I was or may be or could be a lesbian.
I won't pretend that I learned my lessons immediately or that I never talked crap about people behind their backs; I am very much guilty of the human condition. But all it took was that biting reminder - my conscience - saying "You remember what it felt like, don't you?" And when I was still in college I vowed not to ever be that person who said rude and most of the time untrue things about people who had never wronged me in any way.
The thing is, I am some of those things they said I was. I'm definitely weird, and I'm a total geek. But instead of being proud of who I was, I hid it. Even after high school. I joined a sorority. I married someone who was senior class president at his high school, and a running back on their football team. I went years without watching a Star Wars or X Men movie because the couple times I tried to tell him about my love for them, he basically scoffed at me. I may have been the one who left him, but I knew long before I did that I just wasn't "cool enough" for his liking. I had nothing in common with his friends and my friends were too geeky for him.
At 25, I'd spent the majority of my life trying to be invisible and the rest of it pretending to be the person everyone thought I should be. And neither one of those felt better or easier than the other, so I stopped trying to be anything other than who I am. I detached myself from people like my ex husband, who held me back, and I fostered relationships with people like my close friend Jonathan, who accepts me for exactly who I am. I found a relationship where I could combine my desire to go to a baseball game nearly every weekend in the summer with the need to spend wintery weekends having Star Wars and Lord of the Rings marathons and never feel as if my significant other thought I was a freak, never deal with him trying to stifle my interests.
I'm no Taylor Swift, for sure. I don't live in a big city and I'll probably never hear myself singing a song like "Mean"...at least not on the radio ;) But sometimes I see an awkward little girl with her nose in a book and a look in her eyes that says "please just...don't notice me" and I want to wrap her in my arms and tell her that all she needs to do is grow up and do what she wants and be exactly who she is, and things will fall into place.
And those people? The ones who said those horrible things to and about me? Let's just say that I've seen where most of them are (thanks to Facebook), and whereas their lives may not be horrible and mine may not be better (at least not on the surface), none of them are more than what I am: happy, healthy, with a comfortable home in a city that I love, close to my family and with at least half a dozen amazing friends that I could call at the drop of a hat and tell anything to, in a healthy relationship, holding down a good job, with money to pay my bills and to see the world, which I've always dreamed of doing.
Above all, I am the thing that matters: I am ME. And those people who called me those names are a big part of what gave me the strength and will to be here, so maybe I should thank them for being so damn mean and awful ;)