There are a handful of blogs that I cruise on a regular basis, some of them I find humorous, some are really interesting, some I even identify with. On a recent trip to a blog that falls into all of these categories, I ran across a post that hit a little too close to home.      This one, too, hit a nerve.

I grew up in a small town, went to an elementary school of about 300 kids. My best friend was the girl who beat the other kids up, which is why she was my best friend – I was spared. We were poor, mama worked 2 jobs to support my brother and I, and all of my clothes were handed down from my cousin, who had all the latest styles, so I wasn’t too far out of fashion.

I moved to my dad’s house in the big city the summer before my 7th grade year. This was when I fell out of like with school. We lived across the street from the K-8, and I discovered that it was way too easy to just stay home, since daddy left for work before I had to cross the road, and I got home sooner.

I am a closet introvert (if you casually know me, this will surprise you, but if you really know me, you have already discovered this) and this early in my life, I had no self-confidence, thus a very distinct lack of friends. I hung out with a girl who was in the 8th grade for the third time. She would come to school on the bus, and sneak across the street in the daily chaos. By the end of the year, she was pregnant, and just quit coming to school.

The next year, I was bussed across town to another K-8. These were in the days when it was thought integration through bussing was the answer to racial differences. Whatever. My parents had remarried and mama was now at home all day, so I could no longer cut school.

By this time, my acne was in full swing. My new nickname, in fact, was pizza face. “give me some extra cheese”, “more mushrooms!” I was well built (although at 5’2″ and 105 lbs, I thought I was fat), but my face was a mine field. I once overheard a boy I secretly crushed telling another boy, “yeah, I would go out with her, she’s built like a brick s*** house, but her face looks like someone took a meat cleaver to her, of course you could bag her!” It was around this time, that I started getting a stomach ache every morning.

That’s when I met Sheila, who became my very best friend. She was an outsider, too. We spent every available moment together. My parents and her mother just didn’t seem to understand the almost physical need we had for each other’s company. One of us without the other was just half a person.

Our freshman year, they stopped the bussing crap, so we were able to attend the high school that was 3 blocks from my house. We stayed friends throughout high school, but started to drift apart our senior year, as boys started to take a larger role in my life. I was looking for someone to love me and validate my value as a woman, so friendship took a backseat, I’m sad to say.
By my sophomore year, I had a job, so I could finally buy the clothes I liked instead of the clothes my parents wanted me to have. I had a favorite pair of jeans, they made me look hot, I had been told, but mama didn’t like them. So I would pack them in my book bag, and Sheila would provide cover while I changed into them in the alley on the walk to school.

I had alot of attention from boys, but not the kind of boys I felt comfortable bringing home to meet the parents. Consequently, these boys usually had girlfriends who wanted to fight me. I can’t remember how many times I had to call mama to pick me up at school because some tough girl wanted to beat my hide.

Mama used to tell me that it would all be over soon, and that I’d never have to see these people after graduation if I didn’t want to. Unfortunately, these platitudes did nothing to ease my pain. And high school was a pain, figuratively and literally. It gave me stomach cramps, headaches, and real, physical discomfort.

One day, several years later, when my brother was in high school, mama clipped a column from Ann Landers. It talked about the awful high school years. Some small town somewhere was suffering an epidemic of teenage suicides, and Ann said that parents shouldn’t tell their kids that these are the best years of their lives, because it’s disheartening if kids think it never gets any better.

I feel so helpless when my kids come home complaining about some injustice at school. Thankfully none of them have had the problems I did, but theirs are no less heartwrenching for them.

Jess and I went to see Little Miss Sunshine with some friends from church this past weekend, and there’s a part where uncle Frank tells Dwayne that these are his prime suffering years, and how can he expect to grow into someone if he doesn’t first earn it through suffering. There is some truth to this, I believe it myself, but this kind of suffering can be controlled.

When I hear about school violence, I am saddened, but not anywhere close to surprised. I understand the loneliness, the desolation, the misery. Thankfully, I had Sheila to help me through my personal hell, and I hope that I did the same for her.

Thank you, Meno, for a trip down memory lane…

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