To The Girl I Didn’t Really Know

Oct 24

I’m seventeen and about to do something I’ve never done before.

I’m not a mean kid. I don’t do things just to hurt other kids. I’m the student that always goes to class; when I do miss class, it’s because a friend is in a crisis. I have friends, but I’m not one of the popular crowd. I’m surprised when a boy shows any interest in me. I began to find my voice in acting class, but still know that in the social hierarchy of high school students from 1 to 10 (10 being the most popular), I’m probably a five. Maybe a six.

It’s senior year and I’ve understood since I was a sophomore that some kids say mean things about others to make themselves feel better.  I’ve never been shoved in the hallway, but my purse was stolen out of my locker one year.  I’ve never gotten in a fight, but I’m always the last girl picked for a team in gym and one of the last girls picked at a dance. I’ve never really been bullied, but over the years I’ve been teased so much about my crazy, unruly curly hair that I straighten it for an hour every single morning.

But today, for some reason, I just want to be mean. I want to do something I’ve never done before.  I want to feel powerful.  Just once.

It’s Beach Day; a day late in the school year when we’re allowed to wear shorts, beach shirts and Hawaiian leis. Students bring sand and spray bottles filled with water to school. I’ve never been trendy, but it’s senior year and I’m feeling the status of that position and the excitement and fear of leaving home to go to college. My water bottle is like a mask – I have the power to be someone else today. And if I put it on the right setting, I can send a four-foot stream of water across the room. In chemistry class, when the teacher turns his back to us, I spray my friend T. and he laughs in shock. I sprayed some friends in the hallway and they sprayed me back.  I actually feel kind of cool.

My best friend said to meet her in the greenroom, so that’s where I wait. The small room doubles as the theater homeroom – a place I purposely avoided when choosing homerooms. Despite my new-found love of acting, I don’t like most of the people who are part of the theater clique. They’re stuck up, for one, and fake for another and…and they think they’re so great because they always get lead roles and I don’t. I just know they don’t like me.

I notice a full-length locker that has sprung open. I see the name on it. That Girl. I know this girl and don’t like her much. She’s not a bully, but I know she’s said some nasty things about some of my friends.  I also think she’s one of the fakest people in school.  I think she tries to suck up to the more popular theater kids because she wants be as cool as they are. She wants to be as feared and respected as they are. She wears the same trendy clothes as them and often rushes into rooms with stories about “men” she’s met with fast cars. Obviously, she makes it all up.

She’s fake, annoying and ridiculous. She’s a senior too.  Maybe a five.  But certainly not anything higher than that. I’m so much better than her.

I look at her open locker. The weight of the spray bottle in my hand is like a gun.

From four feet away, I empty the bottle into her locker, drenching her clothes and books with vigor and purpose and a little evil laughter.  I don’t stop until everything is soaked through and the water runs out. It feels darkly fantastic. When my best friend shows up, I show her what I did and we run down the hallway screaming with delight.

My liquid ravishing of That Girl’s locker 23 years ago absolutely pales in comparison to all the horrific stories we’ve heard lately about bullying. But my story helps me to remember what it was like to be a teenager. How important it was to feel like I was better than someone else. I was a kid with some blossoming self-esteem who understood that kids were mean to others in order to make themselves feel better inside. I was proud of this knowledge because a beloved teacher had told me I was insightful for understanding that very fact. And I still very, very purposely hurt another kid that I thought was possibly weaker than me. Despite my insight, I was still a Twitching Blob Of Insecurity who fell prey to the desire to build confidence by diminishing others.

I didn’t think about what might have been in that locker – a favorite jacket, carefully researched essay, A+ papers, love notes – I just thought about the look on her face when she opened it. That image and the action itself is what made me feel better.

For teenagers (and, yes, many adults), confidence is wrapped up in status and popularity because the confidence that comes from within is still forming and fragile. The identity struggle and fight for self-confidence among teens simply can’t be avoided. These experiences are helping to shape their personalities.  But as adults who want to help them, so are we. In looking for ways to educate kids about bullying, let’s make sure we approach the whole problem, not just one part of it.

Potential victims don’t just need to know how to handle bullies; they need to know how to engender self-confidence from within and the benefits of support groups. Bullies need to learn that violence is unacceptable, yes, but a greater understanding of self and interpersonal relationships can help too. Modeling mutual respect and agreeing to disagree is extremely important. Let’s teach the history and future of equality.  Let’s explain the core of most human conflict; why we are all Twitching Blobs innately scared of those that are different from us, even though we don’t have any real reason to be. Let’s teach how to express our feelings without soaking someone’s stuff in water or beating them to death.

I’m not a parent, but I’m an aunt, a mentor and soon to be a teacher again. I’m doing my best to stay informed so I can be a more effective role model. I’m reading articles. I’m exploring the information available through different organizations and support groups. I’m remembering how I felt when I was seventeen. I’m listening to what kids have to say. I loved Sarah Silverman’s to-the-point video.

I’m trying to lead by example.  So…

To the girl I didn’t really know:

It was me.  I unleashed my spray bottle on your locker.

I wasn’t a bully.  I wasn’t really much of a victim either. But I still did it. You were probably deeply hurt – maybe even scared – when you found all of your belongings soaked to the core. I did it because it made me feel powerful – something I rarely felt in high school. Maybe you can relate.

I didn’t know you, really; my judgments were formed from afar, not from any conversations we ever had. But I was an insecure kid looking for a way to feel better about myself and I used you and your locker to achieve that. I’m sure you’ve been over it for years. I’ve seen you on Facebook – you look happy, healthy and successful. So maybe you’ve even forgotten about it. I hope so. But the 17 year old in me would like to say something to the 17 year old in you:

That Girl – The Girl I Didn’t Really Know – please accept my apology.  I didn’t realize how much we had in common.

6 Responses to “To The Girl I Didn’t Really Know”

  1. Alfi says:

    Many adults, indeed. See most workplaces. Even in the allegedly benign company that employed me for most of my career, there were bullying managers. One, whom I fortunately had nothing to do with, had the first name "Jack." His behind-the-back nickname was "blackjack."

  2. Erik B. says:

    Ok, who was it? How about initials. . .I'll just look it up in my yearbook. . .

  3. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    No can do, Erik. I don\’t want to embarrass her. Or encourage her to hunt me down and throw water on me.

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