I’ve been struggling with whether or not to even write about this topic, to even put it out here, in my blogging space. But, from back in my sports media days — you talk when it’s good; you talk when it’s bad. So, here it is.
I think I was a bully.
Not in the overt way that one thinks of bullies, but in the more subtle, texturized, intentional way of a teenaged girl.
There was this girl in school. She was sort of weird, but not in any harmful sort of way. She was always one laugh behind, one snort too many when the rest of us at the ‘cool kids’ table thought something was funny. It wasn’t JUST me — we all thought this way about her. In our silent, nose-turned-up kind of way, we ganged up on her.
She’d grown up in our circle of friends, she ought to have moved around it effortlessly. But it seemed as though fitting in took tons of effort for her. It was never natural. Never easy.
It’s like those girls who sometimes grow too fast, they hunch their shoulders in, and suddenly, one day, they realize they are confident and fearless and capable, beautiful and they stand tall.
Except, this girl wasn’t like that. Her shoulders hunched in, as though she were insecure about every step, and she never stood tall, never seemed confident in who or what she was or was about to become. And in high school, that was all that was needed for ostracization.
We graduated from high school 14 years ago this June. We have all gone on to become adults — in one way or another. I knew that the girl had moved out of state, away from the hometown I’d returned to live in. I knew that she was a teacher. That was all I knew.
We weren’t the sort of friends who kept in touch, and she wasn’t on facebook, or at least our paths hadn’t crossed out in cyber space.
Maybe if they had…
I’m telling you folks, this girl got shaving creamed at every sleepover. And yet, she was at every sleepover. We gave her an awful, making-fun-of-her-behind-her-back nickname and she had the exact same hair style for as long as I’d ever known her (how that matters I’m not even sure). But, it was all part of the leaving her out, of keeping her at arms length, of ‘allowing’ her to hover around our circle of friends while never totally, unequivocally letting her in.
If you never had someone like this in your social circles, I applaud you and the rest of your circle of friends. You are better than me and mine. We were not the friends we ought to have been.
I was not the friend I ought to have been.
Leave the rest out of it. Perhaps I’ve included others in my memory to ease my own burden of guilt.
And why do I bear the burden so heavy right now?
Because just over a week ago, that girl-turned-woman took her own life, apparently after a bad run of luck and timing in the life she had built for herself.
So maybe if I’d been just a bit nicer…just a bit less judgmental. Maybe if I’d been less inclined to laugh when someone else made fun of her; less inclined to lead the charge or remind everyone else why it was (again) that we were making fun of her.
Do I think that I – or any of us – were the reason she made the choice to take her own life?
Do I believe that there was a way for me to have made her journey a bit smoother, a little less rough for the going?
It haunts me, that the strongest stand she seemingly ever took for herself was at the end of her life. It haunts me that I couldn’t find common ground with someone who I KNEW needed a friend; with someone who I understood to be less comfortable in every social situation than I was.
I think I was a bully. By today’s definition, I very well may have been.
I’ve spoken with several of the women who moved in the same social circle back in high school, and while we have all navigated our way through losses, this one, of a mutual high school friend, of a girl who grew up across the street/down the road/in the same class is haunting us all. Mainly, we’ve seemingly agreed, because we all feel overwhelmingly like we could have done better by her and maybe – just MAYBE – things would be different today.
We knew that she was more fragile. We knew she needed us more than we probably needed her.
And yet, now that she’s gone; now that there’s no way to include her at the Christmas reunion or the 15 year class reunion or the girls weekend, there’s guilt. And a need for absolution.
Every word I have read or spoken of this woman since finding out about her death references a single common word: ‘kind’.
She was overwhelmingly, unfailingly kind.
She was – and will remain in my memory – smiling, kind and caring.
Someone I came across wanted to refer to her suicide as ‘such a waste’ and I loudly refused to allow that. I will not allow her to be bullied anymore, even though I never stood up for her before.
Not a waste.
Perhaps a crying, sorrowful shame.
But not a waste.
Never a waste.
I am better for having known her, for having had her in my life.
And I will attempt to teach and lead my own daughter — and the social circles she chooses to move within — how to be better than I was, than I still am.