Wednesday, April 23, 2014

never too late to say i'm sorry

Was I bullied? Maybe. But not really. I don’t know.

Me, probably my junior year of high school.

I was different. My family was Pentecostal – full blown Pentecostal with the long skirts, long hair, no make up or earrings, the whole kit and caboodle. That’s how I was raised. My parents were strong in their faith and we followed the Pentecostal standards. For the most part, I don’t remember many people being mean to me directly, but at the same time, I didn’t have loads of friends at my public school from age 12 or 13 and up. The friends that I had were outsiders, with the exception of a few. The only thing we all had in common is that we didn’t fit in with the majority of our peers. I was the furthest thing from “popular.” I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to be like every other girl who painted her nails, wore jeans, and had her hair cut into those phenomenal Jennifer Aniston layers. I longed to play sports or an instrument and have some sort of place I fit in. I wanted a boy at school to like me. To ask me to be his girlfriend. Never happened. Not once. I learned to shrink and become invisible. Unnoticeable. To blend in with the background. 

Almost a year ago, I got a private message on Facebook from one of my former middle and high school classmates. She was more than a classmate at one time. In 6th and 7th grade, we were the very best of friends. We shared a seat on the school bus, sleepovers, and secrets. We were inseparable. Two peas in a pod.

Until all the sudden, we just weren't anymore.

 As if it were yesterday, I vividly remember approaching her in the middle school cafeteria to ask if I could sit with her, after feeling an awkward tension between us for a couple of weeks. She told me no, because someone else was going to sit there. I mustered up every ounce of confidence I had and asked, “are you mad at me?” She answered with 7 words that would haunt me for years.

“No. I just don’t like you anymore.”

 Right there in the cafeteria, in front of our peers, my heart broke into a million pieces. If I remember correctly, she had made the cheerleading team and clearly my companionship was easily replaced by a set of newer, cooler friends. I observed from the sidelines as she became more popular throughout the rest of our school years with the “in” crowd. Boyfriends, homecoming dances, prom. All normal things that high schoolers do. I was jealous. Bitter. I was an outcast at school. I’m not saying that I never had fun and never had any other friends. Because I did. I met the girl who is still my best friend when I was in 9th grade. Our friendship has matured and grown with us. 

My best friend Emily (left) and me in 1994.

And in 2013.

But for the most part, high school was not a pleasant time for me. It did nothing to build my confidence, which I continue to struggle with today. I can recall the names of a few popular students who were kind to me. They were few and far between but I remember a handful of specific incidents in which popular girls were nice to me. It made me feel so special at the time. It seems silly now that my self-worth hinged on such seemingly insignificant interactions.

Did I ever tell anyone what happened in the lunch room? No, not until recently. How do you tell your parents, "I feel like a loser, no one thinks I'm cool." I don't know if I could have even put my feelings into words at that time. My social life improved when I made friends at the new Apostolic church our family began attending. There were plenty of teenagers my age and I finally found a social group where I was ordinary instead of odd, but I still struggled to fit in at school.

Last May this girl that rejected me in middle school reached out to me. She said God had spoken to her heart and told her to apologize to me. That she knew she had been cruel and had been using the “kids are mean” excuse to justify her actions so many years ago. That she should have apologized sooner. That she knew she missed out on the blessing of my friendship (her words, not mine). That she made the decision to end our friendship out of selfishness and not as the result of anything I did. That she was so sorry. I sincerely appreciated and accepted her apology with tears in my eyes. And I did it while re-experiencing every emotion I’d known as that timid middle school girl standing in front of her, trying to hold on to my blue divided lunch tray as much as I was trying to hold on to my dignity.

A woman that I met as an adult before we had babies told me today that I was one of the first true friends that she’d ever had because I never hurt or used her or brushed her off like others had. That began a conversation about “kids are mean” and we shared past experiences. How these mean kids turn into adults… some continue to be mean, oblivious to the impact of their actions. Some figure it out and try to make things right. Regardless, we are now becoming the adults who are shaping our world. We talked about how apologies, even years later, are meaningful and a good indication of whether or not people ever truly change.

What I went through was not that severe. I realize teens go through much, much worse. Kids are still mean and, years later, I can still feel that pain and self-doubt if I allow it to creep in. Our experiences, good and bad, shape us into who we become. How we approach life and do our jobs. Parent our kids. Interact with strangers. The thought of my children experiencing that kind of angst breaks my heart, but I know I have to let them feel it. I hope it helps them grow, not shrink. I have to let them accept disappointment as children so they can adapt. Disappointments only get bigger and have deeper consequences as we get older.

I hope they are nice to others. I hope someone remembers them for their kindness one day. And I hope they are humble enough to say they’re sorry for their mistakes when they should.

I said all that to say this: If you feel guilty about the way you treated someone and you've held on to that guilt, the recipient of your actions probably held on to the feelings they had about it too.  Whenever it happened, whatever it was, man (or woman) up and say you're sorry. It’s never too late to apologize.

~C~

4 comments:

  1. I thought you were cool, so intelligent. I may have even had a little crush on you, haha. I so vividly remember watching Mike Tyson bite Evander Holyfield's ear off at your house as Jack was generous enough to pay for the fight without accepting a penny from any of us. I was very sorry to hear of his passing, he was a good man. I follow and enjoy your blog, and I want you to know you are an incredibly talented writer and storyteller. This kind of thing, even years later, maybe even MORE SO years later, is hard to discuss. As you said, the old feelings wash back over, and if you're anything like me, you have to fight the feeling that it's silly to still be bothered by them. I thought you did it beautifully. Your family looks great, by the way. Good luck.

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    1. Jack - you are so sweet. Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts about me and my dad. I can't even begin to tell you how much I sincerely appreciate it.

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  2. I may have shed a few tears while I read that picturing my bestie so heartbroken. I'm soooo happy we bonded when I moved to town and even happier we've stayed so close over the years. Those other kids had no idea what an amazing friend they missed out on! Cannot wait to see you and all your dudes in just over a week!!!

    Xoxoxo
    em.

    PS. I died when I saw that lovely throwback picture of us. Hahaha

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    1. aw. mwwwwaaaah. Can't wait to see y'all!

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