Monday, March 11, 2024

Epilogue: The Problem with Peaking in Middle School and other stories of bullying

High School Reunions

“Hannah Goodman! You slammed the door in my face when I came to one of your parties in 8th grade!”

It’s my 20th high school reunion. Summer 2013. We are at the beach, a bonfire. It’s dark and hot. But I can see him well enough—He is a short, blondish haired middle aged version of a kid I vaguely remember from high school—Willy something. I rack my brain trying to remember doing such a thing. Nope. Can’t find that memory in there. 

He can tell I don’t remember, and he laughs, sipping his beer while I, red with embarrassment, begin to apologize. He waves it off. He wants to tell me about his daughter who is a writer. But I am in and out of the moment, still racking my mind with the memory…nothing. Oh, shit. There Willy is now asking me if I would talk to his daughter about writing because I know you wrote some books he tells me. None of which feature a protagonist who's such a bitch that she would slam the door on a classmate trying to come to her party— thank god! But wait—was I a dick in 8th grade? It’s possible. The joke I tell my own children is I peaked in 8th grade, and it was downhill from there. Also, is it really a good idea to read his kid’s stories?


Later, on the car ride home with my husband, we review the evening, and that’s when I clearly remember. I might have been a dick in 8th grade—sort of. Popularity—my boyfriend: the baddest and coolest boy in school. My best friends: the funniest, smartest blonds who everyone liked. It was a good year…sort of.

I really wanted to turn the car around and tell Willy, Yes I remember! But hey Willy, there is so much more to this story. That moment that  I slammed the door in your face was about my stupid insecurity. About staying “cool”. Sweet Willy, you weren’t cool. You were what we called a “poser” or a “wannabe”.  Listen, Willy, my story wasn’t that I was always cool. There was the bullying that bookended all of my school years. Elementary (for not being dorky and new to the school) and high school (for getting Fat freshman year). It was only middle school, by luck and chance and a little desperation that I was cool. But, Willy, listen I really was a closeted, not-cool nerd.  

We didn’t turn the car around. But Willy and I became Facebook friends.

10 years later, summer 2023,  it’s my 30 year reunion and a popular cheerleader type, now middle-aged mom like so many of us, comes over to me and she says, a little drunkenly (we all got more shit faced that night than I ever did in high school) and she says, “Hannah Goodman. You were …something in high school, right? You were class president or something?”

Just about to go to the 30 year reunion! July 2023

Ah! Yes dear Jessica (there were so many Jessicas in the class of ‘93) this one was a nice one. Actually all of the Jessicas were nice. So, I tell her that yes, I was something. I was freshman class president and then …Pat (also a lot of Pats from ‘93) appears and finishes the story by proclaiming, as he has for the past three reunions, “Then she went to France.” Which always cracks him up and, truthfully, makes me laugh too. 

But I didn’t go to France. This is an old joke from the 10 year reunion, where 6 months pregnant with my first child, I stood next to one of my former bullies from middle school (yes, there was a brief bullying moment there, but it doesn’t sting as much because I won). Christie P was beaming at me while rubbing my pregnant belly and saying “Oh my god! You barely look pregnant!” And then Pat came sweeping in, “Hannah Goodman! You’re finally back from France.” I looked at him with total bewilderment. I mean, I was still reeling from Christie’s hand on my belly, from her totally insulting comment about my belly’s size. I was, after all, seven months pregnant! Pat goes on,  “Yeah, you disappeared after freshman year, and I seriously thought you went away until senior year.” 

Ah—senior year, when I was skinny and, therefore, “hot” (and riddled with an eating disorder) and, therefore, visible again to the popular crowd. Ok, to be fair,  that’s my interpretation, which could very well be wrong. I laughed along with Pat and Christie, who nodded her head in agreement. “So, where did you go, Hannah, between freshman year and senior year?”

Do you want the short or long answer to that? I disappeared into not one but two eating disorders and, in so doing, discovered my true, introverted self. I gravitated away from my former Blonde best friends and the rest of the popular crowd I had been with throughout middle school. 

10 years after Christie put her surprisingly warm hand on my barely-there belly, we are at the 20 year reunion, and this time Christie, who appeared to be tipsy but not in a fun way, approached me, and pointed a finger. “You never invited me to your parties in 8th grade!”

At the time, it feels like Willy all over again (which, if you can keep up, was just the night before at the bonfire). But this time, my memory— as it is with all of my former bullies from childhood—is crystal clear. 

“I didn’t invite you because we weren’t friends, Christie. You were horrible to me! That’s why I didn’t invite you.”

She continued to repeat how I didn’t invite her and how much she felt left out. I shook my head and just walked away.   

Didn’t see her for the rest of the night or for the beach day the next morning. 

But we became Facebook friends.

Life is weird. 

Be sure that you have read the first 4 parts! Start with Part 1.

Disclaimer: This is a several-part piece that talks about my most painful experiences in my childhood and teens years with bullying. In order to (emotionally) feel safe sharing these stories, some names have been changed as well as minor details. As a woman in my late forties, who has battled (for decades)—as many women do—with myself over whether or not I have the right or deserve to speak my personal truth and perspective on events that happened to me, I’ve decided to not allow that inner battle or my fears to stop me. Who knows if anyone will read this. Who knows if anyone who reads this will be someone from my past who participated, witnessed or knew about these events. And, who knows if anyone will care. I do know that someone out there will relate. That my story will connect with someone. So here are my true stories of bullying and the effects they had on me.

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