Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Part 2 of 4: The Problem with Peaking in Middle School and other stories of bullying

Be sure to start with Part 1


The precursor to my rise to popularity began at the start of middle school, where all of the elementary schools in town merged starting at 5th grade. It all started when one of the most popular boys (Matt B) in school had a crush on me. I found out from a message delivered by one of the most popular girls, Christie P. Christie went to the same elementary school as Matt, and they were such good friends that she wanted to broker the blooming relationship between us. So, she convinced Matt to ask me on a “date” to see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I got a cheek-kiss as the credits rolled, and with that, we were an item.

Now that Matt B liked me and my elementary school past was forgotten, I felt my past was in the rearview mirror and I could relax. When that relationship faded and 6th grade began, good ole Christie P. reappeared to tell me that another one of her old, elementary school friends (and former boyfriend!) Pat S had a crush on me. All of these crushes baffled me. I wasn’t blonde or beautiful (these were the only criteria I understood for popularity). Whatever! I went with it. 

The face of popular! Me, fall of 6th grade. 1986.

This time, probably because Pat S. and I lasted several months, a lifetime in middle school quite frankly, Christie P. didn’t take it too kindly, and by month two began to harass me with prank phone calls, disguising her voice and accusing me of being a “slut” and “a bitch” and stealing someone’s boyfriend. 

Similar to my very first encounter with a bully, Christie P.’s tyranny against me ended when my older sister intervened. One night after about a month of horrible prank phone calls, my sister grabbed the phone from me and screamed, “Leave my sister alone or I will kick your ass!” 

Christie P enlisted her own older sister to get involved, but my sister annihilated her too:

“If you or your little shit of a sister so much as even look at Hannah the wrong way, I will destroy you.”

That was the end of Christie P.’s bullying. The next day in school, many people cheered me on for defeating The Queen Bee. I had no idea that Christie P’s  reign of terror wasn’t aimed only at me. From the woodwork of the 6th grade hall of Cluster One came countless people thanking me for overthrowing the Evil Queen. Turns out, Christie P. had been mean to people for years, and by getting her to back down from me, people looked at me a little differently.


Within days of Christie backing off of me, a new target was chosen. This girl was minding her own business, sitting in Reading class during free-reading time, thumbing through a Judy Blume novel when Christie began to whisper to the girls around her—and I overheard it— “Stacy stuffs her bra”. My ears burned for Stacy; after all, just two years prior I was the victim of an embarrassing rumor.


This whispering evolved once the bell rang for the lunch period. Now Christie had enlisted a few of her hangers-on into chanting “Stuffy” as they trailed behind her. 

I wanted to scream at Christie. I wanted to be as confident and scary as my sister. But I simply wasn’t.


So I did the only thing I knew how to do. At lunch that day, I went right over to where Stacy sat alone with her book, her eyes steadfast on the pages, and I said, “Hey, I don’t believe you stuff your bra.” It wasn’t eloquent or really the point, but it was all I had in the moment. She looked up at me, and gave me a wry smile, “I don’t. These are real.” We both laughed and that solidified our friendship.


Not long after that day at lunch, Christie started in again whispering, “Stuffy” to Stacy again during Reading class. This time, another girl Michelle, who had previously in the year gone to battle with Christie for making fun of her coke-bottle specs, threw her pencil down. Our teacher was typically asleep during silent reading time, so he didn’t notice. Everyone’s head snapped up from their books collectively. I gripped my own paperback, my heart thudding in my chest with the possibility of an actual fight in the classroom, and flashbacks of my encounter in fourth grade with Andy Andrews.


We all watched Michelle walk over to Christie, lean down to her, and whisper, rather loudly, “Shut the fuck up, Christie. You’re just jealous that Stacy has tits and you don’t!”


As Michelle walked back she shot both me and Stacy a very cheshire cat grin, and we both smiled back at her.

And in that moment, we became a powerful trio. By the end of 6th grade I had two best friends, who were just like me, accidentally popular. The remaining years of middle school were the three of us, joined by both nerds and cheerleader-types. I felt protected by my friends—for the first time in my life—and the threat of being bullied melted away.


When Stacy, Michelle, and I were together, we were unstoppable. We called ourselves the Wonder Triplets (like the Saturday morning cartoons) and led the way for the rest of middle school, hosting sleepovers and parties (mainly at my house) that were quite epic.

And the rest of middle school was not only bully-free, but I became something I never had been and would never be again—cool. 

My diary entries from those years are filled with stories of boys, parties, and friends. Though I sometimes felt overwhelmed and exhausted (and sometimes would hide in my closet and cry by myself, but more on that later) by the constantness of what “popular” entailed (boys, parties, friends), I pushed through because without that, I would be the Pizza Hut girl Who Humped Pillows with Vaseline in her Hair. 

And no one wants to be her.

Me at the height of “cool” (ha!). 8th grade, Sept 1988

Read Part 3: Back to Picked-On

PART 3: From Picked-on to Popular to Picked-on (Again) to Invisible to... High School Reunions

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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