Monday, March 11, 2024

Part 3 of 4: The Problem with Peaking in Middle School and other stories of bullying

Back to Picked-on

As with every ascent to the top, comes the crash to the bottom. While I never again became Pizza Hut Girl Who Humps Pillows With Vaseline in Her Head, I actually became something far worse—Fat.

Remember how I mentioned going into my closet and crying? Well, that became a coping mechanism on the regular by the end of 8th grade. By that point I was seriously dating the baddest bad boy in our class, Derrick S. We were very on brand with my middle school self—the most anti-popular power couple in the grade. He was brooding, an artist and a skater. He got into trouble often and even teachers took me aside and said this boy would be my downfall (I was a “good girl” with good grades). This relationship was exciting and sexy and scary and sad, all at once. We got together in April of the school year (though had been flirting and talking for months before) and by the summer, we had exchanged “I love yous” and I was contemplating going past second base with him.


Meantime, my other triplets had exceeded the bases with their respective serious boyfriends and I was starting to feel a strain between us. Simply put, in my mind, they were getting ahead of me and I wasn’t sure I wanted to catch up.


I coped by hiding in my closet and not only crying but binge eating, something I watched my parents do when they were stressed, and it was always followed by restrictive diets. This was normal in my house. But for me, when I started to do it, I felt terrible shame and that shame made me hide it from everyone, in my closet.

Derrick and I had to part ways for a portion of the summer while I went off to summer camp. It was a romantic goodbye of staying up all night at my house and making out, discussing our love and intensity of our feelings. Even while gone, our letters were lengthy professions of feelings: “I love you times infinity” he wrote and followed that with “I miss you so much. It’s hard to explain my feelings. I just can’t wait for you to come home.”

But other things were happening, which I would later discover when I came home…10 pounds heavier than when I left. Mind you, ten pounds that were likely related to growing and puberty more than anything else. After all, I was barely 14.


When I returned, everything was different. As we approached starting high school, Derrick pressured me to go beyond my limited second base (which I didn’t do), and my friends had started drinking and hanging out with upperclassmen. I was ill equipped for dealing with these changes. 


Within the first three weeks of high school, I lost my entire friend group (including Michelle and Stacy), Derrick (boyfriend of six months at that point, which is a lifetime at fourteen), the class presidential election, and my status as the most Popular Girl in my grade. Oh, and here was the worst crime of them all: gaining more weight.


Derrick even cited that as one of the many reasons he felt we should break up. As in, “You got fat…and you won’t fuck me, so I had to fuck someone else.” Ok, I might have conflated two conversations in that last part, but these were the reasons he gave for why he dumped me.


People who once came out of the halls of sixth grade, Cluster 1, to congratulate me on overthrowing The Witch Christie P now were taunting me. There was Jimmy L, who regularly yelled down the hallway, “Hey Hannah why don’t you lose some weight?” 

Ironically, said Jimmy, 3 years later, on New Years Eve 1992, would be kind enough to pick me and my date up that evening on a deserted road by the beach because I had gotten my car (actually my dad’s brand new Toyota Cressida, remember those?) stuck in the sand. Life is weird in a small town, Enemies and Antagonists can become friends so quickly. Especially if the reason they are your antagonist was because you were Fat and now you are Thin.

Side note that isn’t really an aside: Derrick was the type of boyfriend who stole a The Smiths cassette and ten dollars from me and put both in a card as my fourteenth birthday gift. He thought it was funny when I opened it and was confused, recognizing the scratches on the cassette and even the folded up ten dollar bill. He was also the kind of boyfriend who randomly punched one of those two best friends, who would eventually abandon me for unknown reasons, in the foot because it was sticking out as he walked by her. Was this an eventual factor in the rupture of our friendship? When she and I reunited around our ten year reunion, this story never came up. She, in fact, apologized to me for “not being a good friend”, so who knows!

By week four of high school, Michelle and Stacy still hated me, and the entire popular group had iced me out. To this day, the only crimes I am aware of that I did commit were getting Fat, not Hooking Up with guys, and not Drinking. Auditioning for the school play definitely didn’t help either. Though the move would prove to be a smart one ultimately, as I went on to star in many of the school plays for the rest of high school.

So back to week four of high school: Derrick asked me to “go back out with him” as the kids said in those days, and due to the winner of the class election forfeiting the title (“it was just a joke,” This Person said), I became class president. Though there was a third—recall former bully Christie P?— running as president who had come in last.

By the way, that person who forfeited was (drum roll) Derrick, who was still my boyfriend at the time he ran against me.

Take a breath and stay with me:

By week five, I was in direct conflict with all of the student council about the class float for homecoming because I had taken the advice of our class advisor to make it a Halloween/Ghost Busters theme, but no one else agreed with it. Yet, no one else had any ideas, and we were running out of time (we haven’t processed this one yet at any of the reunions, so stay tuned for that one). Then, Derrick dumped me (again). This time was public, in the hallway, via his best friend who smelled of rotting chicken soup and had flaming red hair that was in that skater hair style of hanging in an awful curtain that hid most of his face. When walked his head was held in such a way he looked like Quasimodo.By the way, the day of the dumping also happened to be our official six month anniversary (thank you to all of my diaries for the accuracy of this memory).

Said best friend, who I would later be referred to as Kevin McManiac (his name was Kevin McSomethingOrOther), approached me in the freshmen hallway on the Monday of week five. He stopped just inches from my locker and announced: “Derrick says you’re dumped.” Then threw a watch I had gifted Derrick just a few weeks before for his birthday. “And here’s your gay watch.” Then he walked away, wafting rotted chicken smell in his wake. Remember, this is the early nineties (a period in history when microaggressions were at their finest, and when gay was a substitute for lame.) 


And this was only September.

Decades later, at our twenty year high school reunion when I retold this election story to a large group of former classmates, many of whom were the Popular Kids Who Iced Me Out and the rest were, as we now refer to ourselves, The Revenge of The Nerds crew. PKWIMO didn’t recalled it. However, TROTN crew did recall it with great empathy (no surprise!).

By the way, Bad Boyfriend Derrick, never showed up at any of these reunions. However, he sent me a weird and kind of flirty DM on Facebook in 2012 and acted as if we were old pals. 

We were not, and we will never be. 

The epitome of not cool. 9th grade. April 1990

By October of freshman year, I was completely iced out of The Popular Group that I had been so intertwined with for four years, which is a lifetime—roughly a fourth of my life so far!

The only people who talked to me at this point were the upperclassmen from theater and the private school kids who never knew me from my—so-called—skinny, popular years. 


By November, I was in tech week for the production of Born Yesterday, my first high school theater performance. The only freshmen in the cast, I was a manicurist with the simple line of “Yes, sir!” while pretending to file senior Tony H.’s nails. Tony H. was a sweetheart but, man, could he belt out his character Harry Brock’s sexist lines to “dumb blond Billie” played by Tony’s actual girlfriend. Fun fact: They would go on to get married and have two kids. 

Anyway, while on stage during tech week, unbeknownst to me, the lighting guy, a junior named Nate, had a crush on me and would later tell me he had intentionally shined the spotlight directly on me during my one and only scene. By mid-week, he commissioned his “friend”, a girl named Amy, who was the stage manager to tell me that he wanted to take me on a date. Though the hairs on the back of my neck prickled from the similarity that this echoed of the love triangles of yesteryear a la Christie P./ Matt B./ Pat S., I ignored the creepy foreshadowing. 

I shouldn’t have.

It turned into a bigger mess than my middle school drama ever could have been!

Nate and I went out on some dates, which initially impressed me (and my mother!). Most memorable was the dinner at a local pub in Newport followed by a performance of Othello at Newport Play House. The performance was unremarkable in my memory but what does stand out is that when Nate came to the house to retrieve me for this date. My mother invited him inside only to tell him about her performance as a tap dancing sailor in The Newport Play House’s 1974 production of Anything Goes. “I was eight months pregnant with Hannie!” She told him, using the awful nickname my family insisted suited me (it does not!).  Mom then proceeded to stand up right in front of where Nate sat awkwardly on our couch, which was overly stuffed with too many decorative pillows, and demonstrate how she could still Shuffle Off to Buffalo.

And he still asked me out again after that.


But alas, I was still hung up on ole Derrick. Yeah, remember him? I was still clinging to hope via his post-break up, vulgar, prank phone calls that were nightly at this point. “Whore! Slut! Bitch” he would yell when I would finally pick up the phone. The many benefits of having my own phone line—easily accessible to asshole ex-boyfriends. 

Anyway, Nate was sweet, but I was still in love with my captor, so-to-speak or, as we say in my biz, “abuser”. Not only that, Nate seemed so old, so adult as a junior to my 9th grade self. So when he drove me out to Purgatory Chasm to give me what would become the best mixtape I ever received (Depeche Mode’s Somebody?! The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry!?) and asked me to be his girlfriend, I had to end it.

The very next day Amy (now the hair on the back of my neck really stood up!) accosted me in school at my locker. “What kind of slut are you? Did you know you gave him his first kiss? Then, you dump him?” She snarled, her cheeks inflamed with red splotches. She screamed at me that I deserved to be punched in the face and that she would gladly be the one to do it.


Though she did not punch me in the face, she spent the rest of the week giving me nasty letters about my slutty ways. She called me a “tease” as I passed her in the hallway.  Meanwhile, Nate simply ignored me. The show was over by this point, so we didn’t have to see each other any more.


In an abrupt turn of events Nate started to hang out with another girl who was in his grade, and they started to date. Amy, in my memory, vanished. I don’t know how her harassment of me ended. But before Christmas break, it was over.

My theater career took off after this and sophomore year, Nate and I played husband and wife in our production of 12th Night.

And, I went on to briefly date his younger brother my junior year!

At this point, overt bullying basically ended, but what happened next, in some ways, was a lot worse.

Read Part 4: Invisible

PART 4: 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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