Monday, March 11, 2024

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

Invisible (sort of)

Eventually, all harassment stopped…sort of. You could say that it narrowed down to one person and even at that, it was specific incidents. Here is where I try to tell the story of my non-boyfriend boyfriend, yes, you know who I mean: Derrick.

I became invisible to my old friends from the second half of freshman year through the last part of senior year. But to my new friends and my theater friends, I was part of the crowd, and sometimes a leader in the crowd and sometimes a follower.

On the outside, I appeared to be a Theater Geek or A Smart Kid, with friends and activities. But inside, my eating disorder went from Binge Eating Disorder to Anorexia slowly over the course of the end of Sophomore to Senior years. While this was doing its insidious dance inside of me, outside I was trying so hard to be normal. I dated. I went out with friends. I drank once in a while. I smoked pot a few times (for someone with what would later be diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, this was never fun).

I understand now what function my EDs had in my life—control and power. Derrick’s harassment peaked just as my weight peaked—by the end of freshman year I was 35 pounds heavier, and in a final act, Derrick showed up at my house in the late spring, professing his feelings again and apologizing for the prank calls and harassment in the hallways. We had a passionate kiss, and I thought we would get back together.

We did not.

Like all previous tormentors, he disappeared. He called me a year later, like we were friends, to tell me he had a long term girlfriend who was in college. And then we didn’t speak again until Junior year, when I showed up the first day of school 20 pounds lighter, full of confidence, in a mini skirt and tight tank top. This was the summer my restriction of food—praised as “healthy eating”—started to give me a sense of power. The less I ate, the more weight I dropped, the more people praised me. 

And it brought Derrick back into my life.

Out of the blue, within the first week of Junior year he had a friend call me, not to pull a prank, but to say, “Hey, you’re looking really hot this year.” Reinforcing that before, I was not. But nevermind that. Then Derrick got on the phone and reiterated my “hotness” and from there Derrick was a changed guy. He was sweet and thoughtful. He offered to show me how to drive a stick shift, he would come over and let me beat him at Super Mario Brothers, and in the late winter, he showed up at my house with roses on Valentines Day. We talked almost every night. 

Though he had a girlfriend (another one who lived far away), and I had a few boys on rotation (nothing serious and nothing sexual), Derrick and I were always talking and hanging out.


My tormentor was now my friend.

Me, invisible but “hot”. Fall of Junior Year. 1991

But then, as all things that go up (just like my rise to popularity), they must come down. And this one was really bad.

Eventually, the question of the status of “what are you guys” came up amongst our friends. It was June of Junior year, and we had managed to stay “friends” the entire time.


And he brought it up to me, the night before my 17th birthday. He had dumped his long time girlfriend months prior. Sitting in my pink and teal bedroom on my bed, listening to Bob Marley (as we did when we were boyfriend and girlfriend all those years before), he told me it had been a long time since he kissed anyone. And he just gave me a long and dreamy look with his blue eyes. We kissed for the first time in two and a half years. He made a promise that night to take me out on a proper date for my birthday, and he told me that when he was with his ex-girlfriend, all he did was think about me and that’s why he broke up with her. 

And the next night when he never came to get me for that date he promised, I was hurt but refused to let him know. Two days later, he showed up at my door, apologizing and telling me it was important that I let him in, he needed to tell me something.

We went omy backyard and sat across from each other on the glider, his hat covering half of his face and the cool late spring air giving me goosebumps.


I waited.


Finally he looked up and declared, “I really like you. I’ve never stopped. I see us in the future together, like going to college together. I want to be with you. And I’m sorry I’m a prick sometimes. It’s just me.” 


My heart thundered. I forgot about how hurt and angry I was. Adding to the intensity of the moment, was both of us knowing I would be leaving for the entire summer in just two days. He promised me he would write, and I promised I’d call him when I was home.

Neither happened. 

Instead, days after coming home from my summer away, he showed up at my house as if months hadn’t gone by without talking to each other. We went right to the basement to play Super Mario Brothers, except within moments, we were making out on the couch. Just as his hand went up my shirt, the phone rang. I pulled away from him to answer it, and he whispered, “Don’t.”  But I did. It was someone for my mom and before I could hang up, Derrick was gone.

We didn’t speak to each other that first week of senior year.

Then, the second week, Friday night, I’m home early from being out with friends. Halfway to asleep, my phone rang and I let the answering machine pick it up.

“Hey, Hannah. Pick up. It’s me. I need to talk to you. It’s important.”

My eyes were open by the end of his mini speech. The phone rang again. I let it go to the machine again.

“I really need to talk to you. Please, if you can hear this. Pick up.”

So I rolled over and grabbed the phone. “What do you want?”

What he wanted was to come get me and take me back to his house. “We have to talk,” he said. “About us. I need to tell you something.”

I let him come get me, I let him drive me back to his house (which, in all these years I’d never been to), and I let him tell me how much he wanted to be with me (again). I let him apologize for his shitty and inconsistent behavior (again).

He told me he knew why I didn't trust him. I told him he needed to help me learn to trust him. He said, “Let's go out tomorrow.”


What I didn’t let him do was touch me. Not once. He made yet another promise to take me out on a proper date. We got in his bed. We fell asleep.

In the morning, I woke up first, and looked at him. Noticing for the first time, how much he had changed since the beginning of high school. Bloated beer belly from drinking too much. Puffy face and eyes from smoking weed all the time. As my eyes traced his long eyelashes and the stubble on his chin, I thought, I want to go home and go for a run. I don’t want to be here.

He woke up shortly after, and we were awkward. Me saying, “Can you drive me home.” Him, bleary-eyed: “Sure.” 

The sun beamed through the shades of his room. 

He drove me home, promised to call me about our “date” that night as I shut the car door.

He did call. At the end of the day when my friends and I were deciding what to do for the night. All he said was, “Come to my house. Bring your friends.” He sounded very high.

Here’s what my diary says about that evening:

God. It was a nightmare. We went to Derrick’s house. They all got drunk. I felt sick. I didn't even drink. I got bitchy when Kevin started hitting on me, and Derrick paid too much attention to this other girl. Derrick was drunk and stupid and said rude shit to me again. I left at 11 without saying goodbye. 

That Monday at school he ignored me. I felt a surge of anger so strong that day, images of belting him in the face flashed before me. Instead, as soon as I got home from school, I called him:

ME: Hey—

HIM: Hey—

ME: I wanna know what’s up.

HIM: Nothing, I’m just watching that stupid show Swan’s Crossing. (It was a teeny-bop after school show we would sometimes watch together.)

ME: Ok, well I need to know. Are we going to happen?


ME: Cause I need to know if we are going to really be together, like as a couple. I need to know now and if you can’t tell me, this is it. For real.

HIM: Yeah, I don’t know…

ME: Ok, then it’s over. Done.

HIM: Uh, ok.

ME: Bye.

And like every previous tormentor/bully, it ended with the most wimpery of wimpers ... although, not entirely because Derrick went on to attend the same college I went to and he tried, yet again, to get things going. But I met someone at school who would go on to be my boyfriend and later my husband.

Though I tolerated a lot of bullshit from my final tormentor, that last conversation with him was where I took back my power and vowed to never give it over to anyone else again.

And I haven't.


Read the Epilogue

Epilogue: 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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