bittersweet

hiding under a blanket

Quiet and reserved is NEVER cool. I learned that 17 years ago when I started high school. Well, I knew it ever since I made the switch from outgoing and spontaneous to shy and well-rehearsed. I don’t remember an exact event. But once being adventurous became being vulnerable—I buttoned my lips, hid my courage and strength as I sat quietly at the front of the class like a good little Catholic girl while the guys sat behind me, taking turns stomping their feet on the basket under my chair—a process they called the “vibrating chair.”

The more I tried to be invisible, the more they harassed me.  I got mental abuse on a daily basis. Different kids—all with the same heartless intentions. As they conformed to what was “cool,” being skinny and uncoordinated made me stand out even more, giving them open invitations to hurt my feelings. Going from Catholic grade school to the public high school, they didn’t know anything about me. Girls spewed comments like “I hate you because your so skinny.” Guys targeted my vast differences and imperfections. I still hear their exact random phrases, which will be engrained in my mind forever. “You melt my cheese.” “You’re a fag.” “You’re uglier than Peggy Bundy.” Butt grabbed by jocks. Harassed by nerds. Always picked last for any sport in gym class. Daily fights for a place to sit at the lunch table. Remember the nightmare when you go to school naked? That’s how I felt…every day.

I loved learning and still do but cruel kids made it impossible to feel anything but fear with their wise cracks and hurtful bullying. It made me hate everything about high school.

Those events were so long ago. In a small town. In the past. So why do they still haunt me whenever I come across one of those creeps on Facebook or hear something about one of them from an old friend? Why do I get a little chill whenever I drive up the hill that leads into my hometown? Nothing will ever change the fact that those kids hurt me. And that I never stood up for myself. I don’t wish any of them ill-will because that wouldn’t get me anywhere. But if I never see any of them again, still, it would be too soon.

Since the shyness didn’t disappear when I left the classroom, I decided to find ways to learn that made me comfortable. I taught myself how to play guitar and how to read in Italian. I wrote in my journal every day—songs, poems, plays and rants. I made friends with other socially awkward kids, one of whom is my best friend to this day.

Despite the shyness, I began performing; my guitar became my security. Open mics at the college campus featured me—with my guitar, original music and lyrics.

When I felt like shutting down, breaking down and closing off from everything, I found security in my talents. My writing improved and the teachers took notice. I won awards and scholarships for writing.  I received my college degree in creative writing and became a published author.

I traveled, studied abroad, became a hair model. Instead of spending all my time trying to fit in, I spent it doing what I could to better myself. Now matter how bitter I get about my high school experience, the bullies made me who I am today.

Even in my 30s, it’s easy for people catch me off guard, treat me like dirt and take advantage of my reserved nature. These days, when it gets bad enough, I stand up for myself. I fume and react with some hot-headed comment that, as stupid as it sounds at the time, usually I don’t regret it.

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