If you know me, or if you’ve followed this blog for long enough, you’ll know that I was something of a loser in school. Or maybe a nobody. Probably some kind of monstrous hybrid of the two, if such a thing exists. I don’t say this to elicit pity; I’m more-or-less fine with who I am at this point in my life, or my inadequacies and neuroses have balanced themselves out enough to allow me to function normally most days, which amounts to the same thing.
But lately I’ve been thinking about someone from those dark days and how friggin’ mean she was.
(T-Swift gets me.)
If I trace things back to grade 9 (the year I first met her) it would have seemed that she and I should have been friends. We knew many of the same people, were interested in many of the same things, both did well in school (though she universally excelled where I merely coasted at “above average”), were both well-read and analytical, and for quite a while I thought that we actually were friends. I had few enough people that could stand to be around me, so maybe it was my fault in assuming that anyone that would was the same as someone that actually wanted to be friends with me. Hard to say at this point.
I didn’t really start to come out of my shell until well into grade 12. The handful of people I could safely call my friends were also friends with this girl, so again I found myself assuming that I was friends with her too. But perhaps by that point I actually knew what friendship actually looked and felt like, so I started to notice a few things.
The first thing I noticed was that this girl wasn’t very nice to me.
That statement is actually me being kind. She was downright nasty to me sometimes. She would cut me down in front of other people and laugh it off as a joke, or she would make a point of rolling her eyes at something I was saying only when I looked at her, just to make me stutter or flounder. I remember her calling me a loser more than once, and it was always in front of our mutual friends that she would do it. I remember her loudly saying to the person next to me, “You know who I hate? Nick Stirling. I hate him.” I wish that I could say that it was meant to be a poor attempt at humour, but it wasn’t.
At other times she seemed to like me just fine. I don’t know what changed from moment to moment, what baggage she brought with her (and don’t we all carry a lot of that?), but it’s pretty clear in hindsight that my interest in her as a friend was not at all mutual.
So why did I keep hanging out with her? There are plenty of reasons, really, most of them related to my insecurity and self-defeating attitude. I probably told myself that I didn’t deserve to be treated with kindness or understanding, what with me being such a flat-out loser, that I should be lucky to have any friends at all, that I she was cool and popular and the top of our class, so who was I to ask to be treated nicely?
Maybe I think about her this girl more these days because I am around teenagers all the time, many of them getting ready for high school with all of its social pitfalls and dangers, and I just hope and pray that they do better than I did. I see some of them being mean to each other now and wonder how much worse it will get when they step into that big, scary school full of people that just don’t care that you can’t easily be in on the joke when you are being forced into the role of punch-line.
I’ve seen her a few times since high school. Once was at a restaurant where she was working; that time she acted like we had been thick as thieves in high school, excitedly running over to hug me and to ask all about my life. A year or two later, when were at a mutual friend’s party, she seemed to have remembered that my role was that of social victim, and it was back to the old put-downs and not-so-gentle teasing directly at my expense.
Some things aren’t mean to change, I guess.
I had a teacher back in grade 10 that told all of us that if a relationship wasn’t great, you were better off alone. He was talking about the romantic kind, but I’ve come to realize that it applies to every kind of relationship. Friendships that aren’t great aren’t worth it. You’re better off sitting by yourself than with someone that thinks it’s good sport to tear you down.
I wish that I had been strong enough back then to sit by myself.