The Can I Sit With You Project: Join Us
My high school reunion is in just a few weeks, and when I go to the dinner and dancing we’ve planned, I’ll see many of the people I went to school with from first grade until that day in June when we received our diplomas twenty years ago. I missed our last big reunion because I had just given birth to our first child, and other than a few visits at the holidays, a couple of weddings and my two baby showers, I really haven’t been back “home” or seen many of those classmates in all of those 20 years.
My stomach flip-flops a little thinking about seeing those people again. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy high school or that I didn’t have friends, because I did. And I never really felt bullied, nor did I bully anyone else; I just never felt like I clicked in anywhere. Was I a geek because I was in honors classes? A nerd, for singing in the madrigal choir? Was I an athlete because I was on the track team? Was I cool because I dated a college boy or had good friends who were cheerleaders? Was I strange because I worked as many hours as I could, from the moment I was old enough, and went to another city every other weekend to see my dad, because my parents were divorced? Was I so different because I couldn’t wait to leave a town so beautiful, and head north to the perpetual fog of the San Francisco bay?
High school, middle school, they can be such a daunting places. Hormones are abuzz, “group think” emerges as a way to look like everyone else (even if you’re in a fringe group). It’s hard to know where you fit in, or should you try to fit in at all. Sometimes when you think you’ve finally found a group of friends, they change the rules and suddenly you don’t belong, and it’s hard not to belong. In her story The Year Nobody Liked Me, Mary R. Wise recalls going through an entire school year feeling left out, and ignored.
I wasn’t overtly bullied. No one teased me or threw things at me or played ugly pranks on me. I was simply the Girl Nobody Liked. For the rest of the year I drew into myself. I didn’t talk much or try to do anything with anybody else. I just existed, doing my schoolwork and speaking when spoken to and trying not to draw attention to myself.
The Can I Sit With You? project has been a great place for people to get out some of those feelings, because it turns out that almost everyone can remember a time when they felt singled out, or forgotten, and certainly we can remember trying to figure out who we were on any given day.
It’s always surprising to me how much we can remember from those moments of pain. In her story The Lessons My Bullies Taught Me, Adrienne Jones explains how hard it is just to prepare to remember.
All these years later, a whole lifetime, and I’ve already used half a box of tissue preparing to write about it. I was just a little girl, deserving of love and protection, like every other child, but I didn’t know that. I thought I was different: unworthy, flawed, and fundamentally unlikeable. My bullies, and the adults who allowed their behavior to continue, taught me lessons that I’m still unlearning nearly 30 years later.
My online social network says that I have friends from each of those parts of who I was in high school; it also shows who is connected to whom from those crowds. I can see that the nerd and the cheerleader got married, and the kid I thought was the smartest? She still is. The band geek and the popular girl meet at the lake with their respective families several times a year, and the macho football player is now the most tender father. We grow, we learn, we change, and hopefully we become better people.
Adrienne Jones’ story continues and she shares how she found healing in an apology from a former tormenter, who wrote:
“…it always makes me think of how I treated you and how for a very long time I have wanted to find a way to get in touch with you to tell you how sorry I am.”
I’m fairly confident that I don’t have any big apology notes to write, but it makes me mindful of how I raise my children, to make sure they can grow up without feeling unimportant and forgotten, while being kind to their classmates. School is about getting an education, but it’s also when they need to figure out who they are on the inside, because that’s the person you have to live with the rest of your life.
I'd love to get your feedback, with a comment about your own memories of fitting in, or not making the cut. Were you unkind and tried to make amends later? If you have an essay-length story about your childhood, feel free to post it here on BlogHer, or link a post from your own site in this post's comments so we know where to find what you’ve shared.
My co-editor Shannon and I will take the best stories of your, which may have been the worst thing that ever happened to you, -- and publish them on theCan I Sit With You? blog, and in the third Can I Sit With You? book.
If you have any questions, please read the Can I Sit With You? submission guidelines, or contact me directly.
Jennifer Byde Myers
On twitter @jennyalice
CanISitWithYou.org real tales of schoolyard terror and triumph
HaveAutismWillTravel.com our family travel journeys