Sunday, October 16, 2011

“Get away from her you (bleep)”

Or, wait. Are we allowed to say “bitch” on this blog? Probably. But seems wrong somehow in a title – which, in actuality, hints at the root of my problem. Fundamentally, I’m timid. I not only don’t like confrontation, I actively avoid it. In the years between high school and today, I’ve acquired enough inner strength (confidence? Chutzpah?) to be able to stand up for myself, my family, my friends. That ability…it was a long time coming.

So now we do that thing where we roll back the mythical hands of time and the scenery blurs and some wacky creepy music plays and then the scene is set. I am younger by an unnamable amount of years, and I sit in the never-ending hell of high school. (I’m not going to tell you what my uniform looks like. Nothing I could say would make you understand how hideous that polyester monstrosity was.) It’s only homeroom, so there’s a whole day of horror looming on the horizon. Two rows over, my best friend has her head bent over a notebook, but she looks up as THEY walk up to her and surround her desk.

You know these girls. They’re in every high school. Every middle school. I’m pretty sure they form their hair-flipping, pinched-lipping, evil-oozing cliques in the nursery, shortly after birth. In this flashback, they’ve made it to high school and they’re surrounding my best friend’s desk and sniping at her. From where I sit I can’t hear what they’re saying. Their faces are pink with anger, their lips tight with righteousness and they’ve slammed a stage script on my best friend’s desk. I might have closed my eyes in dread.

My best friend was – and is – a seriously funny girl. She’s got a way of looking at the world that’s slightly skewed and screamingly insightful all at the same time, and her play-by-play of life is a master class in humor. Let’s just say she honed her rapier wit early in life – say, high school. Much of that honing took place in the margins of that script. Many of the screamingly insightful and bitingly funny comments pertained to the very nursery-pact bitches circling her desk, offended that someone should see past their perfect, Chanel appearances to the ugliness below. No, I couldn’t hear what they said. And I am humiliated to admit I sat rooted in my chair, hoping they didn’t notice me, because I was not as strong as my friend was. I could not withstand such an attack. But this one time, neither could she. She fled the room in tears.

And I sat. While my heart beat, and my palms sweat and my mouth went dry. I sat.

Now, &%^@ years later, and for all the years and days in between, I’ve regretted that moment. I’ve been haunted by my inability to stand up and defend my friend. The memory is torturously vivid; my regret a scar that will never fade.

So while I know a lot of writers whose fiction reflects the things they did do in their teen years, mine reflects what I didn’t. And, in good Hollywood therapeutic fashion, I overcompensate. My heroines are brave and don’t back down. They stand up for what they believe in – they have things they believe in! And they never, ever, ever let anyone hurt their friends.


Maybe in writing these characters I’ve gained the strength I lacked. Maybe I gained the strength and then created characters. I don't know. What I do know, is that now? you hurt one of my friends? I'm going all Ripley on your ass. Count on it.

And now that I've confessed that, it is, of course, time to share. No doubt you've always been able to stand up for yourself or your friends, but even so, there's got to be a moment -- serious or funny -- that'd you'd like to have back. one episode you'd like to either erase from the books or get a do-over on. Or maybe you just want to do something like this:

Peppy, you're my best friend, then and now. I don't know if you even remember that day, but clearly I won't forget it. I'm sorry for not being there for you then, but know I am here for you now and in all the days to come ~Jen.

Okay blog readers. Have at it:


PJ Sharon said...

Being the youngest of seven children, I learned to fight--for basically everything--when I was young. Even though I was a little thing, I was known as a "scrapper" in elementary school. Now I had a best friend who was even more of a little peanut than I was and once in the sixth grade when I didn't like something she said or did, I lost my temper and twisted her arm--hard enough to make her cry. I was mortified and so disappointed in myself that I cried too. I think that was the last time I physically fought with someone outside of martial arts classes as an adult. That moment taught me a lot about myself and how to handle my anger by being smarter than the other guy--not meaner.

Gerb said...

My best friend Kristin's dad taught at our high school, which is one of the reasons my idea to sluff one afternoon was a supremely stupid move. I don't even remember what we did when we skipped. But I do remember, vividly, when her dad gave us a ride home from school that day, and asked Kristin where she had been since she was not in class. When he told her how disappointed he was in her, I wanted to crawl under the seat. Yes, she made her own decision, but it had been my idea. Neither one of us said anything the entire ride home and I've always felt bad about that. I should have said at least told him it was me who out the idea in her head. Not that it would have made any difference to her dad, but at least it might have made her feel better to know I would stand up for her.
Kristin (and Mr. Poulter), I'm truly sorry.

Melissa Landers said...

Great post, Jen! No matter how ballsy, everyone's been there. The person I wish I'd stood up for was myself. There were these two girls who sat behind me in Freshman Biology--serious bitches--and they tortured me every single day with crude notes taped to my back and taunts *just* soft enough that the teacher couldn't hear. I followed the standard advice and ignored them, but now that I'm all grown up, I regret that I didn't grab my science book and clock one of them in the face. The punishment would've been worth it.

Kimberly said...

What a great post! Most of us would love to have a set amount of do-overs. I know I would. Mine don't necessarily have to do with standing up for myself or friends partly because I had to do that in elementary school. There was this group of boys who picked on me EVERY SINGLE DAY after school. More than picked on. Pulled my "bookbag" (not a backpack :-) like we say today) off and would throw it around right before they started using feet and fists. It makes my heart feel good that these boys never amounted to much--prison, flunked get the picture.
But, eventually my mom made me "call out" the biggest bully on the street and I fought him one on one. Eventually he did win, but I put up one great fight, and he walked away knowing that I would never be a punching bag again. He also walked away bloody and bruised. And my mom watched from the front yard with a bag of popcorn, cheering. Yeah. Crazy crap, that.
But, when I changed schools a couple of years later, I made a promise to myself that I would always stand up for myself, my friends and any underdogs out there who needed me to stand up for them. And I always did. Because I knew what it felt like, and I wouldn't want anyone to ever feel like that.

DTTarkus said...

As a guy, and fellow YA writer, this is a recurring nightmare for girls and boys. I raised daughters, wasn’t privy to the rain of tears when they experienced it, but I was observant, and empathetic to their plight. As one of seven kids myself, the middle child (the invisible one), a 95 lb. (lanky is the operative word) geek with glasses, I lived in a special purgatory for boys of my ilk. It went beyond sniping words, transcending to physical abuse, out-of-control testosterone induced epithets of which “nerd” was a kind one. Worst place in all of MS and HS was the locker room, where teenage Neanderthals walked proud in their towels in search of new prey. When fellow members of my not so exclusive club were chastised, all one could do is crouch behind the desk, lower the profile so as to not be noticed. I am thankful my daughters were accosted in attitude only, and spared the humiliation of bruises and black eyes. Today, as an adult, I make up for it by standing tall, because now I can. Better late than never. DT

Jennifer McAndrews said...

@PJ Lucky you learning to fight from the get-go AND learning early on how to handle your anger. That's wonderful. Smarter not meaner -- perfect!

@Gerb you cut school??? you??? I hardly believe it. Yet, ooooh, I know that wanting to crawl under the seat feeling all too well. Kudos to you for sharing this moment. I'm sure Kristin and Mr. P have long since forgiven you.

Jennifer McAndrews said...

@Melissa, yeah, every has been there, huh? But I... like those girls in your bio class -- how do people get to be that way? WHY do people behave that way? I just don't understand it -- never did. Curious -- have you given thought to how things may have changed for you if you had whaled on those girls with your science book? Would school life have changed for the better or the worse? I often wonder.... *sigh*

@Kim, holy crap! I'm sooooo never crossing you again -- you're dangerous ; ) Hugs for all your childhood torment and high fives for standing up to the bullies. I'm certain this has helped shape you into the confident person you are today!

Jennifer McAndrews said...

@DT (((hugs))) and thanks for offering the guy's perspective. It's so easy -- for me, anyway -- to forget that boys have their own brand of hell. Then again, I was at an all-girls school so that's likely where my skewed perspective comes from. Boys always seemed so much more in control. But I can tell you, girls have their own brand of cruel; give your daughters an extra hug. Good for you for standing tall today. Living well is the best revenge, no?

Shelley Coriell said...

Thought provoking post, Jenn. Makes me ponder the kid in my high school who was developmentally disabled. When we gathered in the school gym for pep assemblies, some of the upperclassmen boys would throw pennies onto the gym floor, and the disabled boy would scramble to pick them up. Some people laughed, but I squirmed in my chair at the demeaning form of pre-show entertainment. Still makes me sad. :-(

Ginger Calem said...

Love the post, Jen. Sometimes it's so hard to do and say what you know is right, what you truly want to do, when it will shift the attention to you just you're trying to blend in. Talk about high school hell.

My story may seem a bit silly because I was so young, 6th grade, but it's a moment I truly regret to this day. I had a crush on this boy, Garrett and according to the note he gave me, he liked me too so we were 'boyfriend/girlfriend'. (Nevermind that we were like 11--haha) But I had friend who was pretty popular and she had a boyfriend and they thought I should 'go out' with his best friend. They thought it would be 'funny' if I broke up with Garrett and then let this other boy (I didn't even like) ask me to go out with him in front of Garrett. UGH! Even now I want to slap myself and that evil beast of peer pressure.

The plan went down as set up and I could tell I hurt Garrett's feelings and embarrassed him. I still feel ashamed. So I'd like to tell Garrett that I'm truly sorry. I thought you were cute and I wanted to pass notes with you and be your friend and if it makes you feel better, I 'broke up' with that other boy the very next day.

Robin Ruinsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer McAndrews said...

@Shelley oh, that's heartbreaking. Do you wonder if those kids who threw the pennies look back on their behavior with regret? Do you think they even realize how awful they were? gosh, that is just so sad : (

@Ginger -- well now we know where you got that heartbreaker reputation from. Poor Garrett -- and poor you. It's tough having things like that haunting you, isn't it? Hugs to you and Garrett, wherever he is : )

Lorie Langdon said...

Love this post, Jen! It makes me want to be part of your circle of friends. 
In 7th grade, I was cornered in the bathroom by a bully in a full-leg cast. Despite her obvious disadvantage, when she limped toward me, I froze. Her fist was hurtling toward my face when Heather, a girl I had only spoken to a few times, came into the bathroom and got between my pre-teen assailant’s fist and my face. Heather was a big girl who was almost completely bald, and as you can imagine, the target of constant reticule. (At the time, I didn’t know why she would only have thin wisps of blond hair covering her head, but looking back, I realize she must have had a serious illness.)
Heather and I became good friends. But I never told her she was a bit of a hero to me. And the person I channeled whenever I needed to overcome my non-confrontational instincts and stand up for myself or one of my friends.
So, thanks, Heather!

Jennifer McAndrews said...

@Robin, that's no fair! where'd your comment go???

@Lorie, you can be in my circle whenever you like :) But holy smokes! That was one crazy, determined biotch you got trapped in the bathroom with. Thank heaven for Heather and all the people in the world willing to stand up for others. They teach us such a great lesson.

Robin Ruinsky said...

Went to revise it but must have hit the little garbage can instead.
The people whose best times were in high school are to be pitied. If those were their best years they have a long hard road ahead of them.
Standing up for what's right, even when it's uncomfortable or inconvenient might be the best thing
a human being can learn.
Great post!

Valerie Bowman said...

Aww. This is one of the best blog posts ever. I think we can all relate to the, "There's something I should have done..." sentiment, Jen.

I once got into a fight with my bestie and slapped her with a book. We're still friends. ;)

Anonymous said...

Jen, I can say with absolute certainty that the person you are now is strong and wonderful, and I count myself lucky to have you as a friend, and I bet Peppy does too. The moment I wish I could do over? The nasty popular kids created a chant/cheer, and they used it to mock one unpopular kid whenever he dropped a ball in PE or answered wrong in class, or whenever they felt particularly vicious. And I never said STFU, despite the fact he was actually a pretty nice kid. I hope I teach my own kids there are, in fact, appropriate times to use that particular acronym.

Tuere Morton said...

Hmm. My mother used to just give me a "look" and I'd be quaking in my boots! Like you, I hate confrontation with an unbridled...passion. However, I probably loathe walking away--and feeling like a carpet--even more! I remember a girl I was walking home from my middle school busstop with who, wasn't necessarily one of my bffs, but we were acquaintances. Anyway, we happened to be walking home one day and these group of girls deliberately took our bus and got off on our stop to follow us (and more specifically her) home one day. They had the ugliest expressions on their faces and they said some really nasty things to her. Naturally, this escalated to them tugging at her hair and repeatedly "mushing" her. All in the name of some (probably)worthless boy. I remember the fear of that ire being turned on me as I walked beside her. But I also remember feeling an intense desire to help her. And an inkling of regret will probably always stay with me for not having more "heart" @ the time to even out the playing field. I suppose that inner "purveyor of justice" rears its head from time-to-time just because of that incident. For instance, when I went to nationals for the 1st time this past year and discovered that some of my fellow chaptermates were cattily (if that's even a word) knocking over the display of an author they didn't like in the "goody room", I didn't hesitate to follow right behind them and set it back up ever so neatly with the bitter taste of disapproval left in my mouth!! P.S. LOVED the pic from Aliens ;)

Vanessa Barneveld said...

Jen, it's so hard to know what to say and what to do in a situation like that. I'm sure Peppy's grateful to still have you in her life, as am I!

In high school, two of my male friends were gay. They suffered both subversive and overt bullying. My friends and I tried to help them ignore the taunts, but I do wish I said something to put an end to it altogether.

Lea Nolan said...

Jen, I love your posts. They're full of emotion and dredge up so many memories I prefer to keep squished down inside me. Ugh, I must confess I wasn't always an angel when it came to interpersonal relationships (my bad behavior was mostly fueled by a fear of not being popular and trying desperately to impress some group of idiots) but I was also the recipient of my own fair share of jabs. But I can look back with some satisfaction that I did stick up for someone when it counted. He was funny and kind but socially odd (now we'd probably call it Aspergers) and was tormented, but I distinctly remember telling off a bunch of kids for their cruelty on more than one occasion. These days, it seems schools are taking a harder line on bullying and provocative/aggressive behavior (at least according to what I see in my kids' schools). This is good. It might not end all the negativity, but it should curtail a good bit of it, and thus, reduce some kids' suffering.

Jennifer McAndrews said...

@Robin, so glad you re-posted. yay! thanks! And yeah, standing up for what's right...maybe that's one of the lessons high school teaches us. I don't know that many of us are born with that skill or confidence. So glad my true friends have all developed this ; )

@Valerie I should laugh, but...I'm laughing at myself. For reals? You hit your bestie with a book? Was it a romance novel? ; ) ; )

Jennifer McAndrews said...

@Erica, swear to G*d you're too kind to me ((hugs)). I have no doubt your kids will know when to use STFU and when to ask folks to politely hush. They've got a great role model in you!

@Tuere yes! see! you know exactly what I'm talking about. That fear of putting yourself in the line of fire. Takes a long time for us to learn how to do that, I think. (and now I'm wondering if there's some deep-rooted survival instinct at play there. truly. scientifically. here comes a google search). and holy cow, in the goody room at RWA?!?! oooh. lemme at 'em...

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jen! I was lucky enough to have a best friend who had my back, always. I learned from her that most of the bitchy girls would back down if you were willing to stand up, look them in the eye and give it right back. A crazed reaction is what they want, after all. So when the head of the cheerleaders called me out and wanted to fight me in the parking lot after school, I told her that she was pathetic and I felt bad for her. Such a shame that she had to resort to violence b/cse she wasn't smart enough to take me on with words, etc etc in front of her whole posse. She never bothered me again.

-TL Costa

CareyCorp said...

What a great post Jen! Again you've inspired me about the importance of teaching my kids to stand up for those who can't defend themselves. I spent too much of my high school years trying to be invisible, I wish I'd learned how liberating it is to stand out and up.

Jennifer McAndrews said...

@Vanessa, just being there for your friends to help them through the ugliness I'm sure was a tremendous help. Gosh, you know, the more I think on these things, the happier I am to be an old broad!

@Lea wow! kudos to you for standing up for someone else in your youth. That's tremendous! And yes, I really hope school's are taking a harder line on this sort of behavior. It can go too far too quickly.

Jennifer McAndrews said...

@TL, you're so lucky to have learned that lesson early on. I'm super envious right now. Be sure to pass that wisdom along to the next generation, eh?

@Carey I hear ya'. I liked being invisible. I still like being invisible. But I've also learned the power of standing -- as you put it -- out and up : ) If you can teach your kids that, that's awesome!