When Bullies Grow Up

So, who had (or will have) a 10-year high school reunion this year? I was a member of the class of 2000, a bit of trivia that was burned into my brain at a young age. I remember my kindergarten teacher telling us as a group that we were going to graduate in the year 2000, and the date seemed so impossibly futuristic to me. I couldn’t wait to finish high school, and drive off in my flying car to the next adventure.

But of course, high school ended up being a mixed bag for me. In addition to feeding myself a heaping spoonful of self-sabotage, there were always other kids on standby to make me miserable. There were the frenemies, whose insidious sabotage was often too subtle to even be perceived. But always worse were the Popular Kids, who, contrary to their titles, were hated by everyone. Even each other.

Bullying at my high school didn’t resemble the kind of bullying I read about in the news today. Namely, I had the good fortune of being a high-schooler during the early days of the internet. Sure, there was the odd argument over AOL, but bullying really hadn’t really taken off online. Probably because, before the bullies could get very far, someone in their house would pick up the phone and kick them off the modem. Or they’d get distracted by the Hamster Dance.

Also, at my school (in a snooty NYC suburb), outright aggressive bullying was seen as gauche, so the Popular Kids rarely took part in it. Their bullying was more oppressive, in that manner that rich people have perfected: you don’t matter. If you weren’t popular, you weren’t allowed to have opinions or stand up for your friends. You just were not allowed. (Also, you weren’t allowed to be a slut. My best friend dared to be unpopular and slutty and she got no end of grief about it, from the girls and the guys.)

Fast forward to today, and there’s a planning committee in place for the aforementioned reunion, and a lot of us are communicating over Facebook and email as we pull the event together. Many of the specific people who bullied me are now cheerfully helping out with the planning, asking how I’m doing, friending me on Facebook, commenting on my wedding pictures! (And yes, I’ve accepted their friend requests. Not because I expect them to be doing badly, but because I want them to see how well I’m doing.)

The weirdest part of this new chapter in the Not Terribly Popular Girl Chronicles is facing the reality that those Popular Kids are now just people. And, contrary to what I had hoped, when I look at their current lives, there’s no schadenfreude to be had. Most of them are doing well. As much as I hate to admit it, it makes sense. The same traits that propel someone to the top of the social ladder in high school (self-promotion, charisma, ruthlessness) are rewarded in the work environment. It also appears that some of them have just chilled the F out since high school.

In a sense, who you are in high school often doesn’t end up being who you are later in life. Not necessarily because you’re lying in high school; you’re just still figuring things out. What are you like? What matters to you? How do you want to treat others?

I wouldn’t want to be frozen, in reality or in anyone’s mind, as I was back then. I was insecure, I was mean to my parents and brother, I spent way too much time worrying about boys, and I skipped class. Maybe some of the former Popular Kids feel the same way when they look back on their high school years. I don’t expect, or even really deserve, an apology from any of them. Maybe being nice and behaving like actual human beings is their way of making up for it.

I know from experience how good it feels to let go of a grudge. It feels like unclenching your fist when you didn’t even realize you’d been clenching it. It might just be time to let some of this stuff go. But”¦we’ll see how I feel after the reunion.

8 replies on “When Bullies Grow Up”

I know I am a million years late with this reply, but I am new to Peresephone, and am surfing the archives for topics that intersest me.
Anyway, my 10 year reunion was last year. I am also a grad of 2000. I was supposed to graduate in 99, but I failed 7th grade and my dad refused to send me to summer school…so I had to begin again with a whole new class of 7th graders that I ended up graduating high school with.
Middle school was hell. High school, I was a ghost. I didnt matter. I had a couple of really close friends that stuck it out with me, and we are still friends today. I wasnt a slut, I wasnt a nerd, I was just…there. Day in and day out I went to school, sat through class, did my work, and went home. There were days when nobody, aside from my very few friends, spoke to me. I wasnt good enough to be talked to. I didnt wear the right clothes or carry the right bookbag or some trivial shit like that. There was even a teacher that, for no particular reason, hated me. She was my computer teacher, so when anybody raised their hand she came to their computer to answer them. She would get this LOOK on her face and visibly sigh when I called attetion to my quiet, unobtrusive self. Oh but let one of the popular, well dressed in name brand clothes kids ask a question, and she practically fell over herself to get to them. I eventually quit asking questions and handled my own. I still dont understand that. Dumb bitch.
So, no. I didnt attend my 5 year reunion and I didnt attend my 10 year reunion. Even though I am doing ok now, I have a wonderful man that I show off at every opportunity, (I never even had a boyfriend in high school) I didnt go because I really believed half or more of them wouldnt remember that I even existed.
I may go to the 15 or 20 year reunion. Maybe. Just to show that, indeed, Melanie Stodghill existed and still does.

My 10 year reunion was last year (Class of ’99! What what!) and it was such a good experience for me. I never felt popular in high school, I was teased and belittled. In fact I spent most of my 4 years without a close friend.

But now? No animosity towards anyone. I even have become friends with the girl who made me lose the majority of my friends in 9th grade. It’s true what you said, (paraphrasing) We’re all just people. Going to the reunion really helped me realize that fact.

The closest thing to bullying I experienced came in elementary/middle school, by boys who called me crybaby or told me I picked my nose. Thanks to facebook, I do know what they’re up to, although I can’t say it’s really helped me get over it. Okay, well maybe the nosepicker comment, but the crybaby one really stuck with me. After I cried it out in the closet and became a hardened smartass. But I digress.
Grudges on girls did go away. And, like frenemies, most of the grudges were from girls that I had previously been close to. I wonder if seeing them less often on facebook would make my grudges go away more easily, though?
I’d like to thank facebook for making me not need to go to my reunion (which will be in 2 years) – I already know what everyone is up to!

There was a round robin of bullying when I was in fifth grade. The mean girls, led by Kim, decided they didn’t like me, Catherine, and Kim. So every third week I knew it would be my turn– homework disappeared, my desk ransacked, my gym locker messed up, invisble feet tripped me in the hall, invisible hands grabbed, pulled my hair, spitballs hit the back of my head and shoulders. Other acts of sabotage, but there was no recourse back in the mid 70’s. Yes, those memories still linger.

Crybaby? That’s such a terrible taunt, especially because someone being taunted is probably going to cry, no matter what. I’m sorry you went through that.

And it’s true; Facebook changed everything, and I’m glad it gave me a little preview of what everyone is up to. I’m going to mine because I have some close friends still from those days that will be there as a security blanket. But I totally understand not wanting to go!

I’m also coming up on my 20th reunion, and bullying has completely changed since I was in high school, for obvious reasons. Sexual harassment was more prevalent in my school than girl-on-girl bullying (I don’t think we really had mean girls), and being a conservative, catholic school, most of it was dismissed away with a “Oh, boys will be boys. Maybe you should try being nicer to them?” No, the school should have tried punishing them.

I didn’t go to my ten, and a see very few people from high school, so I can’t tell you if any of them have mellowed since then, though once in a while, I see people I went to grade school with — a smaller and closer group to begin with — and most of them have moved on, to the point that I don’t know who were the bullies and who were bullied anymore.

I will have my 30th (!!) in 2012 and am not sure if I will attend. I doubt my friends will attend. Some people change, some don’t. Memories have faded now, waistlines have widened, and hairlines receded. Only those who are still in the area, have legacy children at this prep school are still gung ho about these events. I know what you mean by sexual harrassment–teacher/student relationships, date rape, non-consensual drunken state rapes, that was the way it was. No, it wasn’t rampant, but we heard the stories.
And like Hattie our bullying was from the rich kids who made others feel invisible, literally. At lunch asking for “Regina George” to pass the water jug, and she just held it, offering it to everyone else at the table while the table head (faculty member) silently watched. WTF people?

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