Me as Mean Girl

“Some of them seem so, well, mean” says my husband. He is referring to commenter’s on my blog and others.

“Ha. That’s funny. I am aware that some people refer to certain bloggers as the mean girls. It’s funny you say the same and you don’t even know them.” I laugh as I put the final coat of white paint on the baseboard.

“Well, really, do you read some of the comments you get? How can you not find them mean?” he inquires.

“I guess because I know the people involved and the trauma behind the comments, I don’t find them to be intentionally mean. Sure, some of them could work on their words and delivery a bit but that is more about personal communication and writing style than being mean. More importantly, I don’t take them personal. Those types of comments are more of a reflection of the person leaving them than they are of me. I used to get upset, years ago; I even used to delete them. Nowadays I tend to leave them as a public service to others.” I offer.

“I say this all the time. You are too nice. I don’t know how you hold back.” Hubby says with a smile.

His comment causes me to reflect on my own online behavior, commenting style, and what I consider mean or not. Doing so reminds me of a time in my life I am not proud of.

“I was a mean girl once. Maybe not in the adoption blogging land – and even that is questionable depending on who you ask – but I was mean once” I saw rather meekly.

“You? I can’t see it.” Hubby says as he walks away to the kitchen.

I can see it. I can still feel it. I am still embarrassed by it.

I was 13 years old and in the seventh grade. It was a tough year for me. Making the transition from my small elementary school where I was the top student to a large middle school with hundreds of students overwhelmed me. Teenage girl issues, lifelong social anxiety, hormones and challenges at home all contributed to a very difficult seventh grade experience.

My best friend was a girl named Dawn. She was my friend in elementary school and also a “gifted” student. While we had much in common, we were also very different. Dawn’s family was a bit, oh unsettled. She was rarely supervised. She stayed out late, hung around with a rough crowd and smoked cigarettes. She wore dark eyeliner, a rawhide choker and had a long denim jacket. She also had a boyfriend. His name was Bob. All of these items were symbols of a bad girl (according to my mother) and being such made her oddly popular in school and even more attractive to me. I wanted so badly to be her. I was tired of being the smart nerdy girl. I wanted to be accepted and be popular. Since she was my closest friend, I spent a lot of time with her and with Bob and with Bob’s best friend, Ray.

Ray was a little strange. He was a bit unwashed and unkempt, having grown up in a rough section of town. He was poor. I wasn’t wealthy by any means but even in seventh grade socio-economic status was obvious. Where he came from? The street he lived on? Poor. Where I came from? Struggling middle class but not poor. I was able to shower regularly, had decent clothing, and had food in my stomach on a regular basis. This was not the case with Ray.

Ray liked me. I did not like him, well, not that way. He was a fun guy and we were friends. We spent a lot of time together because Bob was his best friend and Dawn was mine. While Dawn and Bob smoked cigarettes and made out, Ray and I skipped rocks on the pond and talked – a lot. We talked about other kids in school, about Dawn and Bob, about our families, about teenage trials and tribulations. In nearly every conversation, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I always said no. I did not feel that way about him. He was my friend, more of a brotherly figure, than a boyfriend. I was (and here is where I get shallow and mean) also sort of embarrassed by him. Even if I did like him that way, he was not the type of guy that I would want to be seen with. I would for sure be made fun of in school. It was okay to hang out with him after school with Dawn and Bob but I would never be seen with him in school.

I always laughed, smiled, thanked him and refused. He would smile back and say he was not giving up. He was confident someday I would be his “girl”. I secretly shuddered at the thought.

Months went by and I spoke with Ray nearly every night on the phone. We became closer and true to his word he continued to ask me out and I continued to refuse. I was crushing on other boys in school, Brad and Jimmy. I would tell Ray about them and he would make snide comments about the other boys being either “meathead jocks” or “burnouts”. He told me those boys would never be nice to me like he was and he proved this point in his own mind by regularly buying me presents, presents that he could not afford. I suspected he stole them. I would refuse them (my mother taught me accepting a gift from a man demanded some sort of reciprocal gesture) and he would insist I accept. Despite my refusals, he would show up when I was not aware and leave them in my parents’ mailbox, or my locker at school. If I casually said in a conversation with Dawn, I saw a great pair of neon earrings at Bradlees; they would magically appear a few days later courtesy of Ray.

In the spring of that year, Ray broke me down. After a lengthy phone call one night, he asked me again, to go out with him. I paused for a long time and responded with an “Okay”. I agreed to go out with him. Going out, by seventh grade definition, meant he could tell people I was his girlfriend and also implied he could touch or kiss me if he chose to. Shocked and not sure he heard me correctly, Ray demanded I repeat my answer. I did. He started to cry.

He told me he was so happy. He knew I would come around. I laughed and internally wondered if I had done the right thing. Part of me clearly enjoyed spending time with him, he liked me, was nice to me, I figured it might be okay to “go out”. I told him we would try. I expressed concern that we were good friends and that going out might ruin that. He said it wouldn’t. It would only make it better. Little did we know. I asked him not to tell anyone (here comes that bitchy mean girl again). I was not sure I wanted anyone to know. He was perplexed by my request and I explained that I wanted to see how it went before we told people. He seemed to find that to be a reasonable explanation.

The next day at school I got off the bus to find four of the most popular girls waiting for me. Dawn was with them. Lisa was the ring leader.

“OMG. Are you seriously dating Ray? Tell me it isn’t true!” Lisa says with a condescending mocking tone to her voice.

I stand there with a sick feeling in my stomach. Faced with the most popular girls in school, the girls I wanted to be accepted by, and the reality that I did tell Ray I would go out with him but I asked him to keep it quiet. Clearly he didn’t.

“What?” I respond feigning ignorance or lack of understanding.

“We heard that you were going out with Ray. Tell us it isn’t true. That is disgusting. Have you lost your mind?” Lisa says as the other three break out into mean girl giggles.

I start to walk away towards the school. The bell is going to ring soon and I don’t want to be late for home room. I am also hoping I can avoid the question.

They continue on as they walk behind me. Their voices are loud and other students can hear them. They are talking about Ray and how he looks, how poor he is, how they cannot believe I would go out with him.

I am fuming. I am angry. Angry at Ray. Angry at them. Angry at my life. I want to crawl in a hole.

I get halfway down the main hallway and I spin on my heels to the mean girl posse.

“Stop it. I am not going out with Ray. We are friends. That is all. I would never go out with him. He is disgusting.” I say quite matter of factly with my hand on my mean girl hip.

They start to laugh. Lisa exhales loudly and says “Whewf. Close call. We worried you had lost your mind”

Dawn looks at me incredulously shocked at the words that came out of my mouth – or so I thought. I look at her pleadingly. I was hoping she understood, that she realized my conflict, that she would still be my friend.

Dawn was actually looking at Ray, who unknown to me, was standing a few steps behind me. He had heard the entire conversation.

As I turned and saw him, I froze. He stood there, stared at me, and looked as if he were crying. As I started to say something, he turned and walked away from me.

He never spoke to me again.

I don’t blame him. I did not want to speak to myself.

Years later, at a local bar, we ran into each other. I did not recognize him. He was sitting with a mutual friend. Friend recognized me, we started chatting and friend introduced us. The moment he said Ray’s name I braced for impact. Friend said “Oh, I think you two know each other. Ray, this is Suz Bednarz.”

Ray stared at me coldly for a minute before responding.

“No, I don’t think I know her.” He said as he turned and walked away much like he had more than 20 years prior.

I did not blame him then either.

6 Thoughts.

  1. Oh my gosh, Suz. This is material for a short story for teens. Working in a high school, I can totally see how such an experience like the one you’ve described is not uncommon. Did this experience change you in some way? The Suz I know is a very kind person and one who doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in her body. I like to think that I don’t have any “mean bones” either and actually kindness is something I highly value and I have my parents to thank for that.

    • Gail – I would like to think it taught me how much a persons soul can be hurt by such things. I also developed and even deeper sense of respect, understanding, compassion for the underdogs, the scrappy fighters, the lost ones. I suppose this is partly due to the fact that I always felt like one of those. However, like many things, I probably over developed that sense in reaction. (The shadow side of my mean self). I had a former boyfriend who used to jokingly ask me if I could consider bringing home stray animals intead of stray souls. As my husband notes often, I tend to be overly tolerant of poor behavior and can always find an excuse or explanation. Sometimes there is no excuse. There are times when bad behavior is just bad behavior – as mine was in 7th grade.

  2. I think we all have stories in our youth where we try on our power and use it very unwisely. I know I did. I met a guy named Jay between 7th and 8th grade who doted on me. He came from a home with older, unstable parents so he always had this vulnerable wounded quality. Now I understand they were hoarders but I never went inside their house that summer.

    He was unfailing nice to me that summer and it was really a very sweet time with him during a rough patch in my life. When we went back to school, my friends were mortified over him. No matter how hard he tried, he was always a step off and confused at how to navigate through school and life. Too eager, too puppy like. It was the kiss of middle school death.

    Instead of bowing out gracefully, I had my friends break up with him. He didn’t believe them the first time so they were pretty harsh to make him understand. He was 7th grade and I was 8th so it was easy to avoid him. I saw him a few times around at school events and while I even felt like crap then, I never could reach out to him. He dropped out of high school as soon as he turned 16.

    I saw him once in a bowling alley. I was home during a holiday from college with friends and we were all acting like a typical drunken assholes who thought it would be funny to slum it at the sad old bowling alley the next town over. I was getting another pitcher of beer and he was there with a toddler on his hip and another at his feet. I did not recognize him until he spoke to me.

    He was there with his wife and kids, he’d been working as a mechanic when he could find work and they lived with his parents (which must have been a nightmare). I felt pretty much like an ass for being loud and stupid with my friends there.

    I never apologized to him and while I certainly couldn’t have then, I wish I had found a way to help him when we were younger. I don’t think I’m responsible for his dropping out, etc – his parents were the biggest issue there – but I could have been a good friend to him. I could have helped shepherd him through the shitty parts of middle school.

    Suz – do you find yourself looking at your son’s peer relationships at times through lenses colored from your experiences? I definitely do. I find myself telling Hayley and her friends to BE NICER frequently.

    • Not really. For a number of reasons. Gender being the most obvious one. I think if my sons were daughters I might view them differently and more like me. Additionally, my oldest son is likely going to be the one to be hurt. He is far too kind, a really gentle soul.

  3. I agree with hubby. Don’t be so sympathetic that you let your guard down. There are some very disturbed people for whom the word trauma means a free pass to behave in all sorts of unprincipled ways.

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