November 8, 2007
by Jessica Zeiler
Sometimes I wonder if the universe put an invisible-only-to-me "Mock Me" sign on my back during my middle school years. (I really did have a Kick Me sign on my back, one time.)
My family moved from suburban Rhode Island to rural Virginia when I was ten years old. I had gotten picked on here and there in Rhode Island but I still managed to make friends and find my niche. I had hopes of finding the same niche in Virginia but it was not to be -- the new kids were into country music, colored jeans, and pretending to date one another. I wore stretch pants, liked Disney and Broadway music, and thought boys were gross. Did I mention I was also the only Jewish person in my grade?
The toughest part of my new school was that it was small and private; some of the kids had been there since kindergarten, and many of us were stuck with each other until we graduated from high school. There were few ways to escape the bullies.
I don't even know if I could catalog every indignity I suffered at the hands of my classmates, but a few incidents really stick out:
- One group of girls was lower in the social pecking order, so I could get away with sitting near them -- though not with them since they mostly ignored me or were mean to me. One day the ring leader, who was a very bossy type, started telling me that I couldn't sit near them, that the space was saved for her imaginary friend. I ignored her at first, then brushed it off, but everyone else started sticking up for this “imaginary friend” who was going to come and eat lunch with them and needed my seat. I finally gave up and ran out of the lunch room, crying so hard I started to panic and hyperventilate.
- Another time, a church group came in and handed out Bibles to everyone, despite the fact that my school was supposed to be non-denominational. I opted not to take one since it was a New Testament Bible. Later, on the playground, everyone was reading their Bibles, and one kid asked me why I didn't have one. I tried to explain that I was Jewish, and he said, “Well that means you're going to Hell.” The best part was that a teacher lectured the kid about using bad language, while ignoring the obvious insult to my faith.
- One girl was obsessed with talking about me having cooties. Any time I accidentally brushed up against her she would scream, “Oh my God, Jessica gave me cooties!”
- One boy called me assorted names that were all variations on the word “prostitute.” The worst part was that when I told a teacher, she not only didn't do anything about it, but later claimed to forget I ever told her about it. The second worst thing: the principal promised my mother that the boy would be forced to apologize to me, but he never did. The third worst thing? The kid in question was from a family so very rich and powerful that the school's street was named after them. Anyone connecting the dots?
- One day I was reading a book and minding my own business when a really nasty girl took a three-hole punch, emptied out all the little punched paper circles in my hair, and made jokes about how I had dandruff.
What do all these kids have in common, besides making my life a living hell? They all now want to be my friends on Facebook.
For those who don't know, Facebook (www.facebook.com) is a website where you can post a profile of yourself and connect with friends. I made a profile about a year and a half ago, and it has been a bizarre social experiment to see all these kids come out of the woodwork. I hadn't seen or spoken to any of them in nearly five years. And to be fair, most switched from picking on me to ignoring my existence by the time we reached ninth grade.
Still, I don't know what instinct makes people seek me out and want to be my fake friend online. Do any of them regret their past actions? Are they curious about what I'm doing with my life, now that I've been out of high school for five years? Or are they just obsessed with having everyone they ever knew in their life as a friend on Facebook?
The funny thing is that during those terrible years one of my favorite fantasies -- besides becoming a famous writer/actress and dating Leonardo DiCaprio -- was becoming a famous writer/actress/director who would triumphantly return to my class reunion with Leonardo DiCaprio. I would be fabulous and I'd snub everyone who ever hurt my feelings. (Which would probably leave me with about 2 people to talk to.)
The reality is that I'm not famous, Leonardo DiCaprio still hasn't called me, and I will probably never go to a class reunion. At least maybe not until my tenth year reunion when I have published a Nobel Prize-winning book about my terrible adolescent years, and can really snub my ex-classmates because I'll have exposed their terrible behavior in an award-winning book.
Or I can try to put it all behind me and just let my old bullies be my fake friends on the Internet, because maybe living well is the best revenge.