Thank you, Cheerleading Angels.
Those skinny, beautiful, hairsprayed girls probably all now working as paralegals and executive secretaries until they start their baby-making careers, actually changed my life for the better.
Life changes every moment. Some moments however, are bigger than others. I had a moment that I can definitively say changed my life, and made me a significantly different person. It made me nicer, more understanding, more sensitive, and saved me from a treasure chest of negative karma, that would have been callously poured on top of my landfill of negative karma. What was this moment? Nothing special: Just good ole' middle school humiliation.
It is actually not very hard to humiliate a middle schooler. Ever notice that? I was no different: Very easily humiliated. In fact, I was so shy that you really needed only point me out in a crowd and I could have dissolved right there. So moving to a new school in eighth grade from the country to the city, was a destiny of humiliation in some form or another simply for the fact that I would be the new girl. Unconsciously I think I knew about this vulnerability, like all middle schoolers know that there is a hole in their pants somewhere that they did not plan, or a fart that they would not be able to hold.
There were certain things that I thought I had down. Fashion was one of them. I knew how to dress like Madonna. I had oceans of jelly bracelets, laced gloves cut off at the fingers. I had perfected a sort of bees nest in my hair, where there were curves and cowlicks that ought not be there, but were held in place with various sparkled barrettes. There was special lip gloss, eye shadow, and furthermore, I knew how to just stand there, an important faculty to have in middle school. The only problem was, I was insecure. It oozed from my pours like alien slime-blood. It did not matter that everyone else felt the same. I could care less. It just could not be me. Thus is the way of the middle schooler.
It was the first or second day of school. My yet undiagnosed OCD had sent me into the bathroom about one hundred times to check my appearance. It seemed if I held my lips over my braces in a certain way, I almost looked presentable. I was determined.
I entered the lunch room. The only girl who had spoken to me so far, a pom pom named Elaine who was Filipino, a brainiac, and gorgeous, and therefore miraculously outside the realm of middle school classifications, sat with me. She chatted gregariously, unaware of the gaggle of popular girls that had gathered in the lunch line a few feet away.
“Ew, what is wrong with her?” One of them said, in that chewing gum voice that I thought only existed in cheerleader movies.
“What is she wearing?” Another retorted.
“Look at her pants!” A third said.
They were talking about me. After my hours of preparation, my years of study, I had somehow failed in fashion enough to be singled out openly in the lunch room. These girls spoke in ear shot as though I was not there. They were out for blood. Alien blood.
This sent me on a confused deer – in – headlights rampage for the right hair, the right pair of pants, and whatever I could find to look like them. I wore baggy jeans hung at the hips instead of my tight acid washed. They kept falling off and I ended up looking more like a potato sack than anything. I cut bangs in my hair and started using hair spray, but this created an odd oblong dimension to my face. Furthermore, there was nothing I could do to stop the criticism. They thought I looked stupid no matter what I did. One day, something occurred to me, that I will never forget.
I will never treat other people like this, I thought tenderly.
This was important, because I had in fact treated other people like this. At my old school, where I was leader of the pack, I had exercised power to reign over the lives of hopeful girls.
“She can't hang out with us anymore,” I would decide, for no reason in particular.
This realization of what it felt like to be ridiculed, left out, treated with disdain, was important. I never treated anyone like that again. Those skinny, beautiful, hairsprayed girls probably all now working as paralegals and executive secretaries until they start their baby-making careers, actually changed my life for the better.