Adolescence is such a difficult time in everyone's life. Such a transition period that molds you from concrete black and white thoughts into abstract theories and grey areas of yourself. It's where the tough stuff happens (not that being an adult is easy, but adolescence forces you into trying situations and times without the adult emotional strength that pulls you through). One day you wake up and you're out of it and you don't know how that happened. Things aren't easier, just differently complicated and somewhere a long the way you magically developed self awareness and strength. You look back and that part is mostly behind you and you realize that those years are what formed you into who you are today. I've been casually watching 13 Reason's Why on Netflix, which is an incredibly difficult series to endure. It covers a variety of tough to deal with situations that are at the forefront of many young adults lives. It's forced me to reflect on things that have been removed from my daily internal highlight reel.
For most of my education, I have been a model student. This goes all the way back and speaks as a representation of my personal nature as an achiever. Every year I navigated academic life with ease. Every year I got the pleasure of being seated between the few trouble making boys of the class. I was the buffer between them because they couldn't shake me. Third, fourth, fifth grade it was always the same. I was almost never moved in the class as I was a vital part of keeping the peace between them, their task leader. In fifth grade, I was intermittently pulled out of math lessons to be a peer tutor for one of these boys. Every day I would go over the lesson from the day before and work through problems with him. I never felt indifferent about it because I was asked by the teacher to help him and that was reward enough for me that she felt I was special enough to do this. The boy that I helped was not always so eager to have a girl help him with his math and more than once showed his embarrassment for needing help. He was often defeated, but I didn't realize this until reflecting as an adult.
Sixth grade was a year from hell for me. It is a difficult year for any 12-13 year old. It was a difficult year for me in many of the typical prepubescent ways, but had many extenuating circumstances present. One of my best friends parents had just went through a terrible divorce the year before and that friend suddenly had years worth or anger towards me. She decided other girls were more suited to be her best friend and that I was old news. While not the main focus of this conversation, the year before she had told the whole class I had head lice (this was pretty serious as I was dirt poor and people believed her). The next year she made it a point to publicly shame me because I didn't wear a bra to school. It was a tough thing for me, but it was explained to me by a family friend that she was hurting because her parents divorced. This same year I was placed by my usual trouble making suspects. The one I tutored the year before had decided that it was time for him to make me a target for the next almost three years.
I know you're probably thinking we all have stuff we hated about that season of life, but this season of life scarred me for a long time until I met and married Mike. This boy I tutored started out by making fun of me in his usual ways. Comments about how I think I'm better than everyone else and how I think I'm smarter etc. Then he moved on to making fun of my older sister who was a high school art assistant in our class once a week. Making fun of her looks, weight, make up, skin. Advising me that she wasn't fooling anyone with the amount of make up she wears and how everyone knows how ugly she is without it. After a while of me not giving him satisfaction in his efforts, he moved to more aggressive measures to try to make me feel guilty about myself and body. At this time in my life, I was slow developing and came from a more conservative home than others. My mother refused to let me shave my legs, I didn't wear or really need a bra, and my clothing was very over sized sweaters and overalls. I remember the day my mom finally let me shave my legs. I had convinced her I was embarrassed because I was the only one on the volleyball team with hair on my legs (I only noticed this after the first week of practice).
This next part is explicit. These are not my words. Not for the tender hearted (like a 12 year old girl)
I came to school the next day and this boy immediately noticed. His comment to me was asking me if I thought guys would have sex with me now that I don't have hair on my legs. He laughed at me and told me I thought I was hot shit now, but then reassured me that no one would be near my hairy smelly pussy. As the weeks progressed his comments and actions were only more vile and sexually explicit. That year I had a rush of acne that I couldn't hide, who didn't? He developed a pet name for me. Crater Face or more affectionately Crater, as he would laugh like he was so very proud of himself. He had an obsession with body shaming me. Told me that he knew what my skin looked like under clothes that I had cratered skin on my vagina. That Christmas was a sad one for me because I needed snow boots and my parents got me the most fabulous waterproof duck boots that were lined with fur on the inside of them. I knew they spent way more than they needed. The brand name, Crater Ridge. I couldn't bring myself to wear them as every time I pulled them on the logo screamed back at me. I decided during that year that no one would be intimately involved with my skin until I was very sure I was going to marry them. That year we had a substitute most of the year because our teacher had a heart attack. This boy pretty much ran wild most of the year with his actions. When I think about him now, I see some type of sad home life because some of the things he said to me were pretty terrible and you don't reach those words without having them modeled somewhere else.
For instance: "You're the type of girl that I'd bring home without my parents knowing. I'd take you to my back shed where no one could hear you scream. I'd put a bag on your head so I wouldn't have to look at your fucking ugly face while I came inside you."
"Do you honestly think any one is going to want to have sex with you? You're going to grow up and need to paint your face like your sister so people can't see how fucking ugly you are, Crater. They are going to find out how disgusting you are."
He would openly call me that stupid name in front of others. Once he caught me at the water fountain in seventh grade and told me he heard I had a boyfriend from Eldorado. Asked me what kind of sexual favors I provided in order for them to accept me as a girlfriend. Every sentence he ever said to me was met with silence of complete avoidance.
This finally came to an end after one of the other boys that I was always sat next to expressed that he had had enough. That if he heard anything else said to me that he would personally shut him up. It took almost three years for that to happen.
You're probably asking me why I didn't reach out to anyone during this time. First of all I was highly embarrassed to think about the level of verbal abuse he was openly spewing at me. Secondly, I thought, what if he's right? I couldn't handle that at the time. School officials weren't as perceptive to bullying complaints like they are now. At the end of this period started my mother's nervous breakdown and my dad living away post state police academy, so turmoil was everywhere and I thought it was just part of what everyone went through.
I'd like to continue different avenues of stories that branch off of this one, but with refrain at this time due to length and additional episodes of sadness that I'm not entirely ready to share.
I think about the boy who finally stood up for me because he was initially in on saying things to me, but stepped back for awhile and eventually saw that the issue was serious and hurtful. The fact that he stood up for me and made that part of my life end was such a godsend.
In my adult life I try to be that person with anyone who needs resolution or comfort in tough situations because I understand that seasons of time can be hell. In my work life, I stand in a position to enter people's lives with resolution for communication problems. I've been known to sit in a sound proof booth and ask teens how their lives are going during hearing tests when they know no one else can hear us. I've asked toddlers about their suspicious bruises and interjected about issues non audiology related. All it takes is one person to step in with help. Everyone needs one person or multiple people to help navigate them through adolescence or tough times. Everyone needs a hero to make it stop.