I wasn’t going to post this originally – and then I got into a discussion about high school elsewhere on Facebook, and decided to do so anyways.
I had a nightmare about high school last week. Or rather, about the high school reunion, the one I didn’t attend two years ago (I had walking pneumonia and it was the weekend of the 2nd Annual BPSA Moot. Even i had been well, I had grownup obligations.)
In this dream, I was at the reunion, with a lot of the same people I am now Facebook and Instagram friends with. We were all as we are now, adults. And I started making a speech about how I forgave everyone for their cruelty, about how glad I was that we could all be friends as adults, that we could now be grownups with so much in common.
This is the “old” wing of Oak Bay High’s “East” building, 1929 – 2015. The school was demolished and rebuilt in 2015, the year of our twenty year reunion.
After all, my high school classmates are, like me, products of the Canadian middle class in the late twentieth century. We all share the same cheerful view of our homeland (similar to our fellow GenXer Prime Minister’s) instilled in us by years of CBC and the Ministry of Heritage, tempered with our years of trying to grow up during a provincial recession. We are all from Victoria, a city between Vancouver and Seattle, a weirdly schizophrenic city poised between the nineteenth and twenty first century. We should have tons in common by now. And, as we all have entered the Grown Up phases of our lives, with partners and children and/or other dependents, those commonalities have increased, and I’m actually now engaging more with People I Knew At Oak Bay High than I was when we all actually went there.
Having much in common and even renewing friendships (in a range from genuine to superficial) does not make up for years of cruelty and exclusion in my subconscious though. When I looked up, in my dream, from this heartfelt statement of forgiveness and subsequent emotional investment, everyone was gone, off to hang out at a classmate’ s business. They had all left to go socialize and had not even told me they were leaving the reunion, much less invited me along.
In reality, when awake, I would disregard that behavior as ridiculous. Real adults address their problems with other adults. It is children who exclude and abandon out of a heartless combination of thoughtlessness and malice, a combination that is unacceptable. Still, if an actual grown-ass adult behaved that way, ghosting my company without a goodbye or explanation, I would, to this day, pause to consider my behavior, to try and figure out if I had done something to justify exclusion before realizing that it wasn’t my fault. Other adults’ childish behavior is not deserving of my introspection or self-blame.
In dreams though, that kind of learned, logical, corrective behavior doesn’t kick in. In dreams, we’re poking around in corners of our brains that our waking selves have long since papered over. So instead, I just felt the deep humiliation and shame I would have as a teenager. I just felt like I had done something wrong, and that people didn’t like me, and it was somehow my own fault for being too emotionally needy and clumsy, too messy, too loud – and too ugly and fat to be able to make up for those shortcomings.
And that’s when I woke up.
It’s twenty years since high school, and I’ve had to accept that I am never going to be able to gloss over the decade between grades two and twelve. I believed in my teen years that I was undeserving of human contact because of my failure to modulate my behavior and my physical shape in a socially acceptable way. I was too loud and too emotionally sloppy, a bad combination to start with, a lethal one when combined with a status as “the fat girl”. It was ten year period that started with elementary school cruelty, ran into the middle school meanness, and ended with senior high loneliness, as the childhood mockery dwindled into mere exclusion.
I have reduced both the loudness and my size, placing my behavior and my body well within the acceptable lines of North American society. Still, as an adult, I now live with a low-level paranoid anxiety that people do not like me, that I am unlikeable as a person – no matter what my body size, unless I carefully maintain behavior that is considered “likeable”. It’s a fallacy that I often have to logically remind myself isn’t true. Not everyone is going to like me as an adult, but sometimes, that’s just the way things go. Not everyone has to be my friend.
And yet, here is this old hurt, these ancient humiliations, cluttering up my brain and my dreams. It’s only within the last few years that I’ve really managed to shake the shame, that sense of deserving all that loneliness. I’d love to be able to clean this narrative up, reduce it down to just undeserved bullying, but I’m unable to do so. I think that’s the worst part for the victims of bullying, is the sense that we deserved it based on behavior or actions or looks we failed to change.
Bullying teaches its victims that we should feel ashamed to be who we are, that we are unacceptable as people.
Why does all this matter now? Or rather, why is this coming up? I’m not quite sure. It isn’t as if this hasn’t been dealt with. I did paper over all this for years, re-inventing myself over and over and over again. I didn’t want to be the sort of person who had a horrible time in elementary and high school. I wanted to be the sort of person who was totally normal: well dressed, socially active, attractive. The sort of adult I wanted to be in my twenties wouldn’t have had been such a freak as a child.
And yet the woman I am in my thirties has had to take all that history out, air it a bit, and accept that yes – this is who I am and this is what made me who I am. And who I am is enough. High school is behind us all, and we have all made out of our experiences there whatever we can, taken whatever we can and moved on. Nightmares or reliving old humiliations doesn’t change who I am today, nor will it change the person I will continue evolving into tomorrow. The impact that time has on my life is forever, but finite. Perhaps by writing all this down & writing all this out, I can remind myself of that perspective and ensure that random throwback dreams remain irrelevant.