I died in the sixth grade. Perhaps not death in its purest form; a stopped-heart, doctor-call-it, ER kind of death, but it was a very distinct death, nonetheless.
I vaguely remember the person I was before it happened. Out-going, compassionate, smart, and sometimes overbearing. Positive that the sun rose and set with the knowledge of her parents, that people were inherently good, and that wars could be stopped if everyone could just get over themselves and say they’re sorry. Then? I flat-lined.
Back then I was part of “The Crew”. You know, that group of girls that everyone notices. The trendsetters. If the crew wore sleeveless shirts Wednesday, then the mall would be sold out on Thursday. I was old blood, inducted in by demographic and logged play hours. It was definitely not due to my “cool” factor. I can remember the very moment when the glass shattered, and my membership was revoked.
We were in the sixth grade when the crew planned a sleepover. It was a big deal. To me, that meant that an epic amount of fun was to be had. Sleepovers meant make believe, cartoons and Barbie fests. It seems I missed the memo that sixth grade was the time to grow up, because when I showed up in pink overalls and pigtails (listen, judgy, it was a different time) I was met by the cool gazes of four other girls sporting side ponytails, ready to pump “Ace of Base” (different. time.) and dish about boys. I almost called my Mom right away for a pickup, but held out, hoping that this new facade was just a pre-curser to the fun and chocolate milk that would inevitably come once our coolness was established. Boy was I wrong.
Even at the tender age of 11, I knew a giant fissure had erupted between them and I. They were 11 going on 17, but I was content to be a kid for a while longer. Not long after that night, I received a recess-note signed by The Crew. They no longer wished any contact with me for the following reasons: I was a crybaby. I was uninteresting to them, and I did not appreciate cool things.
The Crew had broken up with me. It was elementary school death. I cried. They said “see? we were right” and sauntered off to bask in their coolness elsewhere. News of my banishment spread like wildfire and although most of The Crew were in my class, I quickly became persona non-grata to the entire sixth grade. No one would talk to me, except to hurl an insult about my budget outfit, or lame hair so they could laugh while I cried. I couldn’t believe the scope of my banishment could permeate so far, so fast.
Several girls approached me when no one was looking to explain their participation in the pack mentality, but they didn’t get far before a witness would come into view and they’d back quickly away. I’m positive that most of you think I’m being dramatic. If you’ve been there, you know that I’m really not. I was an A student, who couldn’t speak to a single schoolmate without suffering a complete meltdown. Queues to the library would end with me being shielded by the teacher for my own emotional protection. Terrible things were written about me on the bathroom wall that I wouldn’t fully understand until years later.
Eventually, it got so bad that my parents had to pull me out of school. With only weeks left, my teachers consented. I missed all the fun stuff, like sports day, and the grade six Water Park trip. I could only imagine what horrors they could think up for me on the stair-climb to the best waterslide. I couldn’t take anymore. The person I was died in the sixth grade.
That was the first year I ever called home from summer camp, homesick. Something in me had broken, and my parents didn’t know how to fix it. They had no choice but to send me to junior high in the fall. Now a little fish in a big pond, my social status was less noticeable, though a few new kids picked up on the animosity of The Crew that still followed me around. I was invisible.
One day after school I was biking home when a group of girls surrounded me, led by the top dog of The Crew. She was the only original member present, but she had succeeded in poisoning the minds of four other girls I didn’t know. Panic set in and I tried, in vain, to talk my way out of the situation. It became clear that wasn’t going to happen when my words were met with violence. “BITCH!” one of them screeched, slapping me soundly across the face. Cheek stinging, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I didn’t even know this girl’s name. I fought back and with a few strategic kicks, I managed to free my bike and get home. The bright red handprint on my cheek put a look on my Dad’s face I will never forget.
The next day we met with the vice principal. He made some lame remark about the lack of witnesses and made us sign a contract saying we’d avoid each other in the halls. The girls backed off, but the damage had been done. I spent the rest of the year with my head down, not meeting anyone’s eyes or raising my hand to offer an answer in class.
In the eighth grade, my Dad convinced the school to allow me to into advanced placement, and it was the best thing we could have done. I met three girls who carried me through the next two years. I was dead in the sixth grade and spent seventh in purgatory. I was resurrected in eighth, but not without some scars from my former life. My carefree positive attitude was gone. I no longer had absolute faith in the inherent goodness of people. I became a skeptic. I began to see the world’s problems as unsolvable. Occasionally pieces of my old self would surface, but I would shove them away when I got stung for sharing myself too quickly.
I’m now 28 and married. I often wonder who I might have been had I sailed through those years without incident. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be a writer, or a gamer, or proud to be a geek. I doubt my hair would be consistently dark, or that my Dad would call me a cynic. I probably wouldn’t be as driven as I am. Maybe Derek and I wouldn’t be so compatible. I never regret who I’ve become, only how I had to get there. I can’t figured out whether we could have done anything short of a complete personality makeover to avoid the bullying. It terrifies me to my core thinking that some day my children may go through the same kind of emotional death, and I will be powerless to help. I wonder if they are dying earlier these days?
I was lucky enough to be reborn, and strong enough to repair. Some kids who have less support than I had aren’t so lucky, and things like Columbine happen. Most of the parents of the kids who bullied me would’ve been devastated had they witnessed their kid’s actions. Some of those same kids are now my friends on Facebook, and I guarantee they have no idea of the hell I experienced. It is with this confession that I’m pleading; Parents, please talk to your kids about bullying. Talk to them about their choices and their words. Try to get them to understand. It may not always work, but it’s a start. Let’s avoid another sixth grade death if we can.