So The Guild posted a hilarious video this week, “I’m the One Who’s Cool” and a million nerdy voices cried out “OMG YES” in unison. And I was one of them. The great thing about the song and video is that it can be applied to almost any bullying situation, because it truly captures the horror of being a teenage outcast.
It’s always funny to me when people refer to High School as “the best time of their lives”, because I so don’t feel that way. Actually, since I was tormented for pretty much my entire school career, I kinda hate all of it: grade school, junior high (THE WORST), and high school.
It all started in Kindergarten, when the other “Aimee” insisted that she was superior to me because her name was spelled better. Also, she had her grandmother craft the most amazing Wonder Woman costume for Halloween EVER because she knew it was my favorite show, and she told me straight up that I could never be a good WW because I had stupid blonde hair and she had the perfect length of shiny black hair. Even when I won the part of Juliet in our class play over her (I went to an “alternative” KG, which would take an entre other blog post to explain), she said that plays were stupid and she didn’t want to be in it anyway. Then she threw her Kool-Aid in my face.
I moved around to a few different primary schools, and at the first one I was involved in an advanced reading class, which I LOVED, and which the other kids so did not. Branded a “stupid brain” for actually wanting to go and read stuff, my books were frequently knocked off my desk, I received notes calling me all kinds of names, and during one specific incident wherein I raised my hand to remind the teacher that it was time for the advanced reading group to leave, I got pushed in the hallway and bombarded by spit balls at lunch.
When we relocated to the ‘burbs, the most awful thing that could happen, did: my mom became a playground supervisor. Not just “a” playground supervisor, but the one that was known as the toughest. Let me tell you, there is no faster way to make all kids hate you en masse than having a mom who wouldn’t let them get away with anything during their fun time. This is when I turned to band for solace, immersing myself in the quiet comfort of the clarinet, so I could occupy my recess time practicing music instead of getting kick balls thrown at my head.
Junior High was even worse: A girl who towered over me about 6 inches and outweighed me by at least 50 pounds decided I was her “target” and took to waiting at my locker in-between classes to harass me. It was a lot of getting in my face and calling me names and then throwing my lunch on the ground and stomping on it. And it eventually escalated into her telling me she was going to punch me and kick me until she killed me, punctuated by her shoving me into a locker. After months of this, I finally broke and told my mom. My mom called the school, and the school thought the best course of action was to suspend her and have me see the on-site counselor….who wasn’t very helpful.
The counselor actually told me that I shouldn’t be solving my problems by running to “mommy”, that I needed to stand up for myself, and that I was a tattletale and likely everyone was now going to hate me for that. I was 12 years old at the time.
Speaking of kickball, gym was a whole other pain point for me. A slow, uncoordinated girl who has exercise-induced asthma has no place on a softball field, basketball court, rope-climbing competition, or track loop. Completing a mile walk took me around 30 minutes instead of the average 15, with kids yelling at me the whole time to hurry up and finish so they could go shower; I dropped so many outfield balls that I earned the nickname, “useless bitch”; and then there was that one time I broke my finger playing volleyball and the gym teacher refused to send me to the school nurse because he thought I was “being a baby”. (You might think at this point that the staff at my middle school was terrible, and you’d be right—for the most part).
Going into high school, I thought all my problems would be solved if I tried to join the cool kids by quitting band and signing up for choir with the popular girls. But all that really happened was that I and a bunch of other girls who weren’t popular enough got regulated to “sidekicks”. No solos for us: those went to the pretty, popular girls. As we moved into our freshman year, instead of spots on the cheerleading squad after trying out, we got sidelined to some kind of club that was meant make signs and to cheer in the stands. We then worked really hard to put on a school fashion show and were promised by the head cheerleader that we’d get to model, but then at the last minute we had to “audition” and were told our walk wasn’t good enough, and “we didn’t really have the right look”.
This is the moment where I decided the popular people could suck it. They had been just friendly enough to get what they wanted—us to do all the hard work—but they sure didn’t want to give us any props or share the spotlight. Jerks. A few invites to parties that looked suspiciously like Steff’s blowout in Pretty in Pink sealed the deal (jocks jumping into hot tubs fully clothed with muddy boots on, spilling beer all over someone’s pool table, cheering on now-topless popular girls as they made out with each other, etc.). This cemented the idea that I wanted to be like Iona and Andie, not Benny and Trombley.
The introduction of Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Sex Pistols, and Siouxsie and the Banshees helped with that transition, and I soon buried myself in layers of black clothing and an attitude problem that planted me more firmly in the “outcast” category, which I was more comfortable with. Hey, if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em…or something.
But even though I developed a pretty kick-ass group of friends, it didn’t save me from ridicule. I just cared a whole lot less. When you’re spending all your time getting drunk and high with your friends, it’s hard to give a shit about popular girls calling you a slut, or the whole football team thinking it’s hilarious if they start a rumor about you sleeping with them all, or girls saying you’re a witch who kills chickens for blood rituals (my personal favorite).
Another hilarious side-effect to wearing a leather jacket and torn up black stockings every day: at some point I developed a reputation as a bad-ass who started fights and beat the hell out of people. I am not a violent person. And I assure you, the only person I’ve ever physically assaulted in my entire life was an ex-boyfriend who told me he’d be sharing a hotel room and BED with another girl on an upcoming weekend trip—just causally, like it was no big deal. I kind of had to punch him the stomach, right?
I didn’t get heavily involved in playing D&D, Vampire: The Masquerade, Cyberpunk, and Magic until after I graduated, so I had escaped those specific digs (well, except from a few co-workers, who really did not understand why I would rather do that than get a fake I.D. and hit the hot clubs in Belltown), but by that time it didn’t really matter. I had moved on to a whole new set of problems centered around relationships that were terrible for me (see the punching comment above), and I had realized by then that kids can be mean and cruel and stupid, and it had nothing to do with who I was.
But I should clarify: it’s not like I instantly realized I was just fine the way I was, and it’s certainly doesn’t mean I walk around every day now thinking I’m cool. Most days, I still feel like a nerdy movie-obsessed weirdo that loves ALL THE THINGS and throws around pop culture references like they are deep conversation topics. There are definitely moments when I feel sort-of cool, but it’s more like a “Holycrap. You guys. I am doing this cool thing! How am I doing it? How did I get here?” than a feeling of just being cool. I am always completely and totally shocked to learn that some people think of me as one of the “cool kids.” Clearly, they are misinformed.
The real trick is, that at 40—I have learned how to love my life, and have a ton of fun and do things that I care about, and surround myself with people who are awesome. I don’t have time for people that are mean and stupid, or act like assholes and separate people into groups of cool and uncool. If people don’t like me, I simply don’t have time for them. Life is short, and that kind of shit is so not worth it.
I’d much rather watch every episode of The Guild and then have a one-woman dance party to the single above than worry about how people will react to me doing that. Isn’t that a hell of lot more fun than feeling terrible because other people tell you that you suck? I think so.