Hopeless at 13, Hopeful at 31: My Leg of The Hope 2012 Relay

When I am searching for a gleam of hope in an otherwise dismal situation, I turn not to religious texts or inspiring political speeches, but rather, to music, and not R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”, but usually slightly more subtle expressions of struggle and strength.  The first moment that I can remember truly feeling empathy for an enemy, and therefore hope to get through a conflict, was through music.  No one enjoys middle school, but in 7th and 8th grade, I was so horrifically depressed that I seriously considered, many times, whether everyone might be better off if I were not in this world.  Looking back now, in the modern age of anti-bullying campaigns and you tube videos to help kids through such times, I realize that I was the victim of bullying, and that it was slowly killing me.  However, thinking of myself as a “victim” was something I had been trained never to do, so I would not have dreamed of describing it that way.  I just figured people were assholes and I was just going to keep on being me, and possibly die trying.

Conformity was all the rage in my suburban town back then, and I was simply not fitting in to the Early 90’s big gelled bangs super-feminine mold that was set forth for me by the other girls in my grade.  Instead, I had discovered punk and “alternative” rock, and was dying my hair with Manic Panic, wearing huge men’s corduroys from Army-Navy Supply, and trying my darnedest to get as many scars from hurtling down hills on my boyfriend’s skateboard as was humanely possible.  My more conventional classmates devised a name for me and my friends — “Scrubs” — and a clean-cut ex of mine led the pack, filling my locker with disgusting things, starting rumors that I didn’t wash, and taunting my “wicked queer” band T-shirts. All of this was sort of fine, as it didn’t get physical, since I had gotten in enough fights as a child that people knew not to fuck with me.

However, a new girl came to town, who wasn’t around for my playground displays of street cred, and was looking for someone to burn.  Unfortunately, I raised her ire by getting noticed by the boy she had a crush on, a very attractive but totally scary older guy who I was not really interested in, as he was dangerous not in the shaggy-haircut-tagger kind of way that I was into, but the arrested-for-selling-dope kind of way.  However, he started calling me, and new girl found out, and decided I needed to be taught a lesson.  She got a brick, wrapped it in a towel, and hit me in the back of the head with it in the hallway.  I passed out.  When I came to, I was totally hysterical.  I was not only in some pain, I was mortified, knowing what little shred of dignity I had left was gone, and terrified, because I truly believed this girl was going to kill me now.  I did everything possible to ignore her, including changing my route home and switching lockers.  I hated her for what she had done to me, breaking what little self esteem I had left and leaving me both seething with anger and scared out of my wits.  She and her friends continued to taunt and threaten me, and the dark cloud around me worsened.  I knew where my dad kept his gun.  My idol, Kurt Cobain, killed himself that year, and I considered joining him.

But then, I started to listen to R.E.M., and specifically, the ballad Everybody Hurts.  At first I would put it on repeat and sit in self-pity, writing long “woe is me” diatribes in which I imagined my funeral — who would feel guilty, who would be sad, who would remember me, and who would simply not give a shit.  Suddenly, I started to really listen to the words.  Stipe was singing that EVERYBODY hurts, including my aggressors.  I started to imagine that those mean girls had things they felt shameful about, had times in which they cried or wished they could cry, their faces trapped in that pain grimace where you want to let go but can’t.  And in feeling empathy for them, their power over me diminished.  We did not become best friends, but I gave up hating them for terrorizing me, and somehow found the strength to stand a little straighter in the hallways.  I did not stop being my wild self, and in time those girls got bored with picking on me and moved on.  A very long time after, one of them apologized, but I didn’t even need the words “I’m sorry”.  I had already forgiven them, the moment I realized I didn’t need to hold on to the hate.  They probably hated themselves enough for the two of us.

Time and again, when I’ve needed a perspective change, a song has called out to me, and the melody and words have floated me through the period of difficulty.  Often it is simply the knowledge that others have experienced what I’m currently going through, and made something beautiful from it.  This is what I love so much about blogging — it gives me the experience of building a community of people who say, “Me too.  I’ve been there.  I may not know how to get out of the place you’re in, but, at the very least, you’re not there alone.”  That is the best expression of hope that I know.  Not canceling out the darkness, but being a body beside me in it, groping for the light together.

This post is a part of Melanie Crutchfield’s incredible effort to commemorate the 2012 Olympics by doing a blogging relay about hope.  With this piece, I pass the baton to you, dear readers — add your post about hope to the 50+ voices that have participated so far, and give it the hashtag #HopeRelay2012 on Twitter so we can read all the posts, and be inspired by one another!  Melanie plans on compiling all the posts at the end of the Olympics and hosting a kind of Closing Ceremony for all the participants and readers.  Where do you find hope?

7 thoughts on “Hopeless at 13, Hopeful at 31: My Leg of The Hope 2012 Relay

  1. I just have to say that I CANNOT believe someone hit you in the head with a brick. I know you don’t need the apology, but I want to say to little teen you I’m sorry! Holy freaking geeze! Remembering what I went through as a kid (and hearing stories like this) is one of the scariest things about being a parent. What I wouldn’t give to save my kid from this. Here’s hoping we can all build a better future together.

    • I know, right? Thank you for that reaction. I still can’t really believe that happened to me either! I mean, call me a slut, steal my gym shorts, etc. but when you start using prison tactics it gets personal. And I totally agree, I can’t imagine this happening to my own little girl! Thank heavens our culture is becoming more sensitive to bullying, and thank the good gods of Southern Rock for Michael Stipe.

  2. Thank you for this Rhea – as I navigate my nine year old through the grades and the ‘mean girl’ phase this resonated deeply with me. I appreciate your honesty in telling this story.
    Hope is the lifeline. Love this relay!

    • I’m glad it connected with you! The honesty of it was a bit scary, actually, so thanks for appreciating it. I hope you grab the baton next!

  3. Loved your post Rhea. Thank you for your courage in sharing your story. I too was bullied and such a longer in middle school and it is a part of my life that I do not want to recall. But I think one of the best parts of getting older is just not caring as much what others think as you work towards building a meaningful life for yourself. BTW, you might want to check out the Salon blog format if you are looking to get more readers.

  4. OH Rhea, I’m so glad you never went down the Kurt Cobain path. How amazing that at such a young age you could understand something so complex and that forgiveness set you free. Hope is a beautiful mantra.

    • Me too. I do find it odd that I was able to find empathy in my pain at 13 years old – but it is a good reminder that children are indeed capable of complex emotions, and that they can be what brings them out of times of despair! I think it was really a moment of true grace.

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