a few weekends ago, i had the privilege of hearing c. jane kendrick speak at a small conference for women. one of the things that really stood out to me in her keynote address was her discussion about the need for us women to have some kind of venue in which we can share our stories.
this is my story.
when i was twelve years old, at the start of my seventh grade year- first year of jr. high school- my family moved from utah out to new york. we lived in a small town called eastchester, just right outside of manhattan.
eastchester was comprised of probably 80% italian americans. i didn't even know it was possible for twelve year-old girls to be so curvy, so "developed," and have such beautiful, long black hair. but after my first day at eastchester middle school, i soon realized that not only was this possible, but it was the norm and my freckled face, fair skin, and scrawny prepubescent body was...wrong. not only did i stand out physically from my peers, but i was also a mormon- the only mormon at my new school. my peers either had no idea what "mormon" meant or they assumed i had three moms, grew up on a farm, and should have long braids. instead of being curious or respecting me for my religious beliefs, i was immediately stamped as the weirdo. one of these things was not like the other and, for the girls of eastchester middle school, i became the target.
my family stayed in new york for four years, moving back to utah at the end of my sophomore year of high school.
for four years i sat quietly at the lunch table with a group of girls who seemed to barely tolerate my presence. i had absolutely nothing in common with these girls. nothing. at times i would try to pipe in and participate in their conversations (when they weren't obsessing about their favorite soap operas- which was rarely). i, however, would almost always get eye rolls or passive-agressive rebuffs in return ("ummmm...Anyways!"...).
and then there was the blatant teasing. it happened all the time and they usually didn't even care to be subtle about it. i was made fun of loudly in the middle of classes, in the hallways, and at the lunch table. (i truly despised lunchtime.) i was left off of invitation lists and passed over for weekend activities. to be honest, though, even if i was invited, i probably would have declined. at the age of around thirteen, these girls were experimenting with drugs and sexual favors for boys.
some of these girls, these "friends" of mine, were worse than others. some of them were just out-right brutal to me. girls can be so, so very mean.
the glimmer of light in all this? there were three girls at school who were actually kind to me.
lindsay was beautiful and tall with golden auburn hair. of irish heritage, lindsay was one of those girls who everyone doesn't realize how gorgeous and sweet she really is until post-high school. janine was a feisty, stalky italian-american. she was loud, very wild, but also compassionate. and, finally, rafaela (or raff, as we called her) was a punky brazilian babe. raff listened to obscure music and didn't seem to care that she was different than everyone else. i loved that about her.
the irish girl, italian girl, brazilian girl, and mormon girl. we were a pretty quirky bunch. we actually didn't hang out lots outside of school. our friendship, to me at least, always felt more like a "let's just get through one day at a time together" at school kind of thing. although i never felt super close to these girls, they were the closest thing i had to friends for four years. and for me, that was enough to help scrape by every single day.
the important thing during these years was that i didn't go down without a fight. early on, my dad sat with me one evening at home. i was crying, yet again, and i think my parents just didn't know how to comfort me anymore. their once bubbly, out-going, happy daughter was slowly shutting down. for fear of being mocked, i had learned that it's best to just be quiet, never say anything, and count the minutes until the school day was over. silence and only passive participation was becoming my only means of self-protection in the battleground that was eastchester middle school and then high school.
my dad told me that i needed to focus on everything that was within my power, everything i could do, to make my situation better. he gave me a journal and together we decided that every single day, i'd come up with a goal for myself. something small and simple. every night, i'd record in my journal how i did on my goal for that day and then write a new goal to be focused on for the next day.
"say hi to someone new." "focus on the positive." "smile at that girl who was mean to you last week."
i did this almost every single day for four school years. i poured out my little heart into that journal every night and, every night, there was often crying. focusing on my goals every day didn't make everything better- far from it. it did, however, allow me to feel just a little bit of power because i had something proactive and positive to try to get done every day. so even if "spam!" was whispered and snickered by everyone in history class that day, i had managed to meet my small, personal goal. although the daily mocking was painful and humiliating, the fact that i had achieved something good that day- that was most important.
i still have my journal in our living room bookcase. the binding is almost completely busted open and the cover is worn. i can write a book about surviving a divorce but i can't flip through that journal without breaking down in tears and being overwhelmed with heartache.
heartache for that girl who, at such a young age, went through so much, for so long. heartache for that girl who never, ever gave up- who never turned to drugs, alcohol, or sex for acceptance and approval. heartache for that girl who felt alone and beaten down for four long years. heart ache for that girl who grew to rely on her heavenly father and her parents for love and support.
heartache for that girl who, after four years at war, came home a very different, very changed young woman. some changes were for the better. but some were for the worse. and it's those changes that slowly snuck up and began dictating the choices she'd make in the future.
...to be continued.