Date: May 2, 2008
I feel so mixed up right now, I don't even know where to start. All I know is that I need impartial advice from someone who has no idea who I am, no previously formed opinions of my character – and no time for niceties. None of these criteria fit for my grandparents, I'm afraid. :P
I'm a senior in high school, and for the first half of the year I sat with my friends at lunch everyday. That sounds so normal it makes the entire sentence lame, but it didn't feel so normal to me. Actually, every day I felt more and more that I didn't fit in there. My values were different, my priorities were different, my interests were different – even my clothes and hair looked different. I wasn't comfortable where I was. These people are generally very apathetic. When I say that my values were different than theirs, what I mean is that I had difficulty discerning any values at all sometimes. They were petty and mean. They watched people from across the cafeteria and made unkind comments on these strangers' habits. Personally, maybe it's because I sat with my back to most of the cafeteria, but I didn't really even tend to notice the other people in the cafeteria unless they did something really obnoxious that disrupted my conversations, and I couldn't understand why you would bother to watch a stranger pick their nose or whatever. This didn't apply to everyone at the lunch table, but it did apply to some, and their actions set the tone for the entire table, especially with the one whose behavior I found most intolerable. In case anyone I know actually takes my advice and comes on here, we will call her Terra.
Maybe you remember from your own high school experience how "assigned" seats at lunch arise out of habit. Terra and I sat right next to each other, and looking back, I completely fail to understand that one. She made me uncomfortable from the very beginning because she was so… abrasive (most of the habits I mentioned above are hers). Still, she was fun to be around in a bizarre sort of way, when she wasn't being an asshole. The problem was that she was an asshole, and that she and the others tended to single me out sometimes. There was one time when I walked in and for some strange reason, the conversation theme of the day was death. Every sentence was something like, "maybe they'll do this and die." It was all just extraordinarily random, and some of it wasn't even stuff you could really die from. It made me uneasy, but I knew from experience that the best way to get through a lunch period like that with your peace of mind intact is to join in, so I did (which I'm not really proud of – if something makes you uncomfortable, the answer is probably not to join in). Immediately, they turned around and were all like, "Geez, Elizabeth, what is wrong with you?" They were joking and I ignored it to the best of my ability, but I still felt really singled-out. Sometimes I wonder if they see me as an outsider, too, and that's why they did these kinds of things, or if the reason for that particular incident is the fact that I project this "good-girl" image and it's astonishing if I say "damn," much less joke about death. I'm comfortable with my good-girl image, but I don't like being confined by it. It's hard to fit in from a pedestal. Of course, it's awfully self-centered to think my friends might be putting me on a pedestal, but… well… I feel like unless I keep in mind every possibility, I'm never going to understand any of this.
Anyway, getting back to Terra, she was really bad about this. She and the others used to take my backpack and hide it on me. Once they took my marching band jacket when I got up to get some eating utensils and hid it inside my backpack. My pencil pouch has been hidden several times. At one point, they were in the habit of putting things like plastic forks and spoons and one time, dozens of salt packets inside of it, for me to discover during my next class. I didn't mind this; it was something to chuckle over as I fished them out during math class or whatever I had next. But this year, with the taking things and hiding them… I always got my stuff back by the end of the period, but I made it clear several times how unhappy I was with this kind of behavior, and it never stopped.
Terra had some particular habits that got to me. She would lean in really close to my face and chew exaggeratedly, and then, when I ignored her, make a goat noise at me. She also kept asking me "Is it true?" without ever telling me what she was actually asking. I wasn't dumb enough to answer a question like that – no matter what I said, she would twist it – but she just wouldn't let it go. I forget what else she did, but those two things really got to me. It got to the point where I ended up so angry I had to leave the lunch table almost every day. I wanted to spend time with my friends, but Terra was making life difficult… and it wasn't helping that my other friends were either sitting there and letting her behave this way or actually joining in. I mean, I wasn't the only person she asked if it was true, but I feel like she was more persistent with me than anyone else. I was the only one she chewed at, but that's probably just because I was the only one dumb or unfortunate enough to sit next to her. My other friends who were there didn't even understand why I was angry. They were afraid of my anger. They actually shrank away, even though I do not actually hurt people when I'm angry.
I didn't know what to do. At the time, I didn't have anyone else to sit with, and sitting alone is just asking for trouble in high school (or, as I later discovered, well-meaning but irritating "charity workers" who come to keep you company without realizing they're actually just keeping you from whatever else you wanted to do that period). My boundaries were violated, my feelings going unnoticed, my rights unrecognized, by the very people I had been hanging out with for years. I was starting to realize I'd made a mistake when I decided on this crowd to hang with, but I go to a small high school where it can be extremely difficult to make new friends once you've established what group you hang with.
It was just after winter break that the shit hit the fan. Terra had been asking me if I had anger issues for a couple of days, which frankly made me angry. I know that didn't help my case, but, well… I believed I had a right to be angry. I still don't know if I did. Some of the pranks they pulled they only did to me, but some of it was shit they did to each other all the time (like the "is it true?" thing). Was it silly or self-centered or whatever to feel singled out? I still can't tell if they did stuff to me in the same proportions they did it to each other. *sigh* Well, anyway, the friend who always diffused the tension between us wasn't there the day she asked me if I enjoyed being angry. And of course, this made me angry again. I'm not so good at staying calm, huh? So that was the day I finally told her that she pissed me off, and told her why. I forget what exactly I said, but I do remember that when she asked me why I kept coming back, my response was this: "Because some of the people at this table are my friends!"
"Um… what just happened?" one of my friends asked, when we finally fell silent. She had been trying to dissolve the tension between us throughout the entire conversation, to no avail.
"I just decided that maybe [Terra] is right and there's no point in sitting here anymore," I said. I finished eating my lunch and left. I haven't been back since, except on days when Terra was absent and my other friends asked me to sit with them.
A couple weeks later, my oldest brother died in a helicopter wreck. His funeral was a week later. Two days after that, I logged onto Myspace and found a comment from Terra on one of my older blog entries. Actually, it was from the day the shit hit the fan (as I always refer to that day in my head). I didn't give details about anything that happened, but it had been a horrible day and I complained about it in vague terms for a paragraph or two. She said a lot of mean things, told me it was all my fault, called me a "self-righteous, drama-filled [sic] bitch," and told me that she wasn't the only one who thought that way about me. It was about a paragraph long. I don't remember everything, and I wound up deleting it fairly soon.
Okay, I don't mind being called a bitch. Being told she wasn't alone stung, but I could've dismissed it eventually as either a lie or irrelevant, since I didn't talk to my old friends much anyway. But… two days after my brother's funeral? There's no way she wasn't aware of it, either; my blog was pretty well updated on what was going on. My defenses were down, and as a result, what she said hurt like hell. I guess I naively assumed death in family=time-out on the petty high school nonsense. It really hurts me to think that someone would go out of their way to hurt me at a time like that, which I know just gives them the victory, but it's true nonetheless. I don't mean to whine, and please forgive me if I am whining, but… how could anyone be so cruel? If even my worst enemy had a death in the family, I would offer condolences and leave them the hell alone for a while. I can't decide if she just started reading back-entries on my blog, got angry at that one, and forgot herself, or if she's just really that mean, but I haven't forgiven her, even over three months afterward. She has started approaching me again lately. Doesn't really say anything – just sits near me in a free or in the library, or says "hi" as we pass in the hallway. But it unnerves me. I try to just treat her the same as I would treat anyone else – return the greetings, ignore when appropriate – but more and more I'm finding that I just can't. I can't pretend that nothing happened because something did, and it hurt me, and even though I keep hoping I can forgive her, I realize every time that I can't.
But see, here's the thing that gets me: I know they miss me. I discovered through all this that I had more friends outside that group than I thought, and I've been getting along okay – it's even easier in some ways, not having to pretend I give a shit when they start talking about Halo 3 – but I feel guilty sometimes, looking across the room at them in Music Theory. I could sit with them in Music Theory. Terra's not in that class. I even do sometimes, but we never seem to end up actually talking about anything interesting. My friend Maria usually sits on the other side of me from them, and we end up chatting for the entire period about things that actually interest me. So I want to give up, but then I look across the cafeteria at lunch and notice that "my" seat is still empty. I don't get that actually. Why would they think I'd still want to sit next to her? But I feel guilty for abandoning them, because you're not just supposed to drop your friends for another clique (or… well… single friend).
So I'm a mess. I'm going to be a worse mess tomorrow b/c it's 1 AM as I write this, but I need to get it all down. I don't know what to do or think. Maybe I do have anger issues. I don't think getting mad at Terra had much to do with them, but maybe I do have them. I don't think I really get angry that often these days, unless I'm exhausted or having a rough time or the issue has been bothering me for a while, but I used to get angry all the time in middle school (or course, I was exhausted and having a rough time). Maybe it still happens more than I think it does. Maybe I am self-righteous. I try to be open-minded and live and let live and all that, but I do have a strong set of moral values I live by. Where is the line? And I have been called overdramatic in the past and maybe I am, but the fact is, I don't act any more intense than I feel. I'm working on acting less intense because I realize that emotions must be kept in check in our world, but I don't want to be dishonest about how I feel.
Ugh. Damnit, I need sleep. Bring on the Heartless advice.