I was not one of those awkward, self-conscious teens and tweens; at least I don’t remember myself that way. I adored high school – even junior high – and still have some bit of difficulty understanding those who think of it as the worst time ever. Sure, I had my share of zits and broken hearts, and my most embarrassing moment (realizing that my skirt had gotten caught up in my backpack and that I’d been mooning the entire quad all through snack time) came in senior year, but all in all I had good friends, creative outlets, and a sense of the world being a good place to be.
We were like Sweet Valley High or 90210 or something, my high school friends and I – we did everything together. We paired off for things like prom and homecoming, worked together, were in youth group together twice a week. We camped, road tripped, dated. Saw each other every day for years. It was idyllic, I realize, though I had no concept then that this wasn’t most people’s experience.
Freshman year of college my world fell apart – my parents announced their separation over Christmas break. Devastated, I turned to those I’d known forever and they took me in again – keeping me busy with beach bonfires, late night canyon drives, overnight movie fests. An idle crush I’d had on one friend sprang into something new, though I suspect it was my vulnerability that drew him in. Some red flag somewhere should have gone up when, as I poured my broken heart out, he laughed and said, “I think I’m falling in love with you.” But I was too wounded, too needy, to have any sense of self protection.
D, as luck would have it, was a very wounded fellow himself. His parents would leave for a couple of weeks with no notice – he would wake up in the morning, ready for school, and find a note on the kitchen table with some money to feed himself. So I can completely understand why my hurting heart would’ve called to his. And it worked, for a while. Till I started to heal, and find my feet at the state school I attended. Then, I think, he started to hurt me so I wouldn’t leave him.
We dated long distance. D had stayed home to save money; I had moved an hour away to school. I had found solace in a sorority and began to meet people I loved – though I was in every way a fish out of water. Somehow I managed to get through high school without ever encountering alcohol, pot, or sex. Not that I didn’t know they existed – I just didn’t know where they existed…. it certainly wasn’t near me. SDSU was listed – by Playboy – as one of the top party schools in the US, and as my roommate hotboxed our room and chipped in for contraband kegs I cowered in the corner, overwhelmed. Alpha Delta Pi became a place I felt understood, even though those things were certainly there, too. And it was a springboard to so much more – friendships, leadership opportunities, scholarships, other campus organizations where I met some of the best friends I’ve known. D hated it.
Slowly, he began to make me choose – between sorority and campus functions and coming home to see him. He always wanted me home on big weekends – homecoming, sorority rush, dances. He’d call incessantly, tease me about my Greek status, shame me for making friends with guys in fraternities. Even knowing how hard it was for me to make friends there, when I connected with a guy who happened to be from our home town – a guy who I had to work with on a major project – he was upset that I enjoyed spending time with him, told me we should break up so I could go spend time with my “new soul mate.”
But the final blow was at home – he punctured my whole world view one night. I was, D told me, a spoiled brat, and all our friends from high school thought so. He quoted each one of them, pulling out for-instances and skewering me with them. No one really liked me, he said. They just didn’t know how to get rid of me.
I don’t refute that there may have been some truth to the claim – what seventeen year old girl doesn’t have some pride, some arrogance? I certainly did, I know. But I have ferreted through my heart to realize that a lot of this was that I was confident, knew what I wanted and didn’t, and was happy. There was jealousy there. And a fear that, unless I stayed in the same needy space I’d been in, I would leave him – which was surely true, unless he started healing too.
To this day I don’t know if what D said was true – did everyone feel that way? Who knows. I’ve kept in touch with very few from those days, sadly, and we were already beginning to drift away from one another by then. But what he said irrevocably changed how I view myself, how I view the world around me. I used to be, said one girlfriend, the perfect friend, because she knew that she could take me anywhere and I would get along with everyone and like them. This, I’m sure, is no longer true. Because lodged somewhere in my heart is the lie that people won’t really like me, even if they seem to. I don’t trust people with my self. All the angst that perhaps I was due in junior high and high school I saved for college and beyond, because I am now cautious, awkward, self-conscious, guarded.
I hate it.
And, try as I might to forgive, I hate him for it, too.
*** I apparently have a purging need lately – thanks for humoring me on these posts. I promise to stop marinading in old hurts soon!