After leading a pretty comfortable existence in Gayhead Elementary School, where I'd attended on and off from first grade, fifth grade ended.
Enter Van Wyck Junior High. I'd been in one of those gifted programs prior to the transition (mine was called Thrust), but I wanted a clean slate when I went on to big-bad junior high, so I shirked the opportunity to join Project Adventure.
It was the early '90s. These were the days of Z-Cavariccis, designer bags and curled bangs. I didn't fit in with those kids. I tried, but my knock-off apparel was no good, and Aquanet didn't hold up my hair, no matter how much I sprayed.
A group of kids from another elementary school, who might have been referred to as "head bangers," caught my attention. Some of them were in remedial classes for math or English. They were obviously different—rebellious. I guess that's why I liked them.
The girls curled their bangs but wore ripped-up stonewashed jeans and listened to bands like Poison and Guns & Roses. They passed notes in class, disobeyed teachers, loved scary movies and made prank phone calls. They had problems at home, like I did. And they accepted me. I became part of their clique.
Once at the teen dance hall, Club Soda, a tall, much older redheaded boy asked me out. The girls encouraged me to make out with him, but I spent the night trying to hide from him. Before we got picked up, we snuck outside to smoke cigarettes someone lifted from their parents.
Midway through the school year, I started regretting that I hadn't joined Project Adventure and missing some of my old friends. Toward the end of the year, when the heat made its way into the school, short sleeves replaced sweaters, it was difficult to concentrate on school work.
In the last days of school, I messed with the order of lunchtime and sat with some old pals in the muggy cafeteria. After a few moments, I returned to my usual table. By the time I approached my clique, they weren't speaking to me..
I tried to keep to myself as I replayed what other infractions I might have made. The more I tried to ignore the fact that they were ignoring me, the more they upped the ante. The next day, they were sneering and whispering comments. After school that night, the prank calls started. They were insulting me and threatening all sorts of violence. Spanning from the synchronized screams of "f*cking bitch!" to more personal one-on-one lists of the things they hated about me, to the cut-and-dry back-to-back hang-ups.
The calls kept coming. It was their new past time.
A day or so later, I was carving a watermelon when the large knife slipped from my hand and sliced into my big toe. To my luck, the doctor told me to keep my foot elevated, so I missed the last few days of school. Cutting my toe open was a divine gift, but it fueled the fire of my "friends." Their harassing calls now consisted of calling me a wimp, too.
When summer hit, I reconnected with my old friends from the neighborhood, but the calls didn't stop. They promised to make seventh grade hell.
Then one night at the annual summer carnival, with a few friends who were part of the Black Sheep-listening, "hip-hop" crew, my "friends" were suddenly headed my way. I grew tense. Missy, who I'd known since elementary school and who wasn't afraid of anyone, put an end to it by telling the girls she would kick all of their asses if they didn't back off.
Nevertheless, my parents made arrangements, with financial aid, to send me to St. Columba, a small Catholic school, though we were far from Catholic. In that haven, I received an excellent education, made a few good friends and experienced another case of bullying. (I sort of started it.) This time it was resolved in Principal Sister Ann's office.
I've dealt with various shades of peer bullying into adulthood, but there's nothing like the sting of quintessential adolescent aggression.