I’m very grateful for everything I have in life, but occasionally, things happen that trigger old wounds, and these last few days have been strange, unsettling, and at times perplexing.
I’m currently at a loose end, because I’ve had to switch to a different Masters course, and it doesn’t start until January. I’m trying to think positively though, and am hoping to fill my time with writing, as opposed to negative thoughts, which I’m struggling to keep on top of this week. I must get a handle on them though and remind myself of all the good things in my life, because ultimately, I need to rise above it all.
The reason for my self-doubt is because it was my high school reunion last weekend. I tried to go, but I just couldn’t find the courage. As it happened, with all the stuff going on with my uni course, I had a good excuse, and seeing the photos afterwards, I realised it was probably a good thing. It turns out you can block a person from Facebook, but still be bombarded by photos they’re not tagged in. Seeing those pictures made me feel sick, and it was almost as if my abuser had stolen those years from me all over again.
My high school years were fairly grim. I was bullied for the first year – quite a lot of kids got involved, most of whom probably don’t even remember. Over the years, I’ve somehow managed to come to an understanding about it, and have almost forgiven them. However, when you’re given the nickname Dull Girl, it kind of sets you up for the next few years, so even though the worst part of the bullying had dissipated by the time I moved into the second year (Year 8) and beyond, the damage was already done, and my identity never really recovered. I hovered between not wanting to draw attention to myself, and having those common adolescent feelings of wanting to be popular and memorable. I never really found any middle-ground, and remained mostly anonymous to my fellow pupils, bar the odd isolated incident of name-calling, which was enough to keep me on my toes, and helped maintain my sense of non-belonging.
The very worst thing that happened to me though was an encounter I had with a boy, a fellow pupil, when I was in the sixth-form – and who, in all honesty, I cannot understand my attraction to all these years later. But he somehow reeled me in, and managed to play me in such a way that I still struggle to understand today.
My last year of high school was tainted because of him and I’m not sure I ever touched the surface of the things I found out he’d been saying about me. I blamed myself for playing into his hands because I couldn’t keep my emotions to myself and I know this contributed to the picture he built up of me. Everybody assumed I was the villain (or so it seemed), and I lacked the confidence to stand up for myself properly – besides, by that point I knew nobody would believe me if I told the truth anyway. It also didn’t help that in those days I had no real concept of the difference between sexual consent and coercion, and I was too ashamed about the fact I’d fallen for his tricks to spill the beans. For months afterwards in school, I was trapped in a situation I couldn’t escape, ostracised further than ever from my peers. Even today I still have nightmares related to that year, forever a hostage of those depressing school corridors with the bottle green radiators.
One of the stories I’m working on is about those horrific months, and I know that one day I’ll find the right outlet for it – in a competition, or a publication of some sort. Until then, I have to trust in karma, and be thankful for the fact that I know I’m not the terrible person I once believed I was. I have my boys, my books and my writing, and the truth is that life is pretty good. In a few days I’ll be grand and back to my usual optimistic self, and I’ll be stronger and better in ways that perhaps elude me today.
And even though I wouldn’t wish the experiences I had at school on anybody else, I think the challenges I faced there shaped my life in positive ways that I’d never have thought of in terms of resilience and some of the choices I’ve made. But sometimes, just occasionally, tiny little reminders, like school reunions, bring the memories back. I’d like to think that one day I’ll conquer that fear as well, and then I’ll truly be able to claim those years back entirely.