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[personal profile] janradder
When I was in fifth grade, I was horribly and mercilessly abused by a boy who had been my best friend. Why he turned on me, I still don't know. He just did. And over the following months he made me feel lower and less like a human than anyone ever has in my life. And he convinced just about everyone else in the school to do the same thing to me. I wandered the playground each day, trying to avoid the other kids, because as soon as one of them saw me I knew I'd have to listen to his or her taunts and ridicule. And there was never a safe place for me to go, because someone always found me -- either Robbie, or one of his toadies, or just some random kid that felt like making me feel like shit. I sometimes joke about it now by saying how the kid in school who everyone made fun of, made fun of me, but it was true. And the things that happened to me in fifth grade have haunted me for the past thirty years.

Last fall, our son Éiden came home telling us that someone was bullying him, and I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach because here was one of my worst fears coming true -- that one of my sons would have a childhood like mine. We called the school and spoke to his teacher, and the school handled it as well as anyone could hope -- they put a stop to the bullying, and made sure that Éiden was okay. And he was okay.

But I wasn't. I started having flashbacks to fifth grade. And for two days I became unable to do anything but sit on the bench near our door and cry and rock and remember what had happened to me and feel that same fear and dread and self-loathing I felt when I was ten. After two days, I'd stopped crying, but I started struggling with issues of self-esteem again. And I've been struggling with those issues ever since, which is why I finally went to see a therapist again a few months ago.

Over the course of our sessions I agreed to write a letter to Robbie, though I said I'd never send it to him. I wrote a letter, and then I wrote another one. And then I realized that I really did have to send him something, because part of what had been bothering me all these years was that I'd never stood up for myself. I'd fought back when he or someone else started a fight with me, but I'd never told him off. I'd never said, "I'm done with you." Instead, I'd futilely hoped that he'd come to school one day and tell me that he was my friend again.

So I wrote another letter.  And this afternoon, I mailed it to him.

I don't expect a response from him. Honestly, I don't care if he responds. After sending that letter, for the first time in thirty years, I am finally free of Robbie Grahame. I've been carrying him around for so long, listening to his words and taunts and put-downs, and letting myself believe them. And I've been going back to that place in my life over and over, reliving it again and again. I feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted from me. And I've felt so incredibly relieved and happy and proud of myself.

When I walked out of the post office and turned on the radio in my car, I heard the line, "Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999," and I couldn't think of anything more appropriate to be playing. I went home, ate lunch, and then smoked a cigar on my front steps to celebrate what I did. And I thought about my past, and how I'm done with that kid. And instead of thinking about all the crap I went through, I thought about the good memories I have from that year, like my friend John Lucas, who was on my baseball team, and all the great times we had at each other's houses talking about comic books and drawing and looking at his superhero collection. And I haven't thought about those memories enough. But I need to.

This evening, I went and found a photo of myself, taken on a fifth grade field trip. In the photo, I'm sitting on the steps of a church in my home town, and I'm smiling. I look genuinely happy. Every time I've looked at it before, all I've thought was how this was taken during the worst year of my life. But when I looked at it today, I didn't see that at all. I saw myself smiling, and happy. I've been holding onto that image, because it's just as much a part of my life as the bad stuff. And it's time I start giving it just as much room in my life as I've given all the crap.

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janradder

March 2012

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