(I love telling stories. It might be my favorite “style” of writing. It is, without a doubt, the stuff that most of my readers best respond to. This year, I want to tell you some stories about my past– about people who’ve made me who I am today. Some will be happy, some will be sad. Some you will find encouraging, some you will find maddening. But they all have one thing in common. They are all: People Who’ve Made Me Who I Am Today.)
Jessica G. rode my bus. She lived in a very run-down, small, old house on a dirt road. Unlike most of us Connecticut preteens, she didn’t wear Esprit and Forenza. I don’t really know what she wore, but I know the other kids picked on her. Really, I just ignored her most of the time.
I actually met her in the fifth grade, but we had no classes in common then. She wound up in my sixth grade science class, however, and that’s when I’d be forced to learn more about her.
There were three Jessicas in that class– me, obviously, my good buddy pal Jessica L., and Jessica G. Our teacher, a man, decided that that was entirely too difficult, and he wasn’t fussing with last initials. Rather than label us “Jess, Jessie, and Jessica”, for example, he decided to call us Jessica 1, Jessica 2, and Jessica 3. (I fully realize that’s no easier than initials; don’t ask me what he was thinking.)
My maiden name started with an “H”, so I was Jessica 2.
This was all well and good. Honestly, I continued to be good friends with Jessica L. and to ignore Jessica G. Not much had really changed there. I wasn’t one of the super-cool, popular kids, but I was one of the best students and I had friends. I was well-liked enough and fairly respected. The middle school years weren’t easy ones, but they weren’t awful.
I’m guessing life would have carried on just like that if Jessica G. hadn’t decided to tell everyone that she was “Jessica 1″ because she was the best.
Now. This whole story is ridiculous. The fact that she said it is silly. The fact that it mattered is even sillier. But she did. And, of course, it got back to us. And, because we were eleven and immature and easily rattled by such suggestions, we were bothered.
And I decided not to put up with it.
Science class was after lunch. We all typically got there before our teacher. (I could write a whole post on the laziness of that teacher, but let’s not get off-topic here…) Anyway, the whole class was there– with no teacher– and I walked to the front of the room. I said,
“So, it’s been brought to my attention that a certain little someone in this class thinks that she’s just so cool she’s number one.”
The class grew silent and I paused.
“Isn’t that right… Jessica ONE?”
She paled as all eyes fell on her. I continued,
“So, since you’ve got it in your head that you’re just so very, very special, I thought we’d just find out. I’d like to ask anyone who thinks that Jessica G. is ‘the best’ to go stand with her. Go ahead. Go stand with little miss #1. But, if you think perhaps she’s misjudged her importance, you can come stand with me. We’ll see who the ‘cooler’ Jessica really is.”
And I waited.
One-by-one, my classmates walked over and stood with me. My gaze never left Jessica G’s. Eventually, there were about twenty of us on one side of the room. She stood alone. And, at that point, I said,
“Now maybe you should think about that.”
And she hung her head.
I hate this story. I hate it SO MUCH. I hate that I was so very, very cruel to this poor girl. (Though, in truth, she wasn’t always kind to me.) It doesn’t matter what she said, really. I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew I would humiliate and shame her. And I knew my peers wouldn’t dare stand with her. Because, while I may not have been “cool”, I wasn’t considered “gross” in the way she was.
I know I was a horrible, horrible person on that day and I very much wish I could undo the pain I caused in that moment.
But I did learn from it. Even as I stood in the front of that room, watching my classmates walk toward me, I felt an odd thought creep up. I hoped, really and truly, I hoped that just ONE person would go stand with her. I actually hoped that someone, anyone, might defy the crowd and stand strong.
No one did. We were only eleven, after all, and peer pressure was oppressive at that point.
But I learned that I didn’t like being the “cool girl.” I didn’t like being the one to whom everyone flocked. And I didn’t like knocking someone else down in order to step up the popularity ladder.
I have spent twenty-five years regretting how I treated Jessica G. that day. And twenty-five years never, ever repeating that mistake.
Other people who’ve made me who I am: