Tonight I had dinner with a friend from grade school. I have now seen her twice since 1967. It was a nice evening, really, but it's odd to sit there with someone who is for all practical purposes a stranger, and yet we have a history in common and were going back and forth from the present to the past. If I were meeting her tonight for the first time, I would want to have dinner with her again.
She had a weird time growing up. On one hand, she was an honor student, cheerleader, had friends and on the other hand she attracted not so nice abuse and bullying. We hear so much these days about the damage bullying does, but it hits home when a 62-year old woman is sitting across from you describing incidents that still hurt 50 or more years later.
She absolutely was not feeling sorry for herself, however, just relating the experiences. One of them was that a group of girls (including me, no doubt) would walk from school to another place in our town where our Girl Scout meeting was. This group of girls plotted to leave her behind while we (and I hate to include myself but I'm quite sure I was one of them) took this short cut through the woods, through a cemetery to the church where Girl Scouts was held. Because she was by herself, she walked the long way around, and ended up getting beaten up by a bunch of other kids.
I would never actively bully, and didn't, but I also would go along with the crowd. I think we tend to think of people like that as not quite like us, like pariahs -- you're not doing it to a human being, you're doing it to the weird girl and you want to hang out with just certain people, not her. That reasoning resonates with me.
It's probably too much to expect that as a fifth grader I would have had the moral compass to tell me my/our behavior was wrong.
Another incident she spoke of was in 7th grade, and I was in this particular class with her, but don't remember it. The principal came to the class, asked her to step outside, took her to the girls' rest room and asked her to look in a certain stall. She did that and saw that something bad was written about her on the wall in nail polish. She doesn't remember what it said, but she remembers the humiliation of her being asked, "Who do you think wrote this?" She had no idea and said so.
I was never bullied, never beaten up by a pack of kids, never, to my knowledge, had anything bad written about me in nail polish on a bathroom stall, but, like all of us, I have my own ancient hurtful memories. Marge Piercy, the poet writes of "scars that bleed when you bump them and memories that get up at night and march in boots to and fro." I am thinking that I should have said I was sorry to her tonight and I am.