Why I chose Jackie: I’m a little nervous. I wasn’t going to tell this part of the story because I didn’t feel like it mattered anymore; but after reading Jackie’s answers, I think it does, just not for the reasons I originally intended to omit it.
I shared earlier about my worse week in junior high. It seems so stupid now but back then, it meant everything. Weeks earlier, one of the coolest girls in class showed interest in a pair of my jeans. These weren’t just any jeans, mind you. These were THE jeans. (Picture this: light blue acid wash, circa 1991. Since my father was still relatively new to his career, our family didn’t have a lot of money, certainly not enough for the trendiest clothes. BUT I have this amazing aunt who is only 8 months older than me. That meant, sometimes I got her hand-me-downs. Those jeans were in the big black garbage bag that made its way to our house shortly before the beginning of the school year.)
Back to that year. After first noticing my cool jeans, the girl struck up conversations for the first time ever. Soon, I became bold enough to suspect we were friends. So much so that when she asked to borrow my most prized possession, I agreed. I brought them to school the next day and let her borrow them. She wore them. Then, again a few days later. After several weeks, she’d worn them often and hadn’t shown any motivation to return them.
I was in agony. Those jeans were the one thing I thought I had that made me interesting enough for the other kids to like me. I asked her to return them. She assured me she’d bring them the next day. It came but she had forgotten. She forgot again the day after, then the day after that. By the time two weeks had passed, I was desperate. I reminded her every time I saw her in the halls not to forget to bring my jeans back.
Finally, one morning, she had them in her arms. She walked up to me and plunked them down. She was scowling, said nothing, then turned and walked away. I ran after her and pleaded to know if she was mad at me. She rolled her eyes and said, ‘No’ but I could tell this wasn’t true.
It was later that day, sitting at a table next to hers in the cafeteria, I found out what she really thought of me. She was surrounded by friends, most of whom, were agreeing with what she said. Jackie was one of the girls sitting with her.
She had always been kind to me, ALWAYS thoughtful of the feelings of others. I was so hurt, so confused. A few hours later, she approached me, sincerely worried about whether or not I was okay. In the heartbreak of that week, her effort to reach out somehow comforted me. Once I got over my self-righteous pity party, I realized something. Jackie was never one to be unkind. Put in such a terrifying social situation, she did what most of us 14 year olds could think to do: go along with it. The fear that if you didn’t you could be the next target, was so very real.
Here’s another key realization I’m ashamed of: I probably would’ve done the same thing.
Jackie and I were good kids. We were kind. We wanted to be nice. Our own excruciating and private heartache made it next to impossible to stand alone. But here’s the thing: That sort of regretful experience happens to just about all of us. The exception to this is certainly exceptional but it’s rare. For that matter, just because we miss the chance to do a right thing one time, it doesn’t exclude us from being exceptional in the future. (Sadly, it took many experiences like this, when I should have spoken up but didn’t, to finally decide to be better.)
***I think this is one of the big things I want Bunny to take away from this project. I want her to be a person whose willing to stand alone but also to be patient with those who are still working on it.
Jackie’s first answer really surprised me. I could never have considered her a ‘dork’. By high school, everyone loved Jackie. I remember she had this infectious laugh, a thousand watt smile, and an amazing sense of humor. She could make all of us bust a gut so effortlessly yet she always possessed a dignity well beyond those years.
I’ve come to suspect that dignity comes, in part, from having a heart full to bursting with compassion. While we’ve not had the opportunity visit face-to-face since high school, we’ve had several conversations. Reconnecting, I was immediately struck by her capacity to feel so much for others and the commitment she has for those she holds dear.
She is an extraordinary mother. Extraordinary. She supports her children with unconditional love and possesses the patience of a saint. When you consider the pain she faced at that age, aching over the loss of her own mother and trying to find her footing in the most unsteady time of our lives, it’s pretty amazing.
Jackie has risen to great things in her life and continues to do so. That dignity of knowing hurt but still pressing forward and being the best sort of person she can be is indeed, exceptional. I want to be more like her. I also want to sit down with her and see the pictures and hear the stories from the many adventures of her big, beautiful life. She reminds to stop and revel in the people in my life which has also reminded me that I want her to always be one of them. And that is why I chose Jackie.
1. Were you given a ‘label’? If so, what was it? If not, what words or phrase would have described you to others within the community.
“I think my label would have been dork?”
2. Why do you think this was the impression others had? How was it correct? How was it wrong?
“I never really fit in anywhere. I guess I hung around with the ‘cool’ kids who liked to push the boundaries of what was acceptable, but I never really felt like I was part of the circle. I felt like I was always on the periphery; because I wasn’t pretty, skinny, tall, funny, outgoing, etc.
What most people didn’t realize is that my life was probably so much different from most of theirs so I really needed to fit in and be accepted. My mom had passed away a few years earlier, leaving me with my alcoholic father, who was a WONDERFUL dad, but an alcoholic none the less.
At that point in my life, my dad had just remarried, they had a baby and I was not happy with all those changes. I lost an entire side of my family (my mom’s family disappeared from my life when she passed away). My dad married someone I wouldn’t come to appreciate until I was 26 years old and suddenly, I had a step-brother and a baby brother.
I was miserable.”
3. What were the things you felt pressure about?
“I felt pressure to do things I wasn’t comfortable with so I could fit in. Never sex or drugs but stupid things like cheerleading. I would have never (in a bazillion years) have been a cheerleader but I was afraid of losing my best friend if I didn’t try out for cheer with her.”
4. What were you afraid of?
“Standing out. I hated (and still do) being the center of attention. Hence the reason I wouldn’t have been a cheerleader if not for that fear of losing my best friend. I just wanted to blend in.”
5. Describe a poignant memory. (It can be funny, somber, tender, etc.)
“There was a Sadie Hawkins dance that year (do they even have those anymore??). I had worked up the courage to ask someone to go with me. We were double-dating with my friend Shandy and her date. We decided to have dinner at my house before the dance. So, we all met up there beforehand. My dad was drunk. It was humiliating. After dinner we went to the dance and the guy I was with was really nice and even tried to hold my hand (gasp), but between my nerves and the humiliation I felt because of my dad, I could have puked. It was a disaster. I don’t think I really even talked to him much after that.”
6. What did you wish others could understand about you but couldn’t find a way to tell?
“I wish they could understand that life wasn’t easy for me. I would make jokes and be silly to mask my insecurity because I had so much crap going on at home. I wish they could understand that I may have seemed boy-crazy, but in all actuality, I just wanted someone I could count on.”
7. If you could talk to your 14-year old self, what would you say to her/him now? What would you say to your classmates?
“I say these things to my kids all the time:
Just be nice. You never know what someone else is going through. That popular girl/boy who keeps hurting your feelings; just stop trying to be friends with her. In XX number of years you won’t even remember what she/he looks like. The friends you make for life likely will not be made in junior high or high school (mine were made in the military). If someone calls you “weird,” embrace it. Why would you want to be like everybody else? I know that some of the things you are going through and will go through in the future will seem life-shattering and I won’t minimize that. But life can and will be beautiful if you allow it to be so. Look towards the future.”
8. If you could change one thing about your actions back then, what would it be?
“I would have spent more time getting to know and being friends with everybody in my class versus the few that I did. I also would have put myself out there and played basketball – I always liked it (and still do) but I didn’t play because I felt too self-conscious.”
9. What is something that was vitally important back then that isn’t so much now?
“Fitting in physically was really important to me. I spent so much time worrying about if I measured up physically.”
10. Then vs. Now