An Open Letter to the Friends Who Turned on Me in High School

Dear Friends Who Turned on Me in High School,

I’m not sure why it happened. And quite frankly, that isn’t the point. It doesn’t matter that you ditched me right when my life became a total disaster at home (simultaneous deployments and deaths), got me kicked off the dance team I encouraged you to join, and pushed me when I got on the bus. It’s irrelevant that you wrote hateful things about me on the Internet, glared at me in the hallways, and screamed at me in the cafeteria. It isn’t important that you started a Facebook movement dedicated to my shortcomings, sent me horrible messages, and told the new friends I finally had the courage to make things so awful about me that they turned on me, too. It’s unbelievable and horrifying but still somewhat extraneous that following your campaign against me, you proclaimed yourselves anti-bullying ambassadors, vowing to prevent hate and foster friendship and kindness among our school. You signed a petition against bullying and went out to lunch with anti bullying organization leaders. You put on your resumes that you are dedicated to ending bullying in schools. Like I said, shocking and troubling, but crucial? No.

No, none of that matters. But it does feel damn good to say.

The fact is this: A lot of positivity sprung from your evil: I learned a lot about myself, I overcame what were some of the hardest times of my life, etc. etc. I don’t call myself a victim and I never will. But to be honest, playing the “I’m so strong I overcame this” role is getting really old. I am still haunted by what you did to me, and I feel that you deserve to know that.

I am a 20-year-old girl in the honors program at a more-than-respectable university. I am on a dance team, I am in a sorority, I have a handsome, sweet, smart boyfriend who loves me. But despite these strengths and accomplishments, a lot of my social interactions with girls are completely screwed up (for lack of better term) because of the awful things you did to me. Ambiguous status updates and benign whispering are enough to send me into a panicky tailspin, a result of your “We hate XYZ” posts and organized encounters with me in the hallways in high school.

Satisfaction from social victories is replaced with intense scrutiny. And a lot of that is my fault and I have been willing to own that since this all began. But, for once, I’m not going to blame myself. I’m going to hand some of that off to you. It’s nearly impossible for me to make girlfriends. And I really, really, try. But like anyone else involved in an emotionally abusive relationship (it took me  long time to realize that although we were not romantically involved, I was still the victim of emotional abuse), I must patiently wait to be strong enough to carry the baggage you left me with four years ago. The white hot anger I felt toward you when this all first happened was slowly replaced by red frustration, followed by a blue sadness while I grieved the loss of what we once shared, and now my feelings toward you are a neutral tan. They are the colors of a waiting room wall.

You’ve made me self-aware and extra careful when I talk to others. I am probably the most socially conscious millennial on the planet, because I think before I speak now that I know how it feels to think every statement uttered is a direct attack. But none of you can ever understand what you’ve done to me. Some of my best years are being wasted on social anxiety and self-deprecating messages.

If I was a spiteful person, I would hope that the same thing happens to all of you, and while it’s tempting to wish that upon you, I’ll reluctantly pass on doing so. It is enough for me that these hateful actions are a part of your history, something you might even be a little bit too embarrassed about to share with friends or boyfriends. Your petty, deliberate unkindness is a permanent part of your past.

I don’t mean to be hateful, because I don’t hate you. I know this letter might have come across this way, but it is simply bottled up frustration from disregarding the pain this put me through, and hiding it behind statements like “It made me a stronger person.” It’s not right that I’ve white-knuckled the last few years of my life. And it’s not right that I’m not allowed to blame anyone but myself. Victims aren’t allowed to curse the girls who made us this way because it is seen as weak or blaming other people for our problems. Until recently I have been too proud to do so-my excessive hubris is the reason I blamed myself all these years, the same reason I refused to transfer schools, the same reason I pretended your actions didn’t bother me when in actuality they caused mental anguish that threw me into a depression I am just now beginning to conquer.

At this point, I’ve pushed a lot of these feelings so far back that when I recently relayed this story to someone, she was shocked that I spoke about it so numbly and formulaically. My staunch lack of emotion when talking about this time in our lives speaks to how many rugs I’ve swept this under.

I’m sorry if I’m rambling, but it’s so hard to cut such a huge piece of my life and thoughts into a letter that is comparatively so brief. Normally, I wouldn’t even bother to try and put it into words. But today, I had one of those days where I just couldn’t get the right words together, I couldn’t process an interaction, and it’s jeopardizing my friendships. And it just made me think.

Thank you for the strength, but no-thank-you for the mental torment.

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