Journey(ing) to the past

The past and future are two of the scariest places in the world. The past is unchangeable and the future is unpredictable. Every choice we make determines the next step into the future.

Over 10 years ago I moved from the little town of Salem, NH, to Ithaca, NY, when I was 13. From eighth to eleventh grade I visited Salem almost every other weekend in order see my father. When I entered my senior year I stopped going as often; I think I went once a month, if that. Once I entered college in the fall of 2012, the first time I went back was the summer of 2015. Now in 2017 I’ve been back to Salem twice in less than five months.

The first time was an impromptu visit for my family’s 4th of July party and then from Nov. 22 to 26, my family and I celebrated Thanksgiving and my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration in the 603. It was a great four days in my least favorite place in the world.

I never thought it would become a place I’d hate going to. My whole family, immediate and extended, are there and that’s what continues to bring me back but it’s not my first choice as a vacation destination.

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On a whim, I decided to drive around town to see if either schools I attended were open that Saturday of our holiday weekend. To my surprise, the middle school was.

I contemplated going in, my chest trembling as I starred at the unchanged brick facade. I popped in my headphones, took a deep breath in and made my way through the metal doors. The entire time I walked around the halls where my sixth and seventh teams were, I was listening to “Waving through a Window” from the hit-musical “Dear Evan Hansen” on repeat. I’ve loved that song since the soundtrack to the show was released but it never resonated with me until I walked around Woodbury Middle School 10 years later.

On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?

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Even though I am a changed person, a better person than who I was at 13 years old, I retracted to the person I was, instead of the person I have become, as I walked those halls.

I saw the lockers I had in sixth and seventh grade with vivid images of where my peers stood gathered around each day, where I was pushed, shoved and ridiculed on a daily basis, the (new) parking lot where I was blamed for defending myself from a bully and later became suspended from school.

I walked through the cafeteria and sat at the exact table in front of the vending machines where a group of boys yelled and flipped me off for no reason every single day those two years, the place where I got gum thrown in my hair before first period one morning, the library where I had to work with my worst enemy to be made in my entire life, that same library where I threw a Twinkie in a boy’s face after the same group of boys made fat noises at me at the end of a school day. I remember which classrooms I was sexually harassed in and the names of the boys who did it even when I said, “No.”

I remember so distinctly standing emotionless outside the counselor’s office where I told two people I couldn’t forgive them for bullying me after a teacher gave a report about the bullying happening to me each day.

I even remember crying at my computer screen over the Myspace profile someone made of me with a picture from environmental camp in seventh grade with a blue background with little Twinkies embedded where I read everyone’s true opinions of me.

When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?

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10 years later I remember the names of all who tormented me, who made me feel like I was nothing and those who witnessed what was happening but decided to say nothing. I didn’t want to be saved, I wanted the burning hell that encompassed me on a daily basis to die. I wanted someone to listen. I needed someone to believe me.

10 years later I knew I had to go back to my roots to fully understand the growth and accomplishments I have made since moving to Ithaca and finally talk about what happened to me growing up.

Because thank God, I have changed. I got out of the town that made me feel like I was a something instead of a somebody, an easy target to the people I grew up with. I left the town, the people and the school administration that was inevitably going to make me fail. I am so incredibly happy I became a new person the minute I stepped onto Ithaca soil.

I’ve learned to slam on the brake
Before I even turn the key
Before I make the mistake
Before I lead with the worst of me.

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I developed proper social skills and made friends, I had teachers willing to help me in my classes, I wasn’t being bullied anymore, I fell absolutely in love with (musical) theatre, I graduated high school with high honors, I became a leader in college, I found my voice and I graduated college with two bachelor’s degrees. If I didn’t leave I wouldn’t have experienced all that I have and met those who built me back up from the black ashes of the people who tore me down.

I might always be the fat girl who didn’t have any friends growing up in Salem, NH. I might always have the connotation of being an immature bitch, the naive girl who had no where to sit during lunch, the girl who was shamed for trying to be someone, the girl everyone threw to the side like a piece of garbage. Maybe that will always be the image for those who knew me 10 years ago.

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But here are words I hope you read, from the woman who you can know now, 10 years later:

We’ve all changed. I am certainly not the same person I was back in the day and I hope you aren’t, too. I hope you’re well and I hope our paths cross again in our lives. I hope we can talk, catch up on our life endeavors.

Anyways, thank you. Truly. Thank you for making me realize what pure happiness feels like after knowing what complete humiliation entails. Thank you for breaking me down just to be brought back up by those who only wanted to see me succeed. Thank you for teaching me about character and good judgement for those who pass by in my life. Thank you for showing me what it means to be a friend, kindness and understanding. Thank you for showing me that, “Even if you’ve always been that barely-in-the-background kind of [girl], you still matter.

Thank you for making me the confident, takes no BS, compassionate, empathetic and badass woman I am today. Without you, I would have never gained the courage to leave, stay in Ithaca, “step out of the sun” and experience the beautiful second chance at life I was meant to live.

And yes, I forgive you. I forgive you for whatever you did, no matter how shitty it was. I tell you this in print and I would say it verbally. But please know I can’t forget what happened, I will be remember that part of my narrative vividly for as long as I live. You might not have meant it then or you might have thought it was cool because everyone else was doing it but those words and actions stick, even 10 years later.

Alright, I finally watched “13 Reasons Why” – Part 1

Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why,” has been out for over two months now and I finally gained the ability to watch it.

Having read the book, multiple reviews, press coverage and more on the show prior to watching the first season, I wasn’t thrilled. I wasn’t excited and was hesitant to become another viewer after reading all the mixed feelings.

But as someone who was bullied throughout her entire youth until she moved to Ithaca after the 7th grade, I didn’t want to admit that I could possibly connect to the show, even at 23 years old. In a few short paragraphs, here’s a synopsis of my youth.

I had only two friends growing up while I had to live through a series of name calling, death wishes on then hit social media site Myspace (R.I.P), had a fake Myspace account made of me, Twinkies thrown in my face, ridiculed for being another awkward pubescent teenager, fat-shamed, sexual harassed and was hated by a lot of people for no concrete reason. I was lonely, depressed and didn’t want to live anymore because of everything that was happening in my youth.

It will be 10 years this month, June 17 to be precise, when it all finally ended.  I became free of all the negativity, the name-calling, sexual harassment and hate.  I remember it all but I don’t hold grudges or hate anyone who did anything. There’s no point. It’s in the past and for one reason or another, it happened for a reason.

But it still happened. It’s in my box of memories that I can never forget. Its shaped who I’ve become as a young adult. And that’s why I connect with the character, Hannah Baker, for many of these reasons.

Watching the first season took me back to that time when I tried to make friends or tried to do the right thing and it backfired on me. I remember being touched by my male classmates and saying no to their gestures, feeling so violated I couldn’t even stop them.

I remember the rumors spread about me that went out to the whole school within a class period, out to people I didn’t even know or interacted with. I remember vividly being suspended out of school for defending myself as someone instigated a fight with me, and then having the blame for the bullying and fighting on me from all my teachers and administrators.

Day in and day out I would watch people stare and talk as I stood in my faded and worn out top red locker for two years in the 6th and 7th grade wings at Woodbury, confused as I tried to find the right words to say. Something to make it all stop so I didn’t have to cry myself to sleep each night.

It might be over 10 years ago by now but I still remember: faces and names and moments. No matter how hard I try I can’t change my narrative. I can’t make up what I have lived through.

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I didn’t lie and Hannah Baker didn’t lie about what she went through either. I believed every tape she made when I read the book and watched the series. You can’t make events; like being bullied, ridiculed, sexual harassed, and for Hannah and Jessica, being raped, up. It was her narrative to tell.

I connect with Hannah and I understand her motives. I understand why she wanted to kill herself. I understand why she made the tapes; in order for the other students to truly understand exactly what they did, how it stuck with Hannah and how those moments shaped her perception of the world and people in her tiny town.

Some people, in the show and some in real-life, think that making the tapes were all for attention. I don’t agree with the approach of what became of the tapes in the show but the motives are clear. There is nothing than a person who has experienced severe bullying wants is the straightforward, truthful answer to the simple question.

Why?

Why was I was the one ridiculed for so many years?

Why was I always touched when I said no?

What did I do that was so horrific that nobody wanted to be seen with me?

Why did you do it?

Why did so many people watch and not say a word?

Why me?

Just… why?

All Hannah wanted was an answer to the hell she was living in. Heck, that’s all I wanted growing up, too. Some I got, some I didn’t but I don’t need those questions answered anymore. Hannah was never able to receive a reason why but she gave her reasons why.

All I want is for teenagers and young students to not go through the hell and misery I went through or go through what Hannah went through depicted from a book to the screen.

If there is one lesson to take away from this show: words have more power than we recognize or believe they do. Words, hurtful and degrading words, are more powerful than the people who actually say them.

Be kind. Be good. Everyone is going through a battle you know nothing about. And bullying shows the character of the bully, not the bullied.

Part 2 featuring what I found enjoyable and powerful in “13 Reasons Why” will be coming in a few days.

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