“The girl who refused to speak…”

This article is part of a series titled “In My Own Defense” 

He gazed upon me with that evil Cheshire Cat grin knowing full well all eyes are on us as he said, ”What the fuck is wrong with you moron, I’m talking to you!?!?”

I tried my best to ignore him and looked straight ahead. My face was burning hot and at this point very red as I realized everyone in the classroom stopped what they were doing to watch our exchange.  I honestly can’t remember at this point what our group project was that day, but our geography teacher had divided us up into groups.  I had the misfortune of being paired with three “gems”.This unspoken – yet very real fact – somehow made her mere existence produced feelings of awe and deference. I will never forget our graduation day in that large ornate university auditorium. They sat all 110 students alphabetically.  Consequently, I sat right in front of her during the ceremonies.  During the speeches that preceded the handing out of diplomas I had to suffer through her annoying hiccupy cry.  It produced feelings of anger and bitterness within me.  I wondered, in that moment, what it was like to be her.  Yes, I know she had her own trials and tribulations to look back on, (as did my sister: a fellow popular girl from a younger grade).  However, I wondered if she knew how lucky she was to feel accepted by her peers.  Did she understand how fortunate she was to feel comfortable in the halls at our school?  My sister commented once that school was a haven from home.  I wondered if she felt like this as I sat there, forced by my parents to attend this event.  I hated the school and my classmates, and wanted nothing more than forget the whole experience.Also in our group was that guy most of the girls in school secretly, (or not so secretly) had a viscous crush on.  In fact, I was one of them to my own dismay.  You see, in my mind crushes were bad things.  Nothing, good could ever come of then.  I was, after all, an abhorrent social atrocity. No one in their right mind would dare interact with me for fear of what others might say – especially guys.  My only course of action?   As someone who “knew her place” these feelings were best left buried way down deep, kept to myself.

…and then finally there was TJ.  In college, many years later, he would be convicted of rape after his high school girlfriend testified against him in court.  He was a legend in his mind with this stupid bleached blonde hair and king shit attitude.  I was always perplexed at how everyone secretly made fun of him for these qualities – but never to his face.  Maybe because he was superb at dishing it out and nobody wanted to be at the receiving end of his bullshit.

At any rate, we all sat in a circle and I listened quietly as everyone began working on the project together. I felt silly sitting there and wanted nothing more than to crawl into a corner.  It’s as if my leper status was burned into my brain as an indelible fact.  I wanted to apologize for my presence that day, but said nothing.  Instead, I prayed silently, that TJ would overlook me so I could survive the experience unscathed.  However, I wasn’t so lucky.

She then makes a point of noting that I’m just sitting there like a “useless blob” while they do all the work.  I wonder to myself why she feels it necessary to talk about me as if I’m not there. TJ pipes in on cue hey moron, answer her!” I refuse, (knowing full well any interaction with him cannot go well: it never has). My crush leans forward and attempts to engage in a conversation, (although not as crudely the other two).

There is no way out.

I can’t hide

I can’t run

and I certainly can’t fight back.

I have nobody to stand by me and back me up and TJ has a roomful of bystanders to perform for.  So what do I do? I decide to just sit there and look straight ahead at the chalkboard and refuse to acknowledge their existence. This, infuriates TJ who hits me with an unending verbal assault.

Everyone is staring at us and time stands still.  The teacher stands there like a numb-nutt and does nothing.  My eyes well up with tears and my face grows hot as I start to zone out…

No amount of daydreaming or checking out can save me from the unbearable pain that comes from realizing that:

I am different.

Being different causes you to stand out.

standing out makes you a target.

as a target you’re susceptible to ridicule

people notice & a reputation develops

this reputation renders you invisible

Through the passage of time, my memory childhood events has developed into an morphological representation that is constantly reframed as a result of changing beliefs and previously overlooked details.  I must admit – at times, my memory is a bit fuzzy.  Around the holidays, while I’m at my parent’s house, we always find ourselves reminiscing about various childhood events.  My boys sit eager to hear my parents’ retelling of various childhood escapades.  As I listen to my parents’ retelling of things, I frequently encounter a perspective so divergent from mine that I’m left speechless.  I’m usually thinking to myself: “how is it you can say this? Where were you?!?”

Yet, as the befuddlement wears of, (and I stop to process the details provided by someone else’s perspective), I come to realize my memory bears the indelible imprint of a child’s eye.  Editing out all perspectives other than myself – I was the center of my world.  And my eye was narrowly focused upon those details that were most emotively captivating in the best and worst of ways.  All other details remain out of focus or edited out altogether.

When looking back at this day in Geography class, I remember it at first as a highly traumatic event.  It was a key turning point in my own dwindling mental health.  I quickly spiraled into parasuicidality struggling to find some relief to the profound sadness and hopelessness that overwhelmed me.  I didn’t want to die, I just longed for the hurt to end, and was sick and tired of “white-knuckling it.”

Yet the adult in me resonates with the thoughts of many readers, “What’s the big deal?!?!?” After all, the event, as I’ve described it is rather mundane and certainly not worth the level of meaning I’ve placed upon it.  In some respects, I do agree with you.  However, it must be noted that the kid I was then, didn’t have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight and 30+ years of life experience under her belt.

It was in this class, that any last shred of hope within me died.  All insecurities burned into my mind as certainties and indelible facts of my own worthlessness.  I gave up the internal struggle to hold onto my knowledge of self with nobody to provide me that support I needed.  I internalized these messages from my bullies, and became exactly what they said I was…

So being the mental health nerd I am, what can I dig up from the depths of earlier events in my life, to help explain such an extreme emotive reaction???  I had some time to think about this a bit, as I’ve honestly struggled to complete this post.  A plethora of memories snap into my mind in rapid succession.

The pain started at St. Agnes: I was ostracized from the beginning & never experienced acceptance or belonging from my peers…

Saint Agnes a a Catholic private grade school in my hometown. The classes were pretty small and everybody knew everybody, (so there was no escaping the idiots that made your life hell).   I was bullied from the outset and had the word “patsy” tattooed to her forehead.  I was the ideal target: A quiet and sensitive girl who couldn’t keep her emotions bottled up to save her life.  If someone hurt my feelings, I let them know it.  Very quickly, I found myself the odd-man out.  The girls all refused to play with me and the boys all made fun of me.  I will never forget how much I hated recess since I had nobody to play with.  I tried hanging by the front door, so nobody could see me by myself.  However, the nuns always shooed me away and urged me to go play.  I begged them to go inside by their response was, “you need the exercise, go play.”  Very quickly, I was left with a message from my peers.

“We don’t like you.”

“You are different.”

“Go away.”

You see, I’m one of those rare prolonged cases of ostracism.  A good majority of people I’ve spoken with have had periods in their childhood in which things were okay for them socially, intermingled within and between periods of peer-related trauma.  I on the other hand, only had the ostracism and bullying.  There was never any opportunity to experience healthy peer interactions.  I was always the social leper.  The only people I hung out with were other social lepers.  And the bullies were a constant presence in my life.  Their names and faces changed every few years or so, but they were always there.

Looking back at it today, I am perplexed by my own childlike desire to protect my parents from this horrible fact.  You see, my mom was not from here, and I didn’t want her to feel bad for my problems.  I worried she would blame herself.  Then my dad, he was always somebody who didn’t tolerate emotions very well.  He preferred to pretend they weren’t there and immerse himself in his intellectual pursuits. When he arrived home, my goal was to simply let him watch t.v. so he could relax.  My own problems were best left to myself. (((More about this later)))

In third grade, things got really bad at St. Agnes.  I fell into a deep depression, and stopped listening in school.  My grades went downhill and the teachers suggested I repeat the grade.  However, in order to prevent more ostracism, they suggested I transfer to the public school system and continue there.  So I left for Jolley School with a solid foundation of insecurity and low self-esteem from St. Agnes.  I must admit, my mother did try hardest to help me fit in.  However, the emotional impact of those years were hard to overcome.

I left the experience simply wondering “why don’t they like me”.

I wanted nothing more than to know “how the popular kids got to be popular.”

I hoped for a fresh start, but instead received more of the same.

The deepening of my wounds continued as I sat on the sidelines, observing silently, the viscious social politics of popularity in my hick town.

So after failing 3rd grade at St. Agnes, i was transferred to Jolley School.  I ended up in Mrs. Herren’s class and also started going to a daycare every day after school and all summer long.  I absolutely hated it!  We were forced to hang downstairs in the basement with the two yappy dogs who liked to shit on the floor and a pee-stained sofa from all the toddlers who she left all day in wet diapers.  A girl from my new school also happened to be in the same grade as me.  I was always very jealous of her and her conventional beauty.  While only 8-years-old at the time, she kinda reminded me of a minature version of Marilyn Monroe.  Standing next to her, I felt like a horrible beast, with my dark hair, large nose, and generalized dorkiness.

At any rate, I had the the fortune of meeting her the summer before Jolley School.  She was stuck in the same shitty daycare I was.  I received a “quick-and-dirty” education on the in’s and out’s of popularity from Little-Miss-Mini-Marilyn.  When school started, she made this agreement with me, to “not talk with her during school”.  She explained, her group was “very exclusive”.  I complied with her request and was able to observe this crowd of mean-girls rule the school.  They had this mysterious power I so longed for.  After several months of silent-from-the-sidelines observation, I asked her how she was able to be part of the “in crowd”.  She looked at me seriously and said it comes down to one principle:  “loyalty”.  I looked at her dumbfounded and in disbelief.  It couldn’t be a simple as that could it?  How did this explain all the reasons people liked to make fun of me.  From my own viewpoint I had to believe there was some magical recipe that included a series of idiotic rules: (1) Only hang out with these people; (2) show an interested in these things, (3) dress and/or act in this or that particular way.  What I didn’t realize was these were a series of random insecurities instilled within me from bullies as my perceived reasons for “not being good enough”.  I couldn’t conceive at the time that these things were just random things that didn’t matter one way or the other….

It’s only now, many years later, that her words had any meaning.  This illustrious in-crowd was simply all powerful because they knew how to play the game of social politics.  Their magical key was simply to stick together and remain loyal to the group, “no matter what”.  In my mind now, I can recall middle school many years later.  There was this viscious “mean girls” bullshit happening at the time.  All the grade schools were consolidated into one middle school and the popular girls from each grade school engaged in some f-d up “war” to determine who got to claim the title “king shit”…..

It all started in the beginning of fifth grade.  These popular girls combined into one group of about 20-some individuals.  Over the next year and a half this group dwindled down with various “members” kicked out of the group for an extraneous and idiotic set of reasons.  It was only around this time, that I was actually glad to be on the sidelnes.  In fact it seemed to me that members of the in-crowd also had it pretty tough too.  By the time sixth grade came to a close, this exclusive group now consisted of the four original girls from Jolley, (including of course “Little-Miss-Mini-Marilyn”…

…And then my own self-imposed silence and solitude began when my best friend Ruby Stricker moved back to the Indian Reservation where the rest of her family lived at the time.

I met Ruby at the beginning of 5th grade.  She was a student at another grade school.  I recall meeting her one day at recess.  We hit it off instanteously.  I can’t tell you what factors congealed to make us such a good fit for one another at the time.  Although, to some extent, we were both outsiders looking in.  For me, I was just the clueless dorky social leper.  She, on the other hand, was Native American and lived in a trailer park.   Alone, neither of us had a “leg to stand on” in a scary world defined by middle school social politics. To the mostly-white and upper-middle-class population that lived there (due to the University) I’m guessing Ruby was probably in the same boat as me.   She was my only friend at the time, and without her, I would have been alone in a scary and terrifying….

I will never forget bumping into her mother at the local “Piggly Wiggly”.  She mentioned matter-off-factly that they were moving.  My face grew cold, my mind went blank, and I fell into an irrational panic.  The next morning I asked her why “she didn’t tell me”.  She admitted quietly, “I was afraid to break the news to you.”

By the end of the week, she had moved away, and I was completely alone.  There was nobody in my corner.  I was a pre-teen with only ostracism and bullying in my past.  This left me with no positive socialization experiences with peers my own age.  Why does this matter???? This move ended my only opportunity for socialization.

Point #2: “In my own defense”, I was truly alone & the chips were stacked against me.  School was a terrifying place.  My only defense was to retreat “within myself”.  By High School I was really known as “the girl who refused to talk”.  

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“I Suffer from Pathological Naviete”

This article is part of a series titled “In My Own Defense” 

”How do you kiss someone for the first time at 21???”

This is a question posed by an interviewee in the above video: A Hasidic jew who decided to venture outside the community as a young adult.  Ill-prepared for the “real world”, they all had to confront a “rude awakening” to certain aspects of life.   I found myself much like them – wholly unprepared for the real world without the provision of basic social skills necessary to traverse it with any success.  This comment resonated with my own experiences and succinctly described why those “it years” were so traumatic. I recall now watching this clip for the first time on t.v., as my eyes filled with tears and mind flooded with intrusive and painful memories of all those lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way.

What strikes me most are the depths of my own cluelessness.  Was I really that dense!?!?

As memories flood my mind I first experience a vivid replay from a child’s eye view.  I remember feeling perplexed at why everyone saw me as a social leper.   “I’m a good person, what’s wrong with me…what is it I must do to be good enough?”

This viewpoint is in stark contrast to the perspective that 20/20 hindsight provides me, after years of learning lessons the hard way.

According to Siri, naïveté is defined as a lack of wisdom or judgment; innocence.  This concept fits me to a “T” (((or at least the young adult version of me))).

And what I didn’t know almost did kill me.

I will never forget the day my parents drove me to college as a freshman.  We spent the weekend setting up my dorm room and buying all the necessities.  As a bullied child, I had built up this day in my head over the last four years.  I felt like a parolee who just completed a long prison sentence.  I was so glad to leave high school behind and looked forward to a fresh start.  I promised myself I was never going to be that isolated and miserable dork again.   Leaving school was like finally removing the “scarlet letter” that tends to accompany a bullied child’s daily experiences.    I was literally starving for acceptance and belonging: especially from the opposite sex. Until this point the only kind of attention I received were complete ongoing reminders that I was a reject.  My bullies were always male and always ganged up on me in collectivity during school so all could enjoy the spectacle that was “Kathleen.”

Sometimes it was in the hallways were they called me names as I tried to ignore them.
Or it was in the lunchroom where I always sat by myself while praying in silence that my attempts at social invisibility were successful and everybody would just leave me “the fuck alone”.
The point is, these experiences left me with a feeling of unbridled fear and trepidation around any males my own age.

At this point in my life I only had the benefit of one-sided perspective of me. I had unknowingly internalized my bullies words.  I was ugly. I was unlovable. I was worthless.  There was no way anybody might happen to actually want to be with me. So therefore, if I was actually able to  find someone “willing” to date me I’d be the luckiest girl in the world.

My hopes would be instantaneously shattered as I was felt with the a brutal blow of stone cold facts.
I couldn’t run away from my problems because I carried them with in me as unresolved traumas set at auto-rewind.

For whatever reason, my mom saved some pictures I sent home to her of my dorm mates from my freshman year of college.   While visiting my parents last Christmas, I decided to dig through some old boxes of things in my bedroom closet. These pictures fell into my lap while I was flipping through my old baby book.  I recall the feelings of elation that I actually was included in various social activities….And how it was quickly replaced by hopelessness and despair.

Over the course of my first semester it became clear that a huge cavernous divide separated us.

They were your typical  freshman with the sort of typical social life I only witnessed from a safe distance.
And with these experiences came opportunities for social and emotional development.

I remember listening in on conversations while hanging out with fellow residents in the t.v. room or cafeteria.  They shared various dating experiences while I listened as a fly-on-the-wall.  In time, it was clear my thinly veiled attempts to hide my differentness failed.  These ladies were all talking about adult-like experiences in a manner reminiscent of your typical SATC episode.

At this point, I hadn’t yet been on my first date or even had my first kiss: “the flaming virgin”

I recall listening in on s conversation in the bathroom as we all got ready to go out for the evening.  Honestly, had no idea what was planned for the evening and was just grateful to be invited.  Keri, a popular cheerleader and ballet dancer in high school eyed me while commenting to another girl: “You know there’s a big difference between virgins by choice versus virgins by circumstance.  One I have respect for, the other is just pathetic.”

Then there was the day that my mom stopped to visit me after a meeting she had in town.

My roommate had decided to visit her parents that weekend so we had the night to ourselves. She slept in my roommates bed and we spent the evening catching up.  That following morning we went shopping and out to eat.  As my mother began packing her things and getting ready to go, several ladies knocked on the door.  They all introduced themselves and made idle small-talk.  As my mom got ready to go and gave me a hug, Keri commented: “You know it’s just wrong to send a child so naive and innocent without firsy empowering them with any real-life wisdom.”

Back then, I sincerely didn’t get it.  I was just plain hurt at the time that I didn’t fit in.  I wondered what was wrong with me.  Why couldn’t I be their equal?

At the time, desperate to succeed in fitting in, it was my goal to catch up by making up for lost time in order to somehow gain equal footing. However, it goes without saying that this thinking is sorely misguided, there is no making up for lost time. Things have to just work through the work to naturally overtime and my pathway forward was to remain divergent and unique.  So they continued  trying to invite me to  things but it just didn’t work out as I had hoped.  Chronologically, I was your typical 18-year-old girl.  However emotionally my development had been stunted. Inside I was at stuck in time as that insecure 12-year-old girl who had just lost her best friend after she moved away to the local Indian Reservation.  With her gone, I was left alone friendless and destined to remain socially isolated myself in the world of my imagination – only safe place to be.

And there are no words that can adequately do justice to the experience of this. Inside my head this feeling of pain nagged at me as I asked myself: “Why am I so different?” You see, I honestly didn’t know.  Looking back at it, I can attribute the problem to a global isolation that was inescapable..  It started in school where I was known as that girl who didn’t talk.   It continued at home where I spent 99% of the time in my room, with busy parents who didn’t know and couldn’t understand.

My father was my idol: he marched to the beat of his own drum and appeared to be above others’ opinions not giving a crap one way or the other.
…And then there was my mother who always appeared so self-assured, confident, pragmatic and logical: As if she had all of life’s answers.
And my sister served to act as as proof that I was a human defect, by succeeding in every area of life I failed at.

I was isolated into the world of my imagination. My body was in school, but I wasn’t in my body.  I was in my mind, and learned to exist in an inescapably painful situation by being beyond the point of feeling or reacting to it.  Mentally numbed into a zombie-like state for the sake of emotional survival.  It is only with 20/20 hindsight that I can see what was then invisible to me.  The understanding that I needed as a solution to my problems existed just beyond the pain I was unwilling to face.

My father, the idol, was also socially clueless and ostracized – like me.
My mother, the one with the answers, was also naïve and ignorant – like me.
My sister who appeared to succeed was also struggling in her own way – like me.

When examining the origins of my pathological naivety I must say it comes down to the fact that life developed a one-sidedness based on others’ opinions and my inability to see beyond them.

I have had to examine my own personal narrative to include information that had been previously overlooked.  This idea of me being not good enough has haunted and perplexed me much of my life. And until I was willing to confront the traumas of my past, I had no idea why people reacted to me as they did.  I just knew it was hurtful and made no sense.  With no one guiding me there to help me, I naturally blamed myself.  Within me was the thought I’m worthwhile person.  Around me everyone had these terrible things to say coming out of left field.

In order to pass PE class all you need to do is simply participate.  I flat-out refused freshman year and got an F, which really ticked off my mother.

I was always the last one to be picked.  Whenever we games like baseball, there eventually came the moment whe. attention would fall upon me and the taunting began.  The usual suspects all jumped in with a barrage of verbal insults that felt like knives hurled upon my soul.  I would try, in futility, to swallow my tears but was never very successful at if.  My heart has always been clearly visible upon my sleeve as an easy target.  In those moments I would pray for the ground to swallow me while in order to be rendered invisible.  But, this never happened.

So anyway what I did to survive PE was to conveniently forgetto bring my gym clothes.  Our teacher said if you didn’t have your PE clothes you could not participate.  This strategy worked for a while and I was able to sit safely in the sidelines.  However, at some point my teacher eventually sent a note home informing her of my perpetual oversight to not bring gym clothes.  From that day forth I was unable to get away with leaving my gym clothes at home. There was no way out.

So one day after the usual taunting and ridicule, we went to the locker room to shower and change. For the most part, the girls in my class ignore me, which was preferable to the verbal ridicule the boys always dished our.  Around me several other girls started undressing talking about normal high school stuff like this party on this weekend or so and do’s boyfriend.  I remained quiet and simply went about my business thinking to myself, “they have no idea how lucky they are getting to be normal”.  However, at some point, I start noticing everybody giving me these funny looks.  Perturbed by the stares I gave the girl next to me the “evil eye” as she asks: “who bought you that underwear and why don’t you shave your legs?”  I looked down at my underwear, having not given it a single thought until that moment.  It was the underwear that my mother bought for me. It had pretty little pink flowers on it and was the modest granny style that my mother approved of. They of course have this fancy underwear that you get from the Victoria’ s Secret. The kind my mother would always comment that only “slutty girls” wear. Then, as I began examining my hairy legs I thought to myself in frustration at my mothers steadfast ignorance.  Ignorant of the varied social niceties required for one to fit in at the typical American High School, she didn’t understand why sending your child to school with hairy legs and granny panties was not a “good idea”.  I begged for normal panties and she would ask “why do you need those, nobody will see them anyway.”   I would try stealing my father’s razors, but she would lake them from me.  At one point, I just gave up and thought to myself, the boy’s all hate you now anyway, its not like shaved legs and bikini underwear are bound to make a dang bit of difference at this point. I’m not exactly sure what my response was, but I basically asked: “What’s the point? The boy’s here hate me?”   I could tell, by the looks on their faces, that I wasn’t making any sense, but at the time I really didn’t give a shit.  I had no desire to explain myself to anyone in that moment.

As I reflect on this memory today, I can’t help but think about a new girl back in 5th grade who moved to town.  Since I lived in a small town, “new kids” were a rarity and most of us grew up together.  I had her in P.E. class and this was our first time having to undress in front of others in a locker room.

Everybody was just developing and wearing training bras.  This new girl, however still wore those “underoos” with superhero characters on them.  She would dance around like a little girl as everyone looked at her strangely for her odd behavior.  I couldn’t help but wonder how this girl could be so clueless, that she was oblivious to the fact that everybody thoughts he was an oddball.  Was this me in Freshman year on that day when somebody asked me about my granny panties?  Probably so.  I remember telling my sister this story one day, and recall her responding bluntly, “Oh my God! There’s no way I’d let that happen.  I would have found a way around mom.”  In other words, I was still to blame for my own cluelessness.  You see, it appears that ignorance is not an excuse.  Societal ignorance is equitable to a character defects I suppose – an unforgivable one.

So what defense can I provide for daring to do things like wearing granny panties to PE class?   I can see within my mind the opinions of those who knew me from this time: “What’ the hell’s wrong with her?  She was such a weirdo!!”  In my own defense I simply would like to note that I was really clueless.. At no point has anyone given me advice or assistance on how to fit in and be like a normal kid. The fact is there are so many things working against me.  I was raised in a home with two unique parents.  My dad is socially awkward and marches to his own drum.  My mother was a foreigner unfamiliar to many aspects of teenage life in America.  I had absolutely no friends after sixth grade.

Fortunately for my sister who is six years younger, my parents had already endured watching me struggle socially. They wanted to provide my sister different experiences. So the raised her very differently and retroactively attempted to give me those things that she had gotten first. My younger sister was first to get a car, first to wear makeup, first to date.  I followed her and was to retroactively receive these things – as somewhat of an afterthought.  I think this was their way of making amends for failing to provide me what I needed to survive socially in your typical American School System.

Point #1: “In my own defense”, I wasn’t only ignorant of the rules of law regarding fitting in.  Doing so was legitimately complicated due to the prolonged isolation (both at work & home…

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