23 March 2016
I still can’t walk past a group of teen girls without shuddering. The giggling, the whispering bring back years of teasing and bullying at school. I’m over forty and they are fourteen but I still break into a sweat and keep my head down, as if I’m back in the playground.
So when I receive the invitation to the 25th school reunion, I am faced with a dilemma. The happy me today would love to go back, to smile breezily, talk about how happy my life is now, how I’m doing all the things I love, how great my hubby is, my home, my family. But I can’t.
I’d be thrown back to that dark place I thought I’d left forever, one of feeling rubbish, useless, ugly. My deepest fear is that the confidence I’ve built up since I left school, would crumble like a house built on sand.
I wasn’t hurt physically, but the words left scars that still run deep. I was sent to Coventry, laughed at, called names. I was the last chosen in netball, and then jeered at because I was too short to score a goal. I had to sit at the front of the class because I didn’t want to wear my glasses, and became the teachers pet. At least the teachers liked me.
So I was consigned to the saddo, pathetic, loser group who actually turned out to be the most wonderful women. I excelled in studies, and was then dubbed the swot, but it was my coping mechanism. It meant that I got into Oxford, where for the first time I was accepted for who I was. Everyone was a geek there, being different was good.
Yet the damage of being an insecure teen feeling like an ugly little girl followed me around like an irritating, imaginary friend. It made me want to over-achieve at work, choose jobs to appear ‘good enough’ and relationships that often played on my vulnerabilities.
So the pain wasn’t just at school, it lasted well after. In fact it didn’t really go away until until I wrote my first book the Ugly Little Girl. I was on hols with my hubbie by the seaside and I came face to face with me, and my past. At a next door coffee table at a cafe was an eleven year old who looked just like me: frizzy hair, glasses, buck teeth, and behaved in the shy, underconfident way that I did.
It prompted me to write and write and write. And out came a story about a girl who by day deals with all the horrible stuff of being a teen and at night she escapes to a school called OddBods, for misfits like herself, a fantastical place where everyone fits in.
Writing the book helped me make peace, but as I see the email trail of all those that were nasty, ignored me, mocked me, I still can’t face seeing them, or talking to them. It would be an utter act of hypocrisy to pretend all was well, when I had felt so miserable alongside these girls for many years. Maybe some felt the same, or even went through the same. I know one girl definitely did, she is all the stronger for it now. She is going to the reunion and I wish her the very best of luck.
I’ve written this blog instead, by way of an explanation for my non attendance. I’d love to switch back the clock, and that I’d had a fun Enid Blyton style adventure. But I didn’t. The first day back at school made me physically sick, as I was so worried no one would want to sit next to me. Lunch hour was a nightmare as everyone else happily peeled off into their gangs. And home time was a blessed relief. Now sadly teens are even pursued in their bedrooms due to cyberbullying. Nowhere is safe for them now.
I don’t regret any of it. It made me the woman I am today, the writer, creator, nurturer. But I can’t go back, nor do I ever want to.
I’ve forgiven but I’ve certainly not forgotten.
Elizabeth Kesses – March 2016