I was walking across the street from my mother's house last night when I saw him. He was standing in front of his father's house, diagonally across from where I was, taking something out of his trunk. It had been several years since I saw him last, and many more since I looked him in the eye. I would not look at him this time, either. I put my head down and picked up my pace, trying to get out of his line of sight before he picked his head up and saw me. He would want to say hello, like the last time. He would want to make small talk about kids and school and old friends, as if nothing bad ever happened. As if all that went on didn't matter anymore.
He's not the only one I see. A few of them stayed in the neighborhood, got married, had kids, got divorced. I see them up at the school sometimes, picking up their kids. I see them in the grocery store or at Little League games and it's always the same. They talk. I nod. I avoid their eyes. I go home and cry.
I can't let those years go. I was small when it started, probably in kindergarten. If anyone ever tells you that little rhyme "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me," well tell them they are full of shit. Obviously they never had words thrown at them like weapons.
If it wasn't the words, it was the objects. Literally sticks and stones. Back in those days kids walked home from school by themselves. Even at 5. They weren't yet teaching about stranger danger. And they certainly weren't teaching about classmates being evil little bastards. The offenders would hide in the bushes, behind fences, wherever they could crouch unseen. When I walked past, they would jump out, not to scare me, but to throw things at me. And then the names would start.
This went on for many years. I learned how to spot them. I learned how to walk on the other side of the street. I learned how to convince my mother to pick me up from school. But I never learned how to use my voice. How to tell them to stop. It wasn't just the walk home from school. It was walking to to the store. Being in front of my own house. Trying to play outside. They harassed me daily, at first just two of them and then a whole crowd.
It crossed over into school eventually, and I became one of those kids. The kind with no friends and no social life except for what her mother arranged for her. Even then, those play dates were awkward and distressing. Frankly, I didn't want friends. I didn't need friends. I was happy to just go home and sit in my room and read. All I ever needed was a book. At least that's what I told myself.
As we got older, past the point where you could chalk off the behavior to kids being kids, the teasing and name calling persisted. But I was partly to blame at this point. I let it happen. I took it. I actually hung out with them after school and stood there while the belittled me and I convinced myself that I was part of the gang and this is how they all treated each other.
Sometimes, out of desparation to be included or to be liked or to feel wanted, you do things that you probably shouldn't. And those things are taken advantage of. You try to prove your worth, to prove you belong, and you do it in ways that only serve to cheapen yourself. But you don't realize it at the time.
These things went on for years, until I finally left the school system and moved on to private school and turned my back on those people and that life.
And now, all these years later, I wonder. I see these people around town and I wonder. Do they remember all of this? Do they know what they did to me? Do they have any idea of the effect that their words and actions had on me then and how they would effect me for the rest of my life?
I mean, here it is, almost 25 years from the last time I hung out with them, and I still can't get over it. I still can't look at them. What do they see when they look at me and try to make that small talk? Do they see the same person they heaped abuse on when we were little? Do they think at all about those days? I doubt it. I doubt that if I ever brought it up with any one of them that they gave it any thought in the past 25 years. Because it didn't effect them. They went on with their lives and they forgot about me and those days and the rocks and the names and the things that went on in Jimmy's backyard.
I want to tell them. I want them to know that even today, their words are with me. That everything they did back then is still with me, in my fears and my self-esteem issues and the way I view men, and myself on a whole. I bet they don't know that. Because they think they were just being kids. They didn't know they were setting the course for my entire life.
I'll continue to see them around town and I'll continue to avoid them in my day to day life, even though they continue to be part of my nightmares and part of my psyche. There's really no escaping your past. I'd like to say I'm over the things that happened so long ago. But I'm not and I never will be and I don't know if it would make me feel any better to know that they have some guilt over what they did or that they do think about it and feel badly about it and that it stayed with them as much as it stayed with me. It probably would only make me feel worse.
So this is me trying to purge myself of all of this. It's the first time I've written about it, even if the words are very vague and scattered. I'm trying to let it go. Maybe this is the beginning of doing that.