When I was in seventh grade—or “grade seven” as we called it in Canada—there was a popular girl who used to pick on me. I still don’t know what it was about me that irked her so, but this girl, who was popular, had a boyfriend, did well in school AND sports, and basically seemed to have it all, just hated me. She would stand by our lockers and insult me, sometimes loudly, occasionally yelling. She was just plain nasty.
Luckily for everybody, middle school was over after two years, and we all moved on to high school. Even luckier for me, she and I went to different high schools, so I didn’t have to worry about her anymore. But I still thought about it and relived those painful moments when she was shouting at me in the hallway as people walked by and laughed. It became a part of me that I carried around, like we do with so many of the injustices of our youth.
A year or so after I graduated from high school, my best friend’s sister was getting married, and I was invited to the wedding. I was at a distant table (as a friend of the bride’s sister, that seemed about right), and… you know where this is going, right? I got to my table, saw place cards by each setting, and glanced at the one next to mine: There she was, my 7th grade bully. Not in the flesh just yet, but there on paper, indelibly, was the dreaded name I remained a little haunted by, despite the years that had passed.
I was already not a huge fan of weddings. The formality, the dressing up, the ritual of it all, none of it resonated with me (it still doesn’t – my own wedding, many years later, was in a park with 11 guests and was followed by a potluck picnic). Take the general discomfort of being by myself at a wedding and add the discovery that the girl of my middle school nightmares was about to rematerialize, and you can imagine my state of mind. I had a dreadful feeling that the anticipation was not going to be worse than the reality, and the reality was going to suck.
Then she showed up.
Her eyes revealed instant recognition when she saw me. “Laurie!” she said in surprise, taking a seat next to me. I wondered if she was going to keep being mean to me, or pretend we’d always been buddies. But she surprised me.
“Oh my god, I was SO mean to you in middle school. I’m SO sorry! I was such an idiot back then.”
For those of you who’ve seen Annie Hall, this was the middle school girls’ emotional equivalent of the Marshall McLuhan moment. In that second, in just three short sentences, the last six or seven years of bully-related dark matter removed itself from my psyche.
“I think everyone was an idiot back then. I know I was,” I told her. I added, testing the waters: “I think you just took a few years of therapy off my future.” She laughed.
Every time we are hurt deeply, we carry that wound around. It becomes part of us. I’d been carrying those insults and those feelings of shame around for a handful of years, and suddenly, in one moment, they simply lifted away. I could almost see them floating off, wafting through the room and out the door.
We had a nice time at that wedding, and when it was over, that was that. We didn’t become besties, or even stay in touch – we said goodnight and called it a day.
Do you remember the show Rhoda? (Please say yes.) There’s an episode where Rhoda describes her fantasy about gathering everyone she ever knew in Yankee Stadium and then telling them all, “Okay everybody, start apologizing!” That was a vision I could get behind: Imagine every person who’s ever wronged you, gathered to tell you they were sorry. You’ll never get all of them, but DAMN did it feel good to get just one.
A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.