So, here we are at the point in the childhood flashbacks that I was dreading. And when you consider that this post is timed perfectly with my actual birthday, I kind of cringed. After all, birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions, and yet here we are at the year that I very much consider to be my rock bottom year.
I admit that I was quite conflicted even writing an entry about it at all and I even considered skipping it altogether and go ahead with the 17th year instead.
But then I thought to myself...no. As painful as the memories associated with my sixteenth year were, and as horrible a time as I had, the story needs to be told. It needs to be told because of two reasons. One, because it proved just how strong I was back in those days, even if I didn't quite see it that way at the time. And two, because if my story can inspire other people to stand up for themselves and not remain silent when things happen to them that they don't like, then I consider reliving these experiences a good thing.
So, here we go.
Tra la-la-la-la la-la-la-la
Happy birthday, sweet sixteen
- Neil Sedaka
Only mine wasn't quite so sweet. My sixteenth year was pretty miserable, actually. And, I'll explain one of the main reasons why this was the case in a moment.
In the meantime, let's see what was happening in the world of pop culture around this time. Oh, and, yes, I have a snapshot for you all to look at.
Yes, one new addition to my face was the fact that I needed to wear prescription lenses. I tried contact lenses, but hated them. And since I can't afford laser eye surgery, I still have my glasses today. But somehow, I made them work.
#1 SONG THE WEEK OF 5/18/1997
"Hypnotize" - THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.
"Hypnotize" - THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.
This was definitely one of his biggest hits - as well as one of his last. He was actually killed two months before this single hit the top of the charts. It's actually not a bad song, to be honest.
#1 AT THE BOX OFFICE THE WEEK OF 5/18/1997
"The Fifth Element"
Absolutely loved this movie when I first saw it, and it still remains a favourite today. I even had to do a project on this movie for one of my film studies classes. Talk about a homework assignment worth doing!
#1 TELEVISION SHOW OF THE 1997/1998 SEASON
Makes sense. This was the show's final season, so a lot of people tuned in to bid it farewell. Although, the show's finale still causes arguments among fans today.
Finally, I should also add that while sixteen was a really horrible year for me, it wasn't completely bad. My second sister got married in October 1997, and my first nephew was born just a few days before my seventeenth birthday. If anything, those memories are the only fond ones that I have of my sixteenth year.
Other than that, it completely sucked.
Let's see...there was the massive event known as Ice Storm '98 that gave us several consecutive days of ice rain which lead to transformers blowing and power lines snapping, which lead to a blackout that lasted several days. Certainly not a natural disaster that I want to relive, let us put it that way.
And there was the time in which we had some really nasty rainstorms that summer, and the ceiling in my bedroom actually caved in on me. The only consolation was that none of my possessions were damaged, but it was still annoying to have a quarter of my bedroom completely unusable for several months.
But those things pale in comparison to what I had to endure in school - things that no other sixteen-year-old should ever have to go through.
I could forgive the fact that I had my belongings torched in my locker. I could forgive the fact that there was a smear campaign launched against me. And, well...I could even forgive the nasty note that was sent to me telling me that the school would be better if I killed myself which actually lead to me seriously considering exactly that.
Thank goodness that I never went that far with it. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here typing this out. But that's how broken I was when I was in the eleventh grade.
I had absolutely zero friends to lean on in eleventh grade. Zero. Oh, sure, I had acquaintances, but I didn't trust them enough to confide in them too much. Even the friends that I had during that time had their own lives and I felt it best that I didn't interfere with them. Truth be told, I had a lot of trust issues that year. I didn't trust in others to be there for me, and I didn't even really trust myself a whole lot during my sixteenth year. I pushed everyone away, including members of my own family because I didn't think that I deserved to have anybody on my side.
You see...if all of these incidents had happened completely at random, it still would have been inexcusable, don't get me wrong. But at the very least, it would not have hurt me so much.
What really hurt was that all of these actions - the locker fires, the smear campaign, and the nasty e-mail - were all done by the same people. And one of those people I considered to be a really good friend.
Now, for the sake of argument, I'll use fake names in this piece, to preserve their identities. After all, I'm not the "eye for an eye" type, and really, this happened eighteen years ago. No sense in trying to seek justification for outing them now.
I first met "Cory" in our ninth grade computer class. He seemed quiet, but he seemed nice enough for me to sit near him for the whole semester. We became friends by the end of the year, and when some of the kids in the school picked on me, I was stunned to see that he actually comforted me, and stood up for me. I didn't really have a whole lot of that growing up. Usually, kids just turned around and looked the other way, or they joined in to avoid being outcast. "Cory" was different though, or so I thought. And "Cory" soon introduced me to a couple of his other friends named "Will" and "Sparks", and I admit that I was friendly to them, though I didn't get as close to them as I had with "Cory". "Will" had a locker fairly close to me during the first year of school, so I spoke to him quite a bit, and in ninth grade music class, "Sparks" was seated fairly close to where I was sitting, so I got to know him as well. I remember "Sparks" being very quiet. Never really spoke a word unless he was directly spoken to.
But, that was ninth grade. In eleventh grade, I noticed that something had changed. Something that didn't make sense.
It was right around the time that the first locker fire took place (there were three separate instances altogether which also included vandalism). I noticed that "Cory" wasn't exactly the supportive friend that I had known from two years ago. To be honest, I thought he kind of acted nonchalantly to the fact that my locker had been torched. I mean, I was freaking out about it. Not only because the fire caused me personal and emotional damage, but because the fire could have burned down the whole school, possibly putting lives at risk. He couldn't have been bothered by the whole thing, and instead he spent his free time hanging around "Sparks" and "Will".
At that moment, I should have clued in to what was going on, but by that point, the second and third fires took place, and there were posters being circulated in the cafeteria that were spreading lies about me. And, by that time, I really didn't care to know anybody who was a student at that school. I had even considered dropping out of school to take my high school equivalency test instead, just to get away from that toxic environment, but I knew that my family would have never allowed that to happen.
I think they probably would have let me do whatever it took to make sure that I did get an education without being bullied, but since I never really told them the impact of how much I was hurting from it, they never really knew how bad it had gotten. They suspected something was up, but never pressed further because I refused to talk. They just chalked it up to sixteen-year-old moodiness.
By the time that I had gotten the e-mail message, I had enough of it, and I begged the school administrators to do something about it, but unsurprisingly they really didn't do anything to help me.
No, it actually took the efforts of two wonderful teachers to help expose the ugliness of the bullying against me in eleventh grade - and Mr. McDonald and Mr. Pearson, you have no idea how much you really helped me out, so thank you, thank you, thank you!
It was Mr. Pearson who caught the poster maker in the act in the school cafeteria, and Mr. McDonald who managed to use his computer genius to trace the origin of the e-mail address that sent the nasty message to my student e-mail account. And what they found really shook me to the core.
The posters were being distributed by "Will", the guy whose locker was close to mine. And, it was he who I initially suspected was behind the locker fires as well, as he had really close proximity to mine. I ended up being wrong in that accusation, but that will come later.
But what really hurt the most was that the person who sent me the e-mail was "Cory". "Cory", the one friend that I made in grade nine computers who actually defended me against some of the nasty kids in the school. It was "Cory" who typed the words "why don't you kill yourself and make the school a better place".
This was worse than betrayal. This was almost the equivalent of him taking a steak knife and stabbing me right through the heart with it. He was one of the last people that I would have suspected that would hurt me like this, and yet there was the proof right there.
It made me sick to my stomach. In fact, I think I did throw up the afternoon that I found out. I put so much trust in him and "Will", and they completely ambushed me and treated me horribly.
"Cory" and "Will" ended up getting a week-long suspension, which to me was one of those cases in which I felt that the punishment did not fit the crime at all. Had this happened in 2007 and not 1997, I believe that both of them could have been kicked out of school permanently. They got off extremely lucky as far as I was concerned. "Cory" did try to make amends and apologized for what he had done, but as far as I was concerned, he made his choice that day, and the friendship between us was pretty much over. He went his own way, and I went mine. And, well...let's just say that eleventh grade ended up being a very lonely year.
I reckon that if I had enough black clothing, I would have done the whole goth phase during the rest of the year, as I really didn't have any school spirit, nor did I have any spirit towards any of the student body of my high school. I just stopped caring.
I am relieved that I didn't go through with the plan that I had to end it all that year. It would have devastated my loved ones, and besides...I wasn't about to give "Cory", "Will", and "Sparks" the satisfaction of knowing that they had completely broken me.
And, yes...I include "Sparks" in this piece. I come to find out that "Sparks" was the firebug that torched my locker, and that "Cory" had known the entire time and never told me who it was until high school commencement, which as far as I was concerned permanently killed any hope of continuing a friendship with him. A real class act, wasn't he?
I guess what I learned from this was that I needed to do a better job of choosing friends. I became a lot more guarded after that experience, and while it was a necessary thing for a little while, I let that event turn me into someone who was cold and unfeeling - two adjectives that I never want to be described as.
I also learned that I can't let one horrible year define who I am as a person. I was victimized in eleventh grade, and for the life of me, I never did get any sort of explanation as to why they went after me with such hate. I may never get that answer. But life did get better after my sixteenth year, and that's what I need to focus on now.
But you know what else I learned? I learned that despite the toughness of my sixteenth year, I became tougher and stronger, and I swore to myself that I would never let anyone hurt me like that again. "Cory", "Will", and "Sparks" were toxic people and they only wanted to hurt me. Who needs people like that in your life?
Fortunately, by the time I turned seventeen, I started to make friends with a new crowd, as well as rekindled a bond with an old friend...and we needed to keep that bond strong as we found ourselves lost in Montreal.