People who have known me since high school and beyond are always surprised to hear that I was once very much like Dawn Weiner. I may not have looked like her or acted like her exactly, but I know the feeling of being lowest on the totem pole and the over all awkwardness of being a social idiot. I was a dork with no fashion sense, among other things. I was also incredibly angry, and when you are already bullied or shunned that much, you tend to become a misanthrope when it all comes together. “Welcome to the Dollhouse” is always a strange film for me to watch because it is all so familiar.
I thought maybe it had all started to go downhill after my dad died of cancer when I was 6 years-old, but really, I think it all went down once I switched schools at the beginning of 3rd grade. Maybe then it was when kids started caring about pecking order, or they just got nastier. Getting spit on, thrown in a creek, being left out or just made fun of for any number of reasons — attending school was stressful. As much as I tried to turn it around, or even, bully them back at times, it never worked out for me in those years. I think I didn’t know how to maintain or have a friend because of distrust. I got prank called at home constantly by kids at school. Frankly, the whole business slowly turned me into an asshole because it was the only way to cope.
There were times that I did contemplate suicide, but I was too chicken to go through with it. I’ve talked to a lot of people like me who felt the same way at this stage in their young life and it’s amazing how many of us were thinking about ending it around ages 10, 11 and 12. It’s messed up, but true. Fantasies about being an adult is probably what kept me going. Despite things like horseback riding, playing with neighborhood kids, and Girl Scouts, I played alone a lot and I think there came a point where I preferred it that way. Any photos of I see of myself during this period, I cannot stand to look at. In fact, I destroyed many of them, and only a handful exist in my possession.
I didn’t have a best friend until toward the end of 6th grade. This was around the time I stopped trying to be a preppy (or whatever the hell I was trying to fit in with) and embraced the subcultures of punk, goth, and new wave. Despite revisionist pop culture history, I can tell you that it was not a popular time to be into any of those things. In junior high I was teased and bullied for different reasons (being a “satanic slut” because I wore black was my favorite) but it was all familiar. Except this time instead of kids spitting on me, I got smacked around, and was once even thrown down a flight of stairs by someone who won “best personality” in our year book mock elections. It got to the point where I had an underlying distrust for praise or positive feedback of any kind; it’s something I still carry with me to this day, and I was put down so much at school that I honestly didn’t know how to take a compliment when I got one. Sometimes I still don’t! I was told I was ugly so many damn times that I still sort of believe it and have issues despite having modeled, been thrown into films, and had my share of gorgeous men.
What kept me going, was that I had an agenda. By the beginning of 7th grade I already knew I was going to art school in California to study film and painting — yay me. I knew what everyone else would amount to, and I knew in the end it didn’t matter if I fit in, because honestly — why socialize with a bunch of people you can’t stand anyway? Knowing that this was all a bunch of temporary bullshit was what made everything else after junior high easy. I didn’t have a hard time in high school at all, in fact, by then I looked at it as a day job and a form of entertainment. My senior year of high school felt much like how it feels when you give a 2-week notice at work. By then most of my friends were older any way, I had gotten a taste of college, and if anyone did try to bully or make fun of me, their attempts fell flat because I made clear that I thought they were morons. The only upside to all of the bullying and put-downs over the years, is that I have a thick skin and don’t take shit from anyone now.
I know most kids don’t think they have an agenda, but I have found that those of us who were slightly weird, artsy, or outcasts always did interesting things later. If you can give yourself any goal past high school, you learn to stop caring about what people think. When you stop caring what people think, they tend to leave you alone because then you are no fun to tease. Today is different, with the internet things have escalated, and it makes me so sad when I see headlines of kids killing themselves over bullying. There’s a part of me that wants to say, “come on, just deal with it! It’s part of growing up!” but these are times when the bullying doesn’t stop when you go home, it’s 24/7. If this were my reality in the 1980s, I’m sure the effects would have been a lot more detrimental.
The only comforting thing I can tell you is that life starts over at several points. It all goes back to zero at the start of college, at the start of different careers, at the start of a move to a new city or country, a new relationship, and so forth. The kids who pick on you now — more times than not — grow up to become completely unremarkable in almost every way. That might not sound like the most exciting form of karmic justice, but for me, nothing gives a more warm cozy feeling of schadenfreude than knowing someone who bullied me in the past has now become a completely predictable, common, and boring adult. Living well is a great form of revenge, but so is having an interesting life.
It does get better.