Yes, this will be one of those posts where I divulge the trauma of my youth as a social outcast. Because this is my blog and I can.
The summer before high school my parents moved us into my grandmother’s house in Chatham while we searched for a two family home. My Dad was an only child, my Nan was getting older and it would be better financially for the family.
I started High School in Chatham, met some great kids, had wonderful classes and loved the environment. For about a two months. Then we moved to Millburn. TWO MONTHS INTO THE SCHOOL YEAR.
This is the absolute worst thing ever to do to a child. In two months the social groups are formed, the hierarchy is established, and it is so not easy merging into the insanely stupid caste system that is high school. Especially not when one is a lower middle class kid moving into a high rent district.
For fuck sake, I was from a dinky little NJ shore town, with more bars than people, my Dad was a bus mechanic, my Mom worked in the school and I didn't know the difference between Ralph Lauren and Girbaud, nor did I really care. We now lived in a place where kids were driving BMW's and getting Corvettes for their 16th Birthday. I was living in Surreal Land. Let me tell you that for kids in the Millburn School District, life is all about what you have and if it's better than what everyone else has. At least it was then. Maybe it's better now. I certainly hope so.
I didn't fit in with the larger population and thankfully met some kids more like me, realistic, down to earth and quirky. I was/am reserved and shy in public and unknown places. I don't like being the center of attention and prefer to blend in, rather than stand out. In familiar, comfortable places, with people I know, that's a whole different thing where it's easier to let my freak flag fly. So to speak.
After I had settled into a seat on my first day, after that wonderful experience of standing in front of the class while the teacher introduced me as the new girl in the school (don't they get how insanely awkward this is?), I could already sense the small groups that had formed based on what heads were huddled together, whispering, while they stared at the new chick in no name jeans, generic sneakers and a battered denim jacket. One of the girls asked me where I was from, smirk firmly plastered on her perfectly made up face. My response was the shore area, I figured no one would have a clue if I named towns, so why bother. When same girl asked where that was, my defensive inner bitch emerged. You know, I said, sand, water, beach. The shore, you've probably seen it. Snickers erupted from a handful of kids, and the girl's face flushed and she stared back at me, vitriol blazing from her hate filled eyes. I had just flipped the figurative bird at one of the popular kids and she would never, ever let me forget it, by waging a career campaign of trying to humiliate me at every available opportunity. And holy shit, there were so many opportunities.
There is always one person, it seems, that will be your nemesis throughout your entire high school experience. That one person that singles you out to mock, to point out as different, to hassle your space, to make you loathe walking into a classroom. I guess it's a character builder, having such an individual to deal with, to find a way to co-exist with or punch in the face, if all else fails.
For me, this person was Corey, the girl I had embarrassed my first day of school. She was used to other kids being intimidated by her, reveled in her popularity and role as de facto leader of her social strata. I had disrespected those roles, to her way of thinking. I had broken the boundaries and Corey's comfort zone. I would push back, stand up for others she and her ilk picked on and try my best to make her as miserable as she made me. Corey, as fate, or irony, would have it, was in my writing class, my english class and my art class. Christ, I could not get away from that demon spawn. And from the very first day of our meeting, she hated me. I have to say the feeling was mutual, but I recognize now that we were both sporting huge chips on our shoulders, and needed to prove ourselves to be bad asses.
I had always loved art classes, and my creative writing classes. I was able to escape into the assignments, taking the images in my head and use words to bring them to life on paper. I had yet to discover the power of, and my love for, photography. I was dreadfully unhappy in this new place that first year and my writing invariably focused on the one place I found solace in describing, a small town in Rhode Island that I fell in love with the moment I first visited. Rocky shorelines, pebbly beaches, dense woods, crashing surf.
I loved this place, wished I were there fervently and often, as I tried to adjust to my new environment and the people I needed to navigate to find my place.
This school was the very first place I experienced reading my creative writing out loud to the class. It sucked big hairy moose balls. I was insecure in my voice, painfully shy and did not want to put myself out in front of kids I was finding to be scathingly cruel. It was like living the mean girl nightmare. They surrounded me, and they were led in their douchebaggery by the evil bitch Corey. Every time I read an assignment to the class, she would utter snide comments, point out my faulty grammar, find something to criticize and ride it to fucking death. She completely disregarded the teacher’s chiding for bad behavior and kept at it.
When I had written another descriptive essay about Rhode Island, focusing on the large boulders that riddled the shoreline, and how jumping from one to another gave me a sense of power, escaping the clutches of the frothy sea water reaching up to grab me by feet and pull me under as I leapt over its foamy expanse, Corey hurled the bolt that slammed home and, until recently, has been embedded in my brain since 10th grade.
Don’t you write about anything else? She sneered at me. Is that the only place you’ve ever been? You’re writing sucks. This from the girl who had spent spring break in some exotic resort, recovering from her nose job. The teacher scolded her but, as usual, had no control over the prima donna that tormented my high school days.
What made these jibes stick so hard, was that Rhode Island had been the furthest from home I had ever been at the time and it was my sanctuary, the safe place in my head and heart where I escaped, at a point in time where everything was out of balance and uncertain. I endured the remainder of the semester listening to Corey talk about this place or that, poke at everything I wrote, every art project I generated and found ways to ridicule me mercilessly. She was the demon riding my shoulder. I didn’t let anyone else pull that kind of crap with me and had a reputation for not taking anyone’s bullshit.
I once walked out of math class and slammed this girl up against the lockers for spreading rumors about me that she knew were not true. I made recant her lies to everyone who had spread into the hallway to see the girl fight, before I let her go.
When one of Corey’s sycophants kept shoulder slamming me in the hallway, I rammed her so far into a bank of windows that she didn’t talk at me, or to me, from that point on. I didn’t tolerate stupid people hassling me.
Yet, I let Corey silence me, I could not shut her up and I allowed her to influence my writing and my creativity.
A couple of years ago, I was reading a book on writing and it referenced the voice in your head that makes you doubt your writing, that criticizes constantly and that you have to tell it to shut up whenever it speaks. Immediately Corey’s face sprang up in my head. Holy Shit, I realized. You Bitch, Go Away.
It was her voice criticizing every word I wrote, every picture I drew, and every creative effort I labored at over the years. Whenever I set pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, it was her face floating in front of me, ridiculing my efforts.
When I started blogging, I promised myself that Corey would have no dominion on my words and so far that has held true. I love knowing that I banished the evil bitch to the bottom of the sea, under a big ass boulder, not far off the coast of Rhode Island. Whenever I get stuck or start wondering what right I have claiming to be a writer, I envision her there, with sand getting stuck in her girl parts. And flip her the bird.