A Public Censure from a High School Outcast

I am in the process of preparing my house to put on the market. This is finally the year that I put myself first, no matter how difficult that is for me – because it is completely out of character. And this is going to involve some major changes and upheaval. I always put others first, even (usually) to my own detriment, almost without exception. I have been this way my entire life.

This change wasn’t some lameass resolution for me. I don’t do resolutions, at least not in the way most do. Life changes and extensive shifts in perspective don’t suddenly and miraculously happen simply because the clock ticked over to a new year. Time as we know it is a man made construct anyway, but I’m seriously digressing here.

The point of bringing this up was to mention I’m working on getting my house ready to sell. And this means days and weeks of meticulous sifting through thirty-five years of accumulated stuff. Some of that stuff is meaningful; some of that stuff is being donated; some of that stuff is being sold; some of that stuff is outright garbage and has been hauled straight to the bin and to the side of the road where people pick it up (you know what they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure), but some of that stuff is meaningful to me in some way or other and cannot simply be tossed out. Like the box of letters from my paternal mamaw. She was my penpal for a good two decades. Or my diplomas and commendations. Or my report cards and IEPs from elementary school, and the notes from teachers and little awards I received. Or the stacks of photos and photo albums. There have been lots of laughs, lots of tears, some raging and ripping up photos of that man who ruined my childhood and so much of my life and my outlook and behaviors, some quiet reminiscing, some shock; you get the idea.

One thing I came across was surprising to me. I didn’t even know I had it. A simple piece of paper brought on a flood of memories. Unpleasant ones at that. I was in 11th grade, I think, which puts me somewhere between 16 and 17. I was depressed and miserable and hated high school with all that I had. Not long after this period, I experienced some of the best years of my life until the bottom fell out of that, too. But for now, I was fucking miserable. I experienced suicidal ideation. I never cut myself, but I’ve always had this problem with picking and digging and tearing at my skin. So I’d wear long sleeves almost exclusively, in order to hide my arms.

I had changed schools that year, which is what seriously ramped up my depression and self-loathing. Those last two years of high school did a lot of damage to me, but the others did as well. Before I changed schools, I never had what you would call friends. There was simply a group of outcasts who would gather together during lunch. Some of them hung out together after school, but mostly we just clung to each other on the sidelines of life. It was our own little depressed group of grunge kids on this life raft we created to weather the storm of cheerleaders and jocks and geniuses and rich kids and bullies. It raged around us, splashing us with its venom and vitriol. The bullying had gotten so bad that I perfected this death to you glare and assumed anyone and I do mean anyone who looked at me meant me harm. I struggle with that still. And so we gathered together in this little corner at lunch. Playing hacky sack. Sneaking to the bathroom to smoke a roach. Talking about The Doors and Pink Floyd and Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Wearing the tie-dye Grateful Dead shirt I bought at a yard sale. Long sleeved of course. And that silly “Elvis is Dead. Deal with it.” t-shirt I wore all the fucking time. Mostly because it was black. And I was in a black wearing, flannel over-shirt phase. Close friends and confidantes we were not. But we needed each other. Or at least, I needed them.

This is what we were like. Only there were far more dudes than chicks. Most of the chicks were banished for bringing drama to the group.

So when I changed schools, I lost that. I no longer had a shield or raft to cling to against the raging tide of bullies. Especially the preps. They were the worst. Those were the ones that made my life hell all through high school. And now I had no protection. I had no wall of outcasts surrounding me to buffer me from the storm of bullying and back-stabbing. Which leads to the piece of paper I found last night.

I had an AP English class, which I would have loved (because English. Yay. My favorite subject for years.). Except there were about a dozen cheerleaders in that one class. They chose it on purpose because the teacher was the mother of one of them. I had no idea, or I would have scheduled a different class or requested a change. Such as it was, I was stuck in a very special hell of torment and glares and snickers and cruel jokes at my expense. Me, the poor girl in hand-me-downs, thrift store clothes, high-water pants and shoes held together with duct tape I’d taken a black Sharpie to on the black parts and White-Out on the white parts so the tape wouldn’t stand out so much.

At some point during the year, we had an assignment. We were instructed to write an original poem and then select one from our textbook that went along with the same theme. Then we had to buy white t-shirts and somehow paint our original poem on the front and the textbook poem on the back, then wear them to school on the day they were due and recite our poems from memory. This terrified me. I didn’t learn how to be able to do public speaking until college in my twenties. I can do it now, but I was terrified back then. Like vomiting over it a couple of times leading up to it the week it was due.

I couldn’t persuade my father to buy a new white t-shirt for me. “I don’t have the money for some fucking school poem bullshit. Use one of my old undershirts.” No, of course he didn’t have the money. He’d spent it on the twice weekly sacks of pot and pain meds from his 19 year old dealer. The shirt he gave me had the inevitable pinhole burns in it and huge deeply yellowed pit stains. I stole change off of his dresser to buy this glittery green puff paint to get the poems on the shirt. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. But I knew I would be humiliated, and I was. But this time, it was mostly in my head.

It was time. The teacher called my name. My stomach flipped and then flopped, and I felt dizzy and off-balance as I left my back-corner desk and walked to the front of the classroom. Voice shaking, I began:


You think that you are better than me
From your clothes, to your style and your hair
You think that you are better than me
But I have ceased to care

You smile and pretend that you are my friend
But I am not here for your pity
You smile and pretend that you are my friend
But I will have nothing to do with your sympathy

In your eyes, I am nobody because I don’t measure up to your standards
But I am not the one who tries to be something I am not
So before you judge me again, take a look at yourself
And face the reality that you are no better than me

And as time marches on
And your shine is all gone
For all of your glitter, you have nothing to show
Now you are nobody, and I am somebody

And you will never be better than me

To their credit, after the snickering subsided, the room got dead quiet. Not even the usual whispers and note-passing that happens during things like this. And the looks on their faces were a mixture of confusion, disgust, surprise, shame. This quiet, wallflower, grungy, nerdy weakling was speaking words of condemnation. To them. This was directed at them, and they knew it.

And then I read the poem I had selected from the textbook, and their shame and confusion turned to shock and fear. I could see it in their eyes, because I had finally worked up the nerve to make eye contact. And so I began:

Richard Cory
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich-yes, richer than a king-
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

I somehow got through to some of them. But not in a way that made them nicer to me, more in a way to make them lean away, look away and leave me completely and utterly alone. Which was a relief and respite from the bullying, at least in that class. I think they were afraid of me. Nervous. Fine. Yes. Great. This I can use. And so my death to you glares increased. I rarely spoke, but I could shoot daggers. And I did. And I relished them shifting in their seats and looking away. I felt guilty for a lot of this later, in some ways still do. But at the time, I finally felt relief and used my anger as my new wall of protection, my new life raft.

I read the paper. I re-folded it and sat there in this reverent silence. Then I opened it and read it again, finally re-folding it and tucking it away among the things I’ve decided to keep. At least for now. As a reminder of what I was, and what I’m working so hard to leave behind. The anger, the fear, the skittishness, the guilt, the distrust, the anxiety, the self-loathing, etc.

Here’s to my year of change. It will happen slowly and then all at once. And I can’t fucking wait.

97 thoughts on “A Public Censure from a High School Outcast

  1. No need to feel guilty at all. Fuck them. Those people in high school that treat others like shit, those are the ones likely to lead depressing adult lives. It must suck to peak at 17. Hope the move goes well. Onward and upward, right?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes keep that fucking piece of paper until the end of time. It’s a map back to yourself whenever you get lost.
    This was an amazing view into your life, Steph. Thanks for sharing it with me.

    Ps. Richard Cory was the first poem I wrote a paper on, in High School. My sophomore year. My English teacher kept it bc she liked it so much. She said she’d use it as an example on how to write essays on literature. When I got to the poem in your post it made me well up with Tears. It was a very sad poem but a very proud moment in my life. Also, I may have had a crush on the Teacher (Ms. Boardman)…but then again I don’t think I’ve ever met a person I’ve spent a lot of time with that I DIDN’T have a crush on. πŸ˜‰

    All my best, Steph.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. THAT.

    and so are you.
    I wish I wrote poetry half as good back then. I wish I wrote poetry near as good now. Still I persist in trying. Wonderful post and a great reminder to bullies about themselves, and to ourselves about how far we’ve come. Not that the neanderthals will read it(, or “get it” if they read it).

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Being a teenager was the worst. High school wasn’t terrible for me as far as peers went, people mostly left each other alone unless there was some outer drama going on (“You fucked my boyfriend, whore!”). Middle school was where I found the relentless bullying, but I went with the, “I am going to scratch your eyes out and slam your face into the pavement” route. If people weren’t going to like me, I made damn sure they were going to fear me. Not the best option, but effective.

    “Richard Cory” is a fantastic poem. One of my favorites.

    Best luck on your journey, this year and onward. Putting yourself first, you know, can be tough. But, holy shit, it needs to be done. ❀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I always wished I had at least an ounce more gumption and sass in me. But I was always timid…well until I started the death to you and flipping people off phase. But even then, it was more passive reactions.

      And thank you so much!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I wasn’t sassy so much as just violent. I mean, I had a lot of my own psychological issues going on at the time which definitely fed into WHY I was so aggressive, but being known as the girl who slammed a kid’s face into a tree didn’t really help me deal with them.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yea, it was. Switching schools actually helped me a lot, since I no longer had THAT reputation hanging over me. I hung up my boxing gloves and opted to just fade into the background. Much better option, IMO.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. ….uhmmm – sorry? You know, i was kinda worried about posting that because it isn’t exactly a… “club banger” (?) [reserved hehe]… but when i read your bit about the music you listened to to; (Nirvana in there omg). I couldn’t get that Pearl Jam song out aaaand. year what a song. but I hope i didn’t throw a brick at you because you’re post (despite being sad) had an overall positive aroma. fuck i really hope i didn’t screw that mood. this would be the second time i made you sad! ffs. i’m really sorry Stephanie

        Liked by 1 person

      2. NO don’t be sorry! It was pretty amazing, that you somehow saw into me on a deeper level than you realized.

        I’m sorry it’s taken two days to reply. I’ve been busy as fuck and haven’t been on WP. I promise you, I was more shocked at your insight than pained. It’s a pain I’ve been working on healing for a while now. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Aaaahhhh Steph! I was also a bit of an outsider, but I had a big mouth! Tiny, skinny, loud-mouthed frog 😜 If I’d known you, I’d have sorted those mother fuckers right out! I get quite protective of my favs 😜

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Reminds me of the short story I wrote in high school (coz we just had primary school prep-6 and high school 7-12 in aus) where I wrote a short story I got forced to read out, because I was the only decent kid at literature in the class, about suicide. This post brings memories for me too. I was bullied badly most of my school years but I didn’t have a respite from anyone, I didn’t have any associates let alone friends. I was alone. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Holy shit. That’s what I have to leave with because the juxtaposition of your poem with the Robinson poem gave me fucking chills. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s powerful stuff and you’re creating a great community from your authenticity here. Keep kicking ass, Steph!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Is high school like life, or is life like high school? Seriously, the reason high school was such a bitch is because we were young and stupid. Of course, we didn’t know it then, but most of us know it now. Wouldn’t it be fun to look up those girls who bullied you to see what they’re doing today? Maybe post an anti-bullying meme on their Facebook accounts? πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha I have, unfortunately. Most of them are still thin and gorgeous and rich. MOST of them. But almost all of them have four or five kids, and they’re doing it all over again…kids in cheerleading and dance and dating jocks. But I have a freedom they don’t and a healthier perspective on the world (I hope). So I cling to that.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I know women like that. They spend every day worried about how much they eat, and the rest of the time trying to re-live their youth through their kids. Their lives are all about appearance and popularity… Well, whatever makes you happy, I guess, but it sounds exhausting to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Holy hell, you’ve posted a lot more since I was last properly on.

    I shall start here.

    Strictly my opinion here: a lot of kids are pretty fucked in the head and far too willing to obey the mob mentality, which sadly leads to them growing up still following the mob mentality and never really “experiencing” anything outside of it.

    Still, it can’t be said for all, and whilst you didn’t have what could be described as a pleasant time, at least you’ve come out still going and understanding of what bullshit is and isn’t.

    Besides which, you’re also your own person.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for that – you’re awesome. And yes, most people still adhere to the mob mentality. I’m definitely an oddball at work. One or two guys up there are on the same page as I am. But other than that, they’re all part of the same herd. It angers and saddens me, but I just try to be thankful that I can think independently. And they can only hurt me now if I give them power to. I still do sometimes but I’m much improved with it. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Dawn's Nights and commented:
    I don’t often reblog. But thhis post touched me in ways that are hard to comprehend. Thank you Rita for leading me to it. Thank you Stephanie for writing it.

    Here are the thoughts that it triggered. I wanted to leave it in a comment, then thought I would rather reblog.
    So many things going through my mind now. Thank you!

    My youngest asked me just last week whether I was ever bullied. All the time, really, at least from Middle School on. I was always the youngest, and still one of the smartest people. I was also an abused kid (even though I didn’t know it at the time), so I let everyone walk all over me. Until one year in 8th grade, when a guy in my class was mocking me for being ‘a baby’… as I told him, at least I didn’t repeat the same grade twice or three times.
    Somehow, my baby seemed to like this ‘clash’. I’m not sure I liked it that much, but it got me some respite.
    And thinking back on it, I know this guy probably suffered a lot, and bullied to regain some of the power he didn’t have at home or over his life.

    I love the poems, both yours and Robinson’s. I wish I’d been able to write poetry like that *then*. I wish I could write poetry like that NOW! Literature was never my forte in class, somehow I was made to believe I was bad at it. Now, I’ve got to relearn everything. At 40+ years old, it’s a lot of wasted time, but I’m trying to make up for it.

    And the story that you wove, about moving, and keeping this piece of paper, that diploma… I moved so many times, yet I still feel like this. Some pieces of paper that would be deemed worthless by many, I kept. Thank you cards from the students in my kids’ classes, to thank me for overlooking projects for them. Cards written by 7 or 8 years old because their teacher thought it would be a good exercise in writing as well as a nice gesture. I don’t think she realised then, nor could she ever imagine even all these years later, how valued these cards were, at a time when no one was giving me much credit for anything, when I felt worthless because I was married to an A**hole (yes, one with a capital A). Why are tears rolling down my cheeks as I write this? Why is this part not healed yet, after all these years? I don’t know. But I thank you for bringing me back to these memories.

    As for your last line… “It will happen slowly and then all at once.” Yes, that’s the way it’ll be. At least I can vouch that that’s how it’s been happening for me in the past two years. And I’m certainly hoping that’s how it’ll continue to be in the coming year, until I am truly free and in control of my destiny.

    Your post touched me in ways I can only begin to express. Thank you again

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And now I’m in tears. Thank you, Dawn. I’m am absolutely honored and touched by the way you’ve shared your experiences with me, as well as the endurance, hope and strength that exudes through you. Thank you, truly. I am grateful for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh Wow! Thanks Stephanie! You may even make me believe I have shown any of these things πŸ˜‰
        Well… I do start to believe it more and more. It’s still hard to admit it though πŸ˜‰

        Good luck with the move, the sorting through memories and so on. It’s a long process, difficult at times, but very freeing in the end. Don’t be me. Don’t move around boxes from one place to the other without having ever taken its content out in the mean time πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha! I know the feeling so well. Some of the things I’m going through now to cull or re-organize never got taken out of boxes…and I’ve been in my current house for six years!

        I’ll do better next time!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I have been at that place, Steph. Cardboard in the shoes, clothes at the pawnshop to pay for Mum’s booze, bullies everywhere and feeling alone. I have moved many times and I am still surprised by the angst in old diaries. I have even shocked a class into silence with a piece of writing but it was a much nicer experience than yours. Changes are always stressful but they can be full of hope and promise. Life can and does get better (and worse at times). I am sprinkling fairy dust towards you, wishing you all the love in the world. K x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Kerry! Better believe I need that fairy dust. Kinda going through hell at the moment, but you know something? The psych drugs are TOTALLY helping. Plus you all. Put that together, and I’m remaining mostly upbeat and moving forward. I’m determined to leave not only that person behind but this whole town of bad memories behind before the year’s out. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You are a wonderfully talented individual Steph so never change that. I am amazed that this type of behaviour carries on, it is honestly like something out of a hollywood teen film yet it actually happens. I cannot understand how these girls nay any person can be so poor to another. It is the lowest form of class and is usually perpetuated by the most vacuous and hateful specimens who are fabulous for 5 minutes and then reality bites.
    Like I say, you never change and keep yourself true to yourself because you are the simply wonderful person that everyone wants to know, not the crappy arseholes from your school days. Live your life and be free of any torment, remember that you have made yourself and you have survived so can achieve anything.
    You are Amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You always have a way of bringing tears to my eyes, Cameron. And I mean that in the best possible way. Your thoughtful words and amazing, heartfelt encouragement pierce right into me. And it means so so fucking much. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Onwards and upwards I say. High school was so different in my country. I found this very strange and sad. Here is to moving to a new place, creating new memories and being filled with happy moments! Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. “Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” – Eckhart Tolle

    Space is important, like time, we never have enough. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes, this is fantastic. I’m gonna keep that quote among my other treasured ones. And how perfect is this one?

      Thank you. There are some negatives about this change. But overall, I believe it’s a positive one.

      As for physical space, I’m working on reducing my footprint…one box of garbage and donations at a time! πŸ™‚

      Thank you so much for that quote.

      Liked by 1 person

Lay it on me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s