Not everyone tormented me, of course. There were the fat kids who got picked on as much as I did. There were other sort of awkward, strange kids who got picked on. And, if I was lucky, there might be a kid who was a little gayer than I was who could avert attention away from my big homo self. Even with the other targets around, the assholes who tormented me seemed to have plenty to go around. It was a miserable time.
With the benefit of 25 years under my belt away from high school, I want to share some advice and survival tips for anyone who might be able to relate.
1. Popular and not popular ends the day you graduate. When you go to college or into the working world, your high school social status doesn't matter for squat. The once popular girls (we'll talk more about them later) join sororities with the other formerly popular girls and fight among themselves for queen bee status and boyfriends. They will not have time to notice you. Once popular boys join fraternities, if they make it to college at all, and compete for the titles of "He Who Gets Laid Most" and "He Who Can Drink Most." Guys like you and me, we arrive at college among people who have no knowledge of our high school social standing and are more interested in us if we're fun to hang out with, share the same values or do the same things. I remember being amazed my freshman year at Luther with the fact that people kind of wanted to spend time with me- for a while anyway, but that's for another number in this list. Once you make like minded friends, you'll begin to forget being stuffed in lockers and getting swirlies.
2. On the subject of popular girls, there are generally two types. One type is popular because she is outgoing and friendly to just about everyone. She will cross social strata to a degree. If you are nice to her, say hi and smile, she will acknowledge you as a human being. If you happen to figure out if she is in any activities that interest you, it is worth sitting on the yearbook committee or science club, because she may get to know you and have your back when it counts. They other type of popular girl is the opposite. She may be pretty, or not, but she is a hag. She achieved her rank through cruelty to other girls and intimidation to keep all those beneath her in their place. Beneath the wickedness, she is full of insecurities and secretly hates herself. All those who cling to her as friends are self loathing morons. Fully half of these girls will end up bitter and in trailer parks. Okay, there is no statistic supporting that, but I think it is probably true. Anyway, here's a tip, don't give this mean chick any information about you. Smile and say hi with indifference and that's it. If she tries to talk to you, say you're late for something- a waxing maybe- and walk away. If she gets you to be even slightly vulnerable, she will turn on you and use what ever tidbit you've given her against you. Keep in mind, this girl is miserable and likes everyone else to be miserable.
3. Virtually the same goes for popular boys as popular girls. The nice popular boy is handsome, outgoing and genuinely kind. If he sees you getting beat up, he will actually think about stopping it, but likely won't do anything about it. He may make a gesture later by making small talk with you when no one else is looking. It's just a gesture, but take it. Be cool. He doesn't want to hang with you, but is just acknowledging that he knows you're a human. The mean popular boys are the same as the mean popular girls but with a penis. They typically aren't as cunning as the girls, but high school boys aren't terribly bright generally. If they give you crap, try not to get in to a verbal sparring match with them. You will always win, but they won't care and will still beat the crap out of you. Avoid provoking them if you can. They too will end up miserable. I also guarantee that they will look like hell at the 20th class reunion. Hell. No really. I promise.
4. Stay focused on things that make you happy and connect you with other people. This doesn't mean spending every waking moment playing video games with your one friend or painting your nails black and being morose while listening to depressing music. Goth is so over done. You will have to actually work at this, especially if you are a bit of an introvert. Find something to do outside of school with other people. Volunteer for something at church or at the animal shelter or stuffing envelopes or raking yards for old people. Most of all, practice being friendly, opening your mouth to say something and listening to people. Half the battle of overcoming being shy and awkward is to shut down the voice in your head and listening to people. If it takes you a second to collect your next response, tough. It is called a pause. Conversations have them. Connect with people. Practice. You'll have fun and build up your confidence.
5. If you choose not to go to college but instead work, leave town. Hell, leave town if you go to college, too. This one is simple. If you are in a small town, go to a bigger town. If you are in a large city, go to another neighborhood. Why? Because the miserable, mean "popular" kids who aren't smart enough to get into college or get pregnant and marry are going to stay in town with you and will be assholes for the rest of their lives. Leave. Town. As. Soon. As. You. Graduate.
6. Don't do what I did. How's that for advice? I was shy and afraid and miserable. Instead of following the advice in #4 above, I started drinking and doing drugs excessively. Lighting up once in a blue moon may not be a bad thing for you, but don't make your life's goal one of being zoned out all the time. I did this from early high school until I was 21 and it took me years to grow up and left me without a lot of enduring friendships from my youth. Just trust me. It is so not worth the money.
7. Adults are okay. If you have reasonably cool parents who are interested in your day, tell them about your day. Let's be clear, your parents will always probably be a little uncool because that's how parents should be. It is a warning sign if you have really cool parents because that might mean they have no boundaries. (A mom who wants to pole dance for your friends? Bad sign.) But, if you have reasonably cool parents, let them be there for you. If you're getting shit at school, tell them. They will probably freak out and try to fix things, but tell them that for now you just want them to listen to you about it. Don't let your dad go over to your tormentor's home to kick the shit out of your tormentor's father until the day before graduation if he must. If you don't want to tell your parents, find a cool teacher. Really. You can probably find one in the English department- maybe a creative writing or speech teacher, or your band director. Ask if you can talk and just have them listen. Adults will help. I had two teachers that I could talk to a little. One I think saved my life at a particularly low point. Thanks, Mrs. Friest.
8. Always be your best self, even when it is hard. That is so difficult to do, but if you start practicing it won't be so hard later in life. Be kind. Just because other people might be mean to you, doesn't make it okay for you to pick on the rung lower than you if there is one. Be friendly. This is hard, but more people will have your back if you are pleasant to be around. You don't have to be giddy and effusive. Just be cool. Be compassionate. Usually there is a reason that other kids are jerks. You don't have to analyze them or approve of their behavior, but if the day comes when the mean popular girl falls on her ass and smacks her head on the icy sidewalk, give her a hand. Laugh inside. Laugh really really really hard inside but give her a hand. She might not take it, but at least you've had a good laugh and made the gesture.
9. It does get better. Yup. Lots and lots of people have been saying this lately. They are saying it because it is true. Once you graduate from high school, that whole mess is behind you. There is a whole world of people out there who will think you are fun, interesting and worth spending time with. It will happen for you, no matter how awkward and odd you are. It will happen even if you are the mentally challenged twin in the set who gets a 3.85 grade point average, unlike her sister who gets a 4.0. And I'm not referencing anyone here in particular,