All through elementary school, I was one of those girls. You know the ones I'm talking about - the snotty, mean, I'm-better-than-everyone type. But that was just on the outside. On the inside, it was a different story. I was friends with "the cool group" and by making other kids feel bad, we made ourselves feel superior. Anyone who didn't fit our description of normal was a target for harassment.
On one particularly overcast day, a new girl came to our school. She was different in every sense of the word, proudly sporting neon pink leg warmers, a lime-green jump suit and a denim hat. Her attire was certainly different, but I thought it was interesting and really cool compared to my jeans and T-shirt. My friends, on the other hand, were threatened by her boldness.
From the minute she walked into the room, the comments began. "What does she think she's wearing?" followed by "Hello, it's the '90s." She put her head down in shame. She was just being herself. I felt horrible, but if I stuck up for her, I'd be the new target and I certainly wasn't strong enough to handle their verbal bashing. So, I just sat there, my insecurity getting the best of me and out went another opportunity to do something right.
The year went on and the girl was still harassed day in and day out, but she always kept her emotions in check, taking their insults in stride. I respected her for that and wished I could be that strong. Never defending her, my guilt grew.
Life went on though, as it usually does, and school ended. Trips to the beach were constantly being planned, and the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers filled the air, completing the sweet aroma known as summer time. I hung out with my friends but every time I did, I was unhappy and not being true to myself. They never knew how I was feeling because they never took the time to notice.
Soon enough, sixth grade started. Ah, a new school, new people, I just couldn't wait. I was so excited, yet terrified at the same time. Arriving at homeroom, I scanned the room and to my disbelief, saw not one of my friends from elementary school. I was both relieved and scared. A room filled with all new people was a little overwhelming. I quickly found a seat.
"Hey," a voice said from my left. I looked over and realized it was the jumpsuit girl.
"Hey," I replied shakily. I was a little nervous, expecting a verbal beating for being so mean to her the previous year. Boy, was I wrong. She couldn't have been nicer. She asked if I was scared about middle school and I found I wasn't the only one with the jitters. We also talked about our "grueling" schedules.
As it turns out, we were in most of the same classes. She introduced herself as Christina and the more we talked, the more I discovered how alike we were. We were both into drawing and loved the guitar. It was so cool to meet someone who was interested in something other than boys. When the bell sounded, we just kept on talking, and headed to class. On the way, however, I was stopped by my friends.
"Oh, hey, Jess," they said, looking my new friend up and down. "What are you doing with her?"
"I'm walking to class," I returned.
"Who's your friend?" they replied with hostility.
"This is Christina," I said, trying to regain my composure.
They walked away laughing. I didn't know what to do, so I rushed to my class, leaving Christina behind. Now I'm going to be the big joke with my friends, I thought dejectedly.
"Are you okay?" asked a voice filled with concern.
"Why are you being so nice?" I shot back, angry because of my guilt. This girl had been nothing but nice to me, and I couldn't even return the favor.
"Because I know you aren't like them. I know that on the inside you know what's right," she replied.
I didn't know how to react. I just smiled.
Christina and I grew very close. I also made many new friends who were cool in their own ways. My former friends, however, didn't have such luck. After that day in the hall, they made me their prey, using all they had to try to make me break down. They all remained close, not leaving their social sphere, causing them to become isolated from the rest of the school.
Being friends with Christina brought out my strong side. She also made me realize my passion for art and music. Without her, I probably would still be friends with the same four people and hiding my depression, laughing on the outside while crying on the inside. So, next time you see your friends picking on someone, stand up for them and for yourself as well. You never know, that person could change your life.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.