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Moving On MAG
A lot changed for me when I started sixth grade. I got new clothes, dressed differently, and tried to act more outgoing. My best friend from when I was little, Cara, came back from Spain. She had been away during fifth grade, and when she came back she was very different, too. I probably should have expected that; people don’t stay the same forever. She started spending time with a girl named Julia, and blocked me out.
Cara and Julia were always together. Julia was the leader; she was naturally outgoing and bold. Cara, who was quieter, seemed content to do whatever she was told. They were an inseparable pair. Neither had any time for me. I often trailed along, wondering why they couldn’t just look back and notice me. That year I volunteered in the library, and because I was excluded by my friends, I spent more time there. The librarian was nice enough to let me stay there every day during recess. Soon, I started to skip lunch and spend that time shelving books. I was always starving by the time I got home, but it was better this way. Hatred grew where sadness left a hole in me. I grew to hate both of them – Julia for being mean to me, and Cara for being too weak to stand up for me. They made crude jokes about me being gay and transgender, but I was always too nervous to correct them.
Most nights I cried. Before that year I rarely cried, but when I was in sixth grade, I shed enough tears for a lifetime. Confusion swamped me, and I felt trapped and suffocated. Everything felt smothered in darkness and I couldn’t see an end.
One day after school I walked down the steps into the basement. On the shelves just by the stairs, there was a cardboard shoebox. Blowing off the dust, I opened the lid and set it on the cement floor. It was filled with pictures of me, from my first birthday to my first day of fourth grade. Many of them included Cara. There was the one of us at my third birthday party, swaying back and forth on little kid swings in front of my old house; one of us in preschool playing with water; and a final one of us playing with finger puppets and sticking our tongues out at the camera. Carefully, I placed all the pictures back in the box, stacking them neatly, one by one. Overcome with emotion, I slumped down over my knees and cried. How long I was down there, I can’t remember.
The next day at school I ignored Julia and Cara as thoroughly as they had been ignoring me. Not that it made any difference. They only spoke to me to tease me about my name and ask for help with their math work, which I did for them. I don’t know why I did everything they said. It seems so stupid now, but I was scared. Not the kind of scared you would be on Halloween, but a deep-rooted fear of making them angry with me. Even then, I felt like I would be letting Cara down if I didn’t do what they wanted me to.
During math class that day, while I bent over my computer, Julia started shouting about something. She wanted us to look at her new password to her Google account, (as if that was a good thing to show everyone). Normally when she said something to draw attention to herself I just ignored her, but this was interesting. I wanted to get back at her, and this was my chance.
I passed the afternoon normally, doing my homework and playing my cello, but all the while I felt excitement bubbling up inside me. That night I stayed up late and at ten o’clock I crept out of bed and turned on my computer. Muttering to myself, I logged into Julia’s account using the password I had memorized earlier.
After I completed my task, I logged out, deleted my account history, and shut my computer. I got back in bed, but sleep wouldn’t come. Adrenaline rushed through my body and I felt shaky all over. By the time dreams crept in, it was almost midnight.
At school the next day, I stifled a laugh and slowly took my seat. I gazed at the off-white walls and rows of desks, trying to keep my cool. I waited. The anticipation was killing me. When we finally transitioned to math, I felt jittery all over and found it impossible to focus. Finally, Julia asked if anyone in the class had changed her password; she couldn’t log in. I said no with the rest of the class. She went down to the computer lab to talk to Ms. Breen who teaches computer class and does tech support. When Julia came back to the classroom, she had a new password and began to log in to her account. Now this, I thought to myself, is the exciting part.
A few minutes later I heard Julia shriek. I hunched over my computer so no one would see my grin. There were cries of “What happened?!” and “Oh my God!” from the back table where Julia and Cara were working. I had changed her profile picture to the middle finger and deleted many of her Google documents. At the time that was probably the happiest moment of my life. But soon doubt crept in. What would happen if someone found out it was me? I didn’t want to get in trouble. Panic came on next. Maybe they could see who had logged into her account recently? Or maybe the IP address could be traced? The reality of what I had done felt like a weight had been thrown on my chest. Suddenly, the room felt extremely small. I felt claustrophobic, and sweat poured down my neck. I rushed to the bathroom and frantically splashed cold water on my face.
That afternoon, guilt and doubt kept me from focusing on anything. My conscience caught up. Who was I, and was I any better than Julia if I took revenge in this way? This question rolled around my mind for two days while I wore a mask and smiled for the world. Guilt battled with justice inside my head, and my conscience wouldn’t let me off the hook.
I weighed my options, thinking late into the night, and eventually decided that the best course would be to admit what I’d done. I was so scared that someone would find out what I had done that I’d be in even bigger trouble than if I admitted it. So I decided to tell my father. Telling him was one of the hardest, most complicated things I’ve ever done.
I told him in the evening, after I’d brushed my teeth, but before I went to bed. He was sitting on the couch, watching soccer when I came into the living room. My heart was thumping like a herd of wild elephants, and I had butterflies in my stomach.
“Dad,” I began, and followed up with the classic phrase: “I have something I need to tell you.” Then it all came pouring out and I started to cry. I had been holding my breath without realizing it. Hiding a secret is painful, and it was a relief to let it go. My dad’s face changed expressions from concern, to disbelief, and finally to sadness. He held me while I cried and told me it would all be all right. I was glad I told him; it was so nice to get that weight off my chest.
I know I shouldn’t have taken my revenge in that way, but it did feel empowering for a short while. I got tired of hiding, so I made Julia pay. I haven’t completely come to terms with what I did, or how I feel about anything that year. A part of me still feels justified with what I did, even though I know it was wrong. You have to live your life and not regret what you can’t change, forgiving yourself and others. I’m trying to move on now, and let the past be past.
Before writing about this experience, I never thought of trying to contact Julia or Cara; it just never crossed my mind. Maybe it would bring a sense of completion that I’m lacking, but apologies are hard and I just want to move on. As I grow up, I don’t know how I’ll feel about what I did, or why, or anything else about my elementary school self. Maybe I won’t even remember anything about that year. Perhaps it’s better that way.