As many of you know, I recently succumbed to the phenomenon that is Facebook. I had been resisting it for some time because (a) I already have two blogs to write on (b) already belong to LinkedIn and Plaxo, and (c) spend more than enough hours in front of a computer screen during the course of a week - I didn't need another excuse not to get the laundry done. My friends had encouraged me to join, my family encouraged me to join, but I just didn't see the point. No compelling argument other than "everyone is on there" had been given. I wasn't sold.
However, I made the mistake of clicking on my cousin's Facebook profile late last week. Instantly, I was hooked. I missed the point when people said "everyone is on there". That IS the point. Everyone is really on there. New friends, old friends, family, colleagues, classmates... It's unbelievable how everyone seems to have flocked to one spot. I had to join, if for no other reason than to get in on the party. I started to feel like the unpopular girl who couldn't find a date and heard about all the fun everyone was having, 2nd hand.
Which is a great segue to the point of this post.
The people I was most astonished to find in such a large contingent, were my class 'mates' from Secondary School in England (High School for Americans - ages 11-12 through 16). Almost without exception, everyone I could remember was on there from my year (we have 'years' not 'classes'). There were names I hadn't thought about or heard of for more than 18 years, and some names I am ashamed to say I didn't recognize at all.
And there, in the long stream of faces, was one I hadn't forgotten for 16 years. The girl at the center of the worst 2-3 years of my entire life. The friend-turned-enemy who made years 13 through 16 a living nightmare, through her gang of 'friends' who mentally and physically found pleasure in torturing me almost every moment of every day I spent at school. The girl who (coupled with her 'friends') threatened my other class mates with a similar fate if they so much as looked at or talked to me (I am not exaggerating when I say that nobody spoke to me for a 6 month stint, at one point), who threw rocks at my Grandfather's car when he picked me up from school, pummeled my back with punches when the science teacher turned the other way, pried-open and climbed through the windows of locked classrooms to get at me, and who called my Grandmother (who at the time, they knew, was recovering from cancer surgery) in the middle of the night to make prank phone-calls.
It's not unfair to say that, more than any one event or period in my life, this period of time, these events and these people, shaped the TravelVixen you know today. The stubbornness, the "I don't care what anyone else thinks", the feelings often tucked away, the bucking of rules, the reticence to take advice, the need to stand firmly on my own two-feet without anyone's help, the take-me-as-I-am or not at all, the self-affirming need to voice my opinion even if I know people won't agree... all of these qualities (and many more - some of which are actually quite good) have come from, or at least been accentuated by, that period of my life. A time where I swore I would never let anyone ever control my happiness or my life again and would never, ever, ever, be a victim.
While I can certainly not say that this was a time where I could always been proud of my actions or reactions, I can say that I am proud of the fact that I never crumbled. This was a time where I learned what I was made of and what I could tolerate alone. I learned that I didn't need other people to get through the day or to succeed, that I could take punches and kicks and insults and they could (after time) bounce right off me, that my family was my rock and safe-haven, that it was more important to stand up for what was right than to run away from a painful situation, and that true friends are the ones that are there even when it's inconvenient for them. It seems a lot to say about being 13, and may be difficult to understand if you weren't there or have never experienced anything similar, but that period of my life taught me a lot about my own strength and what chcracter traits and values were/are important to me. If you can understand this period of my life, it's not an exaggeration to say that you can probably gain an insight into my soul.
So, all of this said, there she still was, and I was faced with a decision: do I contact her or do I ignore her? I knew she could see me, I knew she knew I could see her. If I contacted her, I stood the chance of being ignored and rejected - perhaps further affirmation that she still hated me after all these years. If I didn't contact her, it looked like I held a 20 year grudge and, more importantly to me, that it would appear that she was still important enough that I couldn't bring myself to contact her.
Now, you're saying "TV, obviously she's still important to you because of how important you said that period of time was and all these feelings you're still able to express so vividly." But it's important for me to try and separate that period of time from the people. That may sound weird, given that one wouldn't have happened without the other. But after 20 years, what I had to decide was whether I could still be sad/mad at what happened and, at the same time, let go of my bitterness for, maybe even forgive, the people who were responsible. People who, after all, are now 33 years old, not 13 any more.
I looked hard at her smiling face and dithered over the keyboard for some time and tried to measure my reaction. She's a pretty girl, she's obviously married (last name changed), obviously happy (if her photo is anything to go by)... and, quite frankly, completely unthreatening. I'm no longer frightened of her or what she might have to say, haven't been for some time, and while that time has shaped me, it no longer has power over me - and neither does she. So, there really was no reason to hold back. I clicked the "Invite as Friend" button, and wrote something along the lines of "Facebook is crazy - I can't believe all the people I've seen on here after 16 years. It's weird to see all those names. Perhaps, of all people, it's weird to hear from me. I guess we'll see..."
The result? She accepted my friend request and responded (again I paraphrase): "That was a long time ago and we're all different people now. How are you?"
That's when it hit me. My life-changing, life-shaping, 3-year nightmare was nothing more than a moment in time for her.
When I say "it hit me", I don't mean in a, smack-in-the-face, emotional "Oh My God!" kind of way. I mean in a completely rational, logical, detatched way. Of course, what I had been agonizing over was ridiculous. This was a 33 year old woman who, like me, had been busy having a life for the last 20 years, who probably hadn't given a second-thought to the things she did to me, who had probably forgotten half the things she did or said, and who probably saw my name on FaceBook and thought something along the lines of, "Huh, there's somebody I haven't thought of in a long time." It makes sense. I'm not bitter about it, I find. To think that those 3 years had as large of an impact on her as they did on me, or that she somehow spent the last 20 years agonizing over how horrible she was to me, was/is completely ludicrous.
Somehow, this just took the sting out of the whole thing and I found that I didn't harbor any ill-will towards her, as I had always thought I would if I ever came across her again. It was if, in that moment, I let it go. She was right. Those were two 13 year-old girls, in a different place, a different time, another life. And we are two 33 year old women.
So, what became of her? Well, she married at 18 and she's still with the same guy. They had a kid pretty early, 9 years ago, and she became a stay-at-home mom. Then, just as she was ready to pursue a career in the police force (oh irony of ironies, huh?), she found out she was pregnant again and now she has a 9 month old. That same life-summary message ended with this:
"... and keep in touch, its nice to catch up, to be honest I did see you on here and thought shall I, but wasnt sure on the reception, but so glad all is good."
Just the recognition that there may be a reason why she would not be well received was enough to help me lay my demons to rest for good.
"It sounds like you're happy and, at the end of the day, that's all that matters," I replied, since she seemed to have apologized for not having a "career". "You look great, by the way.I'm glad we reconnected. Those were some tough years for me but they're 18 more away now and, as you said, we're all different people now. It's good to see the different directions people's lives have taken and I am genuinely glad you are well and happy."
And, more importantly, I meant it.
What I learned was that, if I was strong enough to get through it then, I am strong enough (stronger) to let it go now.