Thursday, January 8, 2009

Spin Cycle: Guilt Trippin

Sprite's Keeper's Spin Cycle this week is guilt.

This is a tough one for me. It does not help that I am feeling intimidated by succinct and thoughtful thistle’s spin, where she compares guilt to regret; and Jan’s strongly worded spin where she blew me away with her fuck you guilt attitude.

For me, I think the grey area lies with the mix of guilt and shame.

I used to be dogged by guilt. I would wake up in the middle of the night and worry about a detail left undone or a phrase that may have been taken the wrong way.

It wasn’t until my thirties that I realized others glided through life with much less worries. I studied this and tried to let things go. I have come to believe that what does not come naturally at first should still be practiced. Eventually it might stick.

It wasn’t until my trip through cancer territory that I was able to truly embrace and live the “let the little things go and stop beating yourself up over what’s already done.” Learn from it and move on.

I’ve probably done worse, but my most shameful memory is from my childhood days.

There were four of us. Sarah, Sophie, Katie, and Pseudo. Sarah and I lived at the park. Sophie and Katie were weekenders.

I was the weak link in the group. You know. The one that gets picked on. Sleepover? I was the one whose hand got put in warm water, ice cream melted into my hair, orange juice poured into my sleeping bag.

I wasn’t the youngest. That would have been Katie. But she was bigger and stronger. Plus her parents were the wealthiest. Her mom would give her a twenty to treat us all to candy at the bait store. That would be like giving a kid a hundred today I think. Who would pick on that?
Plus I was a sensitive child. I did not take some practical jokes well. Whenever I got picked on in a way that crossed the line, I went loner for awhile. My older sister would let me hang out with her. She was fearless and could have eaten my friends alive, one by one, if I had asked her. Her boyfriend was even more bad ass.

My friends would eventually apologize. Say it was a joke. Kiss my butt and off I’d go until the next time.

There was another weekender at the park who was our age and always tried to hang with us. Sheryl. We did not like her. Her parents were so rich that they made Katie’s look like they lived in the projects. Plus Sheryl was an only child and very spoiled. Self-indulged.

She was a royal pain in the ass. Her way of fitting in was to let us all know we would be lucky to hang out with her because of all her stuff. She’d brag about all her stuff all the time. That did not go over too well. Then she tried to boss us around and lay claim to leadership because of her vision of herself as better than us all because she had more money. She wasn’t intuitive enough to realize Sarah was the leader by virtue of being the strongest minded. Sarah had the hardest life as well, she was tough from the inside out.

Sheryl was also a big baby. We were a bunch of dare-devils. Our secret name was the dare devil’s club. For fun, we would go into the State Park and climb trees or go down to the beach and climb rocks. Each of us would come up with a precarious stunt. Once we accomplished our stunt, everyone else would follow suit. Sheryl did not like this activity and would tell us we had to do something else. We’d tell her if she didn’t like it, not to come.

So she ratted us out. Told her mom who told our moms. Who told us we had to let Sheryl hang out with us. We were not allowed to do anything that scared her. We all got yelled at for being stupid enough to have a dare devil’s club.

After a couple of weekends of forced company with Sheryl, with Sheryl being bossy and a royal pain, we talked her into going into the State Park. Just for a walk. No tree climbing. Just a walk in the canyon. In my defense, I really did think that was all it would be.

We walked about a mile back into the canyon.

We stopped under some trees and ate the candy bars we’d brought with us.

We were about to walk back, when Sarah and Sophie asked Sheryl if she wanted to become a part of our group for real. She looked both eager and leery.

She said yes.

Then they told her to take off her clothes and run naked through the trees.

She looked petrified.

They talked smooth and sweet. Said we had all done it.

They winked at me conspiratorially.

Sheryl hesitated. She looked at me. The weak link. What was she thinking?

I now had to choose between telling Sheryl, “No. They are lying. We have NEVER taken our clothes off and run naked through the trees. Don’t do it. I wouldn’t trust them. They can be mean even when they do like you. And they so don’t like you.”

Or I could look at Sheryl. Nod yes. Let her trust me for a second and become the picked on one instead of me.

I nodded yes.

Sheryl slowly peeled off her clothes.

She stood there in her twelve year old nakedness. So much fear and trepidation in her eyes.
Sophie and Sarah smiled. “Go on. Run around. Be wild. You’ll like it. Really.”

She faintly smiled. And I realized that despite all her stuff and her spoiledness, what she really wanted was to fit in with us. I felt sick inside.

She raised her hands above her head. She ran around with a slight “whooohoo.”

As soon as she was past a tree or two Sarah grabbed her clothes and yelled to the rest of us “RUN!!”

In that split second, I met Sheryl’s eyes and they pleaded me to befriend her.

The four of us ran through the canyon, Sarah in the lead. Sheryl ran after us screaming and crying for us to stop and to give her back her clothes.

Once we were a good deal ahead of her Sarah turned around, holding Sheryl’s clothes above her head and laughing.

“Still think you’re better than us? Still want to hang out with us?”

Talk about a rhetorical question. I did not even want to hang out with us.

It did not end there. While she stood there, naked and crying, Sarah and Sophie listed her indiscretions and personality flaws. And although dead on, it was mean and cruel. But I did nothing to stop them. My thoughts fell more along the line of realizing that although they might pick on me, it was fluff compared to what they could do if they really did not like you.

Sheryl stood about twenty yards from us. Tears streaming down her face. One hand trying to cover her barely beginning breasts and the other trying to cover her nether regions. She begged for her clothes. She choked on the words.

Sarah left Sheryl’s clothes on the gate that separated the canyon from camping area.

Sheryl never tried to hang out with us again.

I clearly remember a day a few weeks later. I was sitting on the beach with my gang and Sheryl was sitting down the beach with her parents. As I glanced her way I caught her eye. She looked beaten and forlorn. Sarah had wanted to take her down a peg or two, but we had flattened her like a pancake.

I never approached her or apologized.

Guilt, shame. Lots of it over this one incident.

Every kid I notice that sits alone in school or eats alone on a field trip I now pay special attention to. I let my room be his or her safe haven for lunch. I try to befriend the ostracized kid. For me and for Sheryl.

38 comments:

only a movie said...

Ack. Can't type much more than that. Beautiful, Psuedo.

McEwens said...

Great post, I think we have all been in the many roles of that post, the picked on, the picker.. but, what matters now, is what we did with the things we learned. Sounds like you will always be kind to the under dog. Great post

Just B said...

Wow. My heart breaks for the young you (and young me, so like young you) and the Sheryls of this world. I recognize and sympathize with those Sheryls. I have always wondered what ultimately happened to the Sarahs and the Sophies? Do you think they felt guilt and shame?

You need to write a book about your growing up days. Fiction or nonfiction, it would make a very compelling story.

shaunna said...

oi vey. i can see it... and feel it. to places i try not to go. most of the time.

Dave said...

Wonderful thought provoking post. It brought up much in my life that gives me cause and pause.

David

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Movie - it was a lot of ack writing it too, even more pressing the publish button....

Pam - I agree with you, owning those roles, learning from them, and making use of the lessons is part ofbeing human.

B- my older sister and I are thinking along those lines. Thank-you for the encouragement. And Sarah and Sophie? I heard Sarah (in whose defense I will say came from a tough background) married well and runs a very successful business. I'm not sure what happned to Sophie.


shaunna - ah, my shared history.

dave - thank-you. I like that phrase, "cause and pause."

thistle said...

this reminds me of the blog secret posts...except you had the cahonias to put your name on it...Wow! I'm suddenly seeing where i am still playing my cards too close to my chest...as i'm sure you know we all have those kinds of guilty confessions waiting to be spilled.

And this post?...beautifully written as always...

Thanks for sharing.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

thistle - I'm not so sure I can grab my cahonias and say whoooyaaa. After all, Pseudo, might be only a nickname ; -)

Deconstructing Jen said...

Great post. You are so right about the guilt. It takes life changing events to separate your from the things that don't really matter. I know Ben certainly did that for me.

What a story you tell. My breath caught in my throat for poor Sheryl and for you.

Anna See said...

i am so sorry. this is so sad. i am still plagued by saying "no" to dance with a boy i had known since elementary school. he was always different and was teased for being "gay." i wanted to fit in at my new high school. ugh. now i'm the mom of a boy who doesn't always fit in.

Twenty Four At Heart said...

Ouch!
Yeah, well - we've all had our turn at doing things we aren't proud of as well as having things done to us. It's part of growing up. Of course, some people never do grow up ....

Small Footprints said...

Isn't it amazing how events from childhood can stick with us ... and affect us ... forever. We all have those moments ... but not everyone, like you, take them and use them to benefit others. The little "Sheryls" that you come across now are given safe haven because of that single event.

You write beautifully ... I was hooked on this story just a few words in. Thank you for sharing it!

BTW ... thank you for dropping by Reduce Footprints ... I hope we'll see you there again. In the meantime, I'm going to follow you (hope you don't mind).

Take Care!

Small Footprints
http://reducefootprints.blogspot.com

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Jen - ah Ben. ; -)

anna- you remember him and that's important.

24 - you are right on the some people never grow up. I've run across some fairly immature adults.

footprints - i don't mind at all. follow away.

Smart Mouth Broad said...

Wow! I loved the other posts you mentioned too but you have nothing to worry about. This was great. Which one of us doesn't have a story like this from their childhood that haunts them. Things you would do differently if you could. I love it that you seek that kid out now. Very cool!

Rhea said...

Oh, man. Man, oh, man. That's a rough one.

Kristan said...

So, I was doing pretty good until the last paragraph or two. Then the tears began to sting my eyes.

Really beautifully written -- and another piece I think you should refine into something to submit.

I hope you don't let it eat you up anymore, though. You were just a young girl.

(I admit, I feel really fortunate that I never dealt with things like this...)

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

SMB - why thank-you for the compliment. Yes, i do believe that we all have many stories and some we are proud of and some not so much. This year I have an autistic TA and a student with Asberger's. They hang out together in my room at lunch. some of the punky kids pick on them out on campus.

rhea and kristan - i pulled it up for the guilt spin, but it did happen 40 years ago, so although I breathed life into it to tell the story, it doesn't haunt me. it was hard to write and publish though, not a story i've told before.

Sprite's Keeper said...

You just opened the window into a teenager's soul, doing almost anything to belong and doing nothing because you want to keep belonging. Wow. I completely understand why you stayed silent. I think if anyone was in that position and didn't want the nastiness turned to them, they would do the same. You're linked and you're forgiven!

Debbie said...

What a sad story but look how it has made you such a fabulous teacher. Everything really does happen for a reason and I think of what a blessing you have been to the sad kids all these years.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Sprite's Keeper - well, thank-you. I really admire the teens that are strong enough t stand up for the underdog.

debbie- yes, we are the composite of everything we go through on the way, aren't we?

smiles4u said...

Wow! Another beautifully written post and one that brought tears to my eyes. I think each one of us has been in those different positions...the one being picked on, the one doing the picking on, the loner, the leaders, the followers...ect. What is so awesome is that this is not just a story...it's a lesson you learned in your life that has made you the person you are today. Look at the lives you touch because of your willingness to share the lessons of your life. Thank you for sharing this story...you never know who will read this and have healing because of it.

And once again thank you for reaching out to those students at your school...you are their life boat. Don't ever underestimate the effects of your acts of kindness on those around you. You rock!

Vodka Mom said...

That really moved me. As a mother, and a teacher, I know how kids can be. There are tough, tough lessons to learn- but these lessons shape who we are.

I loved the post. sniff. sniff.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

smiles and VM- I think the hard lessons in life are probably the ones where we learn the most...

Heather said...

Wow...have you ever read "Queen Bees and Wanna Bees? (too tired to look up the spelling on that to make sure "that's" the title) But, basically that's what your group was....
How great are you though to be that safe haven for kids!
Great Spin woman!!!

Kristan said...

Well you did a marvelous job.

Jack said...

I love this because I've lived it... haven't we all in one way or another?

Great post!!!

The Blonde Duck said...

We've all done things like that we regret. That's what makes us grow.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Heather - yes I did, and I actually attended an evening speech of the author at a HS over here. i guess with the Pairs Hilton phenom type attitudes, things have gotten a lot worse.

kristan - hello there young lady.

Jack and BD - Heinious did a wonderful spin where he discusses learning and growing from events that make us feel guilty, ashamed, or regretful. And how it helps us to live in a way that causes less behaviors to feel guilty for.

Rachel said...

Ohh, my heart aches for your 12 year old self, I think 12 is the worst age. You want to fit in, but sometimes the things you have to do to fit in are worse than not fitting in at all.

egan said...

Hey, none of us live perfect lives. Sharing this story sheds light on the character you are and how you've rectified this childhood event. I enjoyed this story very much. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Heinous said...

Ouch, that is a rough one. Thank you for sharing it. It all shapes us into the people we are today though. I think it worked out okay in the end.

Keely said...

Wow. Visiting from Sprite's Keeper, and just...wow. Fantastic post. You could practically flesh that out into a book.

Casey said...

Great post. I get how you were afraid to speak up because you wanted to be accepted too. Childhood is so hard when it's supposed to be innocent. Like you, I always befriended the ostracized kids when I was working at a high school.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Rachel - thanks, my heart kind of ached for my 12 year old self when I wrote this.

egan - so right, mine has been far from perfect, but does keep getting more settled.

heinious - thanks for stopping by, I really liked you spin.

Keely - you have a very cool icon.

Casey - childhood is so much harder and much less innocent than we all like to think. my kis are now 19 and 16 and I actually am enjoying these ages a lot more than I thought I would.

Tiffany said...

What a tough place to be.

It always shocks me how mean girls can be to one another (even though I am one!) Boys seem to just fight it out. We women can take cruel to a whole new level.

I think all of us have been one of the girls in your story.

I found it interesting that you mentioned Sheryl was an "only child" as though it explained why she was spoiled and self-indulged, as though it was a given. (Probably because I am raising an only child.)

Your writing made me feel like I was right there, thanks for sharing.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Tiffany - Did not mean to stoep on the only child toes. Sorry if I did.

Tessa said...

Great post, Pseudonymous. Amazing the lengths we went to as kids, just to fit in. Sometimes I think it never changes, especially when I read some of the stuff about mean girls and high school bullies, but then I remember #1 Son. He revelled in being different and gathered all the weirdos in his school into a force to be reckoned with. I asked him once, after he came out, whether he was getting any shit at school and his answer was "Nah, they don't bother me, because they know I don't give a rat's ass what they think." It took me 50 years to reach the happy state of not giving a rat's ass ...

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Your son ssound like an old soul. Tessa -I, too, took awhile to get to where I did not care what others thought and lived my life for me.

I think the bullying is worse in a way these days because a lot of what teens think is cool or popular is based on media hype - think Paris Hilton (expensive crap/ sexually active/ superficial).