It was a conversation with my Mom, a fairly recent one. I had said how one of my favorite things about being part of the science fiction/ fantasy community was how much of a community it was. People care about each other, and support each other. Whenever I have turned to someone and asked for help, I have always been met with an outstretched hand. I suggested that maybe part of this was because so many of us had been ostracized as kids, had been the nerd in the back of the room.
"But you did well in school. You were fine. You had a boyfriend, you went to the dances."
And high school, yes, actually, high school was pretty okay. I wasn't part of the popular crowd, but there were enough people like me, who wore black, and fenced, and read Douglas Adams, that I had a group. More importantly, by that point, I had gotten good at hiding things.
I did well in school, I was polite to teachers, and everyone assumed I was fine. I remember complaining about things once, trying to convey how utterly miserable I was, and was told that school was for learning, not making friends. That was when I learned not to complain.
I learned to tell half-truths: the broken elbow? Sure, I got it playing dodgeball. When all the balls were thrown at me at once, and I was hurled into the side of a building. And it is possible to crack your kneecap jumping rope if the rope is pulled up to trip you. I learned to lie, and fake being sick so I could stay in from recess, or to volunteer to be the one who helped out in the classroom. I didn't tell her about the time in seventh grade, when we read A Wrinkle in Time, and the son of one of her good friends made sure everyone called me "IT" for a month. Or about all the times I was told I was ugly - too skinny, too freckled, flat-chested. I didn't tell her about trying to wedge the blade out of her safety razor so I could use it to open my wrists.
High school was better. High school was survivable, and that things that nearly weren't had nothing to do with being bullied. And I, too, find it strange and difficult to look back at elementary school and say that bullying was what was happening. It's so much easier to just say, oh, I wasn't popular. Who was?
But there are so many voices. And maybe we're okay enough now to extend a hand in help, or to speak up so someone else who is suffering might hear, but who made the rules that said childhood is an ordeal that must be endured?
Because here's the thing that scares me: if someone could have found that girl, sitting in the bathtub, shredding her fingertips with metal and plastic, and said, "you will get through this, you will grow up, you will be happy, just hang on" I think she would have said: I don't care.