When I say hated, I am not exaggerating. While others are able to look back with nostalgia and warmth, I mostly get nauseous. After 14 years living abroad as a missionary kid that had recently attempted suicide, my parents made the decision to move home to Minnesota and enroll me in a public high school. Super. I may as well have been an alien from a different planet with zero social skills and a pension for the awkward. Think Napoleon Dynamite. In China.
I can honestly say that I don't remember a day I did not cry. Certainly, my undiagnosed (and unmedicated) mental illness didn't help, along with terrible acne and no filter on my thoughts. I used to wake up and think, "Today I won't say anything stupid or embarrassing. Today I just won't talk."
It never worked.
I was teased/bullied. Usually in subtle ways, so I just didn't realize at the time that's what it was. I just endured it and said nothing. And I drove a Geo Metro. Have you ever seen a Geo Metro?
So I was strange.
So strange that a classmate once told me if he were me he would just kill himself. Sorry buddy, already tried. I could list names and incidents but that serves no purpose other than returning a deep ache to my heart while downplaying the unknown struggles those individuals may have been dealing with as well. And we were probably all guilty to a certain extent. As my dear friend Heather recently pointed out, "We had no frontal lobe."
By my junior year I was, for all intents and purposes, on my own. Many nights home alone I slept with a knife under my mattress. And due to a compromised immune system I was sick, what felt like, all the time. I missed more days of school than I attended. By 17 I had sores all the way down my esophagus and a massive ulcer in my stomach.
By homecoming week senior year, a time most of my few friends recall with smiles and laughter, I was being checked into the psychiatric unit at the regional hospital. While my classmates celebrated at parades, I clung to the fact that for the first time in years I actually felt safe because I had a real bed to sleep in (not a mattress on the ground), regular meals (not an empty fridge) and my parents couldn't hurt me emotionally or physically, even if just for a few days.
More importantly, I couldn't hurt myself.
So why would anyone in their right mind want to pay money to return to the scene of the crime? Yes, years have passed. Yes, people change (and hopefully for the better). But I still carry that girl inside me. With all her anxiety, pain and a deep desire to just be accepted. I'm just an older version. A slightly stronger, wiser and healthier version. And I am proud of the life I have made for myself and the fact that I have survived unthinkable heartache, even since then.
We were all just kids. Young and stupid with nothing but time and no frontal lobe. And I feel like I owe it to that girl to finally stand up for herself. For all of us who didn't just breeze through. All those who were fighting secret battles. Because at the end of the day, that was probably most of us.
So be kind. Be kind to everyone. It may look like everyone is doing great but at this age we should know better. Let go of the past. We may not be able to forget but we can certainly forgive. And there is tremendous freedom there. Especially the grace we probably need to extend to ourselves. Because some of my classmates are not with us anymore. Some have taken their own lives, and that could easily have been me.
So next month I will celebrate. I will smile. I will laugh. I may even hug (and I am not a touch person). Maybe even some of my worst aggressors. And it will be genuine, because I'm not hiding anymore. And I'm not harboring or regretting anything and it's taken a long time to get here.