My life in middle school was a combination of "Mean Girls," a Lifetime special and really sad Taylor Swift songs (you know, the ones from her first album).
I’ve dealt with my fair share of mean people, but mark my words: There is no one more unkind than a child between the ages of 11 and 13.
I had started a new school that fall.
I swear, that summer, it was like everyone but me got a manual on how to act in middle school, from what to wear to what to say.
But I seemed to miss those lessons. I walked in on my first day, flaunting high-waisted Gap jeans and a puppy shirt, eager to meet friends and learn.
Up until about 11 years old, I was happy and talkative. My parents loved my outgoing personality and the fact that I never shut up, not even for a second.
People described me as a sweet little girl with a smile from ear to ear.
I began to realize if you decide to be the nicest person anyone meets, you’ll immediately become a target for anyone who is insecure about him- or herself.
My personality began to shift very quickly in my new school.
I struggled to make friends for the first time in my life. I began to get bullied for the first time in my life.
Suddenly, the girl who talked a mile a minute grew silent.
I remember thinking, "If I go the entire day without talking, would anyone notice?"
None of my classmates did.
I spent most of my days sitting alone at lunch, crying as people pointed and laughed. I’d be tripped in the hallway and have my things taken.
I even got pushed around in the locker room on several occasions, as girls in groups took their shots at me.
I’d always get made fun of for the clothes I wore.
On the off chance I tried to wear Abercrombie and one of the popular girls had the same shirt, my life that day would become a living hell.
So, I didn’t wear clothes from there ever again. I didn’t have the heart to explain why to my mom.
If I wore makeup one day, I would be called a clown. So, I stopped wearing it.
No matter what I did, I was deemed uncool. So, that was it.
But it wasn’t just the girls. The guys were worse.
They started harassing me during class, in-between class, on the bus and online when I got home. I’d be asked to go places with them, and then I'd get made fun of if I showed up.
I ended up transferring schools, thinking that would stop the bullying.
But it only got worse at another new school.
Suddenly, it wasn’t just school supplies being stolen. Instead, it was things like my purses and bracelets.
I’d get handed notes and harassed on MySpace. I was called "poser," "ugly" and "weird."
I can count the number of people who were nice to me on one hand.
My parents put me into therapy at age 11 because my personality changed so dramatically. Even to this day, I’m a bit of an introvert as a result.
My seventh grade English teacher became my best friend.
We had a writer’s notebook, and in it, I'd write about everything. It was my only outlet.
She kept telling me was how different I was from all of the other kids, and it would be okay. I trusted her.
In fact, she was the only person I trusted back then.
She asked me about my dreams and ambitions, and I told her I wanted to go to Colts Neck High School and become captain of the volleyball team.
Then, I wanted to play in college and become a writer in New York.
She believed in me more than anyone.
My dreams were what motivated me.
I knew that once I left school, I never wanted to associate with anyone from that town again.
To this day, I avoid the bars in the town of Freehold, just so I don’t have to run into these people.
I grew out of my awkward stage just as high school began. The universe blessed me with good enough looks and perfect skin.
I didn’t even have to wear makeup.
Then, all those girls who were once mean to me saw online how pretty I had become.
They were shocked.
I got captain in my junior year. I went on to play college volleyball.
Then, I began my writing career in New York.
If I can convey anything to people who are being bullied or people who choose unkindness, it would be this: Your words do matter.
People remember how you treat them.
Don’t ever let someone change who you are as a person just because he or she doesn’t accept you.
Don’t ever let someone rob you of your dreams because he or she is too insecure to focus on his or her own aspirations.
Sometimes, I wonder if I'd still be that happy-go-lucky kid my parents adored if I hadn't been bullied. I try not to think about that, though.
I’m proud of who I am today because it's the result of a difficult past.
I’ve spent my entire life never retaliating against the people who were unkind to me.
Even at 23, I see my fair share of unkindness and bullies. But know that eventually, they all grow up.
They were the ones flawed, not you.
I learned this one morning at around 5 am, as I was leaving the gym before work.
I ran into someone I went to middle school with.
He approached me and said, “I don’t know if you remember me.”
Of course, I did.
His friends had made my life such a living hell, I had to fight the New Jersey Board of Education for months just to transfer out of the school I was in. I seriously considered homeschool due to them.
But, I didn’t say any of those things.
I greeted him with a smile as he asked me what I was doing with my life. I told him, "I’m a writer in New York."
He told me how good it was to see me. I could sense he was watching me as I walked out.
Then, he immediately began liking all my sh*t on Instagram.
I don’t know what that means, or if there could potentially be an ironic ending to the story of the bully and the victim. But, he did turn out to be a pretty decent human being.
So, if he’s reading this and thought for a second about asking me out on a date, he should know I’d probably say yes.