There was this movie called "She's All That" that came out when I was 12 years old where a mousey nerdy girl gets bullied and then falls in love with a handsome tall man. (I think that's as complex as the whole plot gets.) It was very easy to put myself in the role of the short mousey girl with glasses who loved art and everyone was mean to her because of those facts. I saw myself as an underdog. The basis of the movie conveyed to my simple brain the stereotype that popular people were mean and nerds were awesome. Characters in my books and on tv were good or evil, bullies or victims, wookies or ewoks.
There was this girl named Caroline (name changed) in our grade who was mean to everyone. She said ridiculously cruel things and made me cry on numerous occasions. To be fair, I do cry over like every single thing. I'm like a raw nerve, wiggling about in the open. Caroline laughed at the smart kids and the disabled kids and the jocks and the nerds and the pretty girls and EVERYONE. She went for "low blows" saying hurtful offensive things that in the 90s constituted "bullying" or "playful teasing" and maybe now would be considered "hate speech." Adults in the 90s were always telling us to stand up for ourselves to our bullies, and I have never had that work out for me.
Around that time, my family was also going through some drama at home. Everyone's relationship in my family was somewhat strained, and my brother and I alternated between being at each others' throats or being inseparable best friends and each others' support systems. We're kind of like each others' rock, in that we make music that hurt old peoples' ears.
One day several kids in our class got to go on a ski trip after school. (No, I was not rich. I lived basically on a mountain so it was hard to avoid such activities.) Caroline's mom forced her to go against her will. Outside, before boarding the bus, I hugged my brother goodbye. Once on the bus, Caroline loudly asked me if I was dating my brother. The entire bus laughed uproariously. I was somewhat sensitive to the idea of incest because I had witnessed some sexual abuse when I was seven that had greatly darkened my idea of all sexuality, especially in relation to family members. This sensitivity combined with my recent familial strain hit me in the chest like a sharp heavy thud. Caroline smiled proudly of her joke and streams of silent tears cascaded down my face.
I sat by myself for the rest of the bus ride, sobbing uncontrollably and doing extra credit homework: still my two favorite activities! Why am I single? Oh right, because I want to be. Anyway.
Once at the ski lodge, I was over it. I loved the clean, muffled quiet of snow, the giant protective trees, and the dreadlocked hippies working the lift machines. The snow made me feel safe and separate from the stress of my family and school. I also loved (and still do love) moving super fast (not in bed; go away, men). The speed of downhill skiing made me feel strong, in control, and like I could fly. All traces of my recent crying dissipated and I returned to my happy, giggling self in the span of minutes. Puberty mood swings are so cool. Do they ever go away?
My good friend Meggy and I were on a chair lift high above the mountain and trees, looking down at the beautiful sparkly night. Meggy had just gotten the part of Glinda in the school play and so we were singing The Wizard of Oz. She had a really beautiful voice, and I... I just like to be included in things. Below us I saw Caroline fall on her snowboard. She sat in the snowbank where she fell and looked down, putting her head in her hands. The emotions of the stupid bus joke washed over me again and I was filled with a dark, painful rage.
"There's Caroline," I said. "I hate her."
Meggy looked down and then said, "There's no way you hate her as much as she hates herself."
I don't think I spoke again for a minute. I was as deep in existentialist thought as a 12 year old can be. The way I saw Caroline completely shifted. I no longer saw a cruel bully, but a very lonely child. She didn't have many friends; she wasn't doing well in school, there might be so many other things going on that I didn't know. She was mean to people because she was miserable and lonely. In her eyes, I was not the mousey underdog victim, but a sorta cute kid with good grades and seemingly solid relationships with people. Maybe to her, I was not the nerd, but... gasp... the popular kid.
She picked on people like me because she was angry and frustrated with herself. Meggy was so compassionate that she could feel empathy for someone that tore people down, which is impressive for a child.
The idea of certain characters being completely good or evil changed for me. Not everyone who is a bully is always a bully. Not everyone who is a victim is always a victim. Nothing is absolute.
I've never been the kind of person that tries to belittle people, either teasing or otherwise, and I never try to hurt people if I can help it. Often I find it baffling when people hurt others, with their words or actions. I need to work on remembering that people who hurt others do so because they are angry and miserable with themselves. People who hurt me hate themselves way more than they hate me. I still cry all the time and I still am too sensitive for my own good, but I try my best to remember to be compassionate toward everyone, because whatever they're going through in their own minds is way darker than what they're putting me through.