About a year ago, I received an invite to an Elementary school class reunion. Seems harmless enough, right? But for me it churned up a whole host of feelings I had thought I had buried. Here was my problem. I had HATED elementary school. With the exception of Kindergarten and 6th grade, the years in between had felt like hell to me. I had very few positive memories related to school and none of the good memories included my classmates. Saying no to that invite would be easy.
But it nagged at me. The fact that the emotions from 40 years ago were as strong as ever was a shock and a disappointment. I thought I had moved on. Middle school was ok and high school was excellent. Since then, I had created a very happy life with many good friends, a great marriage and wonderful children. How could something that was long over, still matter so much?
Elementary school didn’t start off horribly. Kindergarten was a blast. First grade was ok. But a series of events happened in the summer after first grade that set in motion, changes I couldn’t control as a seven year old.
In the summer before 2nd grade my paternal grandparents both died. Within 8 weeks of each other. This had a devastating effect on me. At the age when most kids are grappling with death and what it means, I was given a double whammy. I became convinced that both my parents were also going to die. For some reason, I firmly believed that I was the only one who could stop them from dying. I believed a monster would come to the house and that if I wasn’t home, the monster would take my parents. I couldn’t convey any of these fears to the adults in my life. I could only take action. Often I would start to walk to school and then run back home in a panic. The crossing guard would come to my house and march me back onto the path towards school. I became more resistant. Soon, my mother had to walk me to school. I had been walking myself since I was 5 years old so this was quite a set back – for her and for me. And with my peers, it was the beginning of social suicide.
Eventually it got to the point where my mother had to not only walk me to school but stay in the class with me. If she tried to leave, I would start to sob and cling to her. Eventually the 2nd grade teacher took a stand and told my mother that she must leave and that she would take care of things. Her sternness worked. I gave in and stayed and my mother left. But those bouts of crying in front of my classmates had done permanent damage. I was labeled a cry baby. I was ostracized and the regular brunt of jokes and teasing – for the next five years. Not by everyone. A few were kind. Many were neutral – in that they didn’t participate in the teasing but they didn’t speak up either. I don’t blame them. Social hierarchy is a formidable thing to overcome when you are young.
In third grade, one popular girl who was still playing with me, told me something devastating. One day she just said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t be seen playing with you anymore.” Wow. Sadly, even as a child, I understood. I was seen as the weak link. A handful of loud, but popular kids had made it clear, it was not cool to be my friend. The elementary school years became a lonely, unhappy time.
It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I was able to express to my mother, why I hadn’t wanted to go to school in 2nd grade. By then, I was in a much bigger school, with a wide variety of kids and the opportunity to be fully myself. I was no longer lonely, no longer a cry baby and I certainly didn’t need or want the friendships that I was so desperate for in elementary school. Life moved on and I was grateful for it doing so.
And then that reunion invite appeared.
And although I initially denied what I must do, eventually I knew I needed to go. I needed to forgive them. To release both myself and them from our old roles. It was a dual invite. The past was inviting me to remember and God was inviting me to walk back into those memories with Him at my side. He knew the hurt I had carried, even if I denied it. He knew that for me to move forward in this area, that I would need to step back. God reminded me that if I had changed, that it was very likely, that they had too. I knew if I had met any of them, today -without knowing them from the past, that I would probably like them. And they would probably like me.
I did go. Granted I needed a glass of wine, as soon as I stepped in the door, to help me not appear as tense as I felt. It was awkward. I knew I could ask my husband to go with me. That he would bridge things for me and make me feel stronger. But I went alone. Because I needed to put my past to rest. The much older me had the strength and the words the seven year old me didn’t have.
Here it is almost a year later. And as I now have some of these early classmates as friends on Facebook, I am reminded. They too, aren’t who they were when they were little. I wish my elementary school experience had been different. But I am no longer angry or hurt about it. It taught me that it is very important to be able to express yourself. I have learned that the underdog needs a friend. And I acknowledge that many of us are unkind to others at some point in our lives. Perhaps the greatest lesson learned is that building yourself up, at someone else’s expense comes at a great cost to both parties.
And now, I want to be connected to them. We are the same age and of the same time period. We remember things that others haven’t experienced. This matters. I’m actually looking forward to the next reunion; to discovering more of who these people from my past have grown into. The next reunion won’t have the same cloud over it for me, I now welcome the chance to step back and move forward. 🙂