Today, a name popped up on Facebook that sucked the breath out of me.
The name appeared in a posting from a friend who friended him. As in, "so-and-so is now friends with so-and-so." I hadn't seen the name in years, maybe decades. But the memories of this boy, now man, are very fresh in my mind.
When my trembling hand clicked on the name and I saw his photo, I could see in the grown man's face his younger self, glaring down at me from over the school bus seat two rows ahead.
Middle school isn't easy for many kids, I realize. For me, as a fat child, it was torture. If we're given a certain amount of strength when we're born, I think mine was all used up by 1989.
I was made fun of at the bus stop. I was taunted in the classroom. I was looked down on by the gym teachers. But the terror truly began when I stepped on to the school bus each morning and afternoon.
It was my hell on wheels. Three boys, including The Ringleader, took teasing to the next level and hurled insults at me like candy from a parade float. To be honest, I can't recall what they said to me, with the exception of the time The Ringleader asked me if I weighed 300 pounds. Twenty-some years later, all I can remember is the intense fear I felt when I climbed onto the bus and saw their jeering faces. It's possible I can't remember specifics because, during those insult tirades, I likely shut down and went into protective mode.
Seeing The Ringleader's name on Facebook today brought back a flood of insecurities, not that I needed any more, thank you very much.
They say that your history makes you the person you are today. If that's true, I wonder what those years did to me and what part of my adult life has been shaped by that pain. Is that why I pull out my armor and try to shield myself from anticipated slights, even if there is nothing to shield myself from?
While the sight of this person's name caused me a little bit of anxiety today, and while I did click on his name to see if I could learn anything about who he is today, that's where the curiosity begins and ends. I don't hate him. I don't wish him ill will. I know people grow up and don't necessarily carry with them the same qualities as their younger selves. And I have long since forgiven friends who, when I was younger, taunted me in middle school.
Perhaps he hasn't changed. But that's not my problem anymore. And that should bring me peace. Because today, at age 35, the only person I need to protect myself from is myself. I need to love that girl on the bus and fight the insults I hurl at her when the scale goes up and, based on that, I declare her unworthy of love and kindness.
I've got to get off the damn bus.