I sat there staring at her friend request for what felt like hours. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t understand how it was even possible. I mean, I obviously understood that we all lived on the same planet together—I had even planned those outfits in preparation of accidental run-ins!—but I just could not get my mind around the idea that Susie and her brothers had followed me into the present, into my Facebook feed, on my computer screen in my house. But there she was. Her security settings let me in enough to see that she grew up to have beautiful hair, a handsome husband, and three children who all look very happy. I considered blocking her and reporting her request as spam. I considered accepting the request just so I could spy some more (she had a lot of photos). I thought about adding her, spying on her, NOT liking her posts, AND adding her brothers and poking them and then UNFRIENDING the whole family. I thought about all my nightmares, and I thought about my mirror monologues.
I thought about all the adults who didn’t take my pain seriously, all the mumbled apologies from classmates, and the exhausting cycle we all endured. I thought about those kids and what I wanted to say to them when I was at the height of my pain, and then I realized that when I think about those kids, I am still at the height of my pain. We are all still children thrown into a single room together, and I am not as over it as I thought.
I decided to write her a note.
It was so surprising to see you on Facebook, though I’m not sure why I didn’t consider it a possibility before now. It seems you are happy and healthy with a gorgeous family of your own, as well as having a fun and close relationship with your huge family.
I can only assume that you have no idea about the impact your family had on me as young girl. Those years were the worst time of my life. I do not blame you any more than any of your siblings or our classmates who followed suit, but for all of the work I have done to reconcile my feelings and memories with forgiveness and compassion, I would be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally still have nightmares about the teasing and taunting that I endured.
So, I’m sorry, but instead of accepting your friend request, I feel compelled to take this opportunity speak on behalf of the 10-year-old girl that I used to be. She deserves that, at least.
Anyway, it’s done now. Believe it or not, I wish you and yours happiness and kindness.
And then I waited, and I worried. I considered every possible outcome, preparing myself for the worst. What if she and her brothers stood around the computer and read my note and looked at my Facebook pictures and laughed at me? What if she wrote back that I was too sensitive and my message was stupid? What if they called me a dog again? My brain regressed to that of my 10-year-old self: I actually worried that she would call my parents, who would scold me for having caused everyone a lot of unnecessary trouble.
None of those things happened. Instead, a few days later, I received this response:
I cannot tell you how brave I think you are to speak up and defend yourself for that time. To stop me in my tracks and say, “Wait. Just…no.” You are right to feel the way you do. I can understand why you bear scars from those years.
After immediately calling up my brothers and explaining your feelings, we all get it. We really do. We were cruel. And, Eve, we are mortified at how our “mob” mentality affected you. We are so so immensely sorry. It’s a hard pill for me to swallow, that although I was such a “good kid” in my mind, I stood by and even participated in such malicious behavior. Eve, it is so regrettable. We are so sorry.
The last thing I want to say is thank you. You didn’t have to give me the opportunity to know this private information about you, to peek inside your heart. By all accounts I didn’t deserve it. So, thank you so much for graciously allowing me the opportunity to make my apologies, to ask you for forgiveness.
My kids are 7, 9, and 11. I look at them and their seeming innocence and wonder whose lives they are impacting right now, for better or worse. Knowing this information about us as children is one of the best gifts that you could give me. It has brought me to a higher state of alertness. To a place of intentionality and even brokenness with my kids. I told them about you. How I had hurt your feelings so terribly. I told them that we need to understand how our actions affect the lives of other people. And how I was going to say sorry to you.
Eve. You will be on my mind. For a while, I can guarantee. I hope that this offers you some comfort, some healing. Thank you again, and much happiness in your future.
For a moment after I read it, nothing happened. I just sat there, staring at it. No one was home with me, and the house was very quiet. I remember I was half-listening for the kettle in the other room to whistle so I could make tea. After decades of lugging around so much resentment, to have everything I had been needing to hear since 1989 laid out before me in five paragraphs was overwhelming, and I think I was in shock. Then, as Susie’s message sunk in, I started to feel incredibly strange—physically, like my bones felt wiggly. I had never felt anything but anger toward Susie and her family, and I didn’t know what to do with this new feeling. It felt kind of empty and light in a way that made me dizzy.
I realized then how much of my identity had been wrapped up in those negative experiences. So much of my behavior and personality—then and now—was shaped by seeing myself as a victim of endless elementary-school torment. This unexpected apology meant I could close the door on that torment. It didn’t have to be endless. To my surprise, that terrified me.
It’s much harder to let go and forgive someone than it is to hang on to animosity toward them. Forgiving Susie and her brothers means I no longer hate them. It means that things change, and so do people and so do their stories. All that time I hadn’t considered that while I was growing up and changing, so was she, and so were her brothers. She had even changed what she called herself—trading in the kid-like Susie for the more adult-sounding Susana. She didn’t crack a joke about my being a dog, she wrote that I was brave. And she said thank you. Not “fuck you,” not “get over it,” but “thank you.”
I did not accept Susana’s friend request; to date, I haven’t written back to her at all. I was happy to have her loving apology be the last word this time, and I haven’t even tried a response on the computer or out loud in the mirror. Instead, I’m enjoying this new light feeling, and taking time to consider what Susie’s apology means, and what it meant for me to stand up for myself so many years later.
My own daughter came home from school last week and announced, “Turns out everyone in the fifth grade hates me!” This was my worst nightmare, history repeating itself. I grilled her for information, ready to knock some heads and create a lot of parental havoc. I didn’t need to, though. With a laugh and a roll of her eyes, my daughter asserted that she didn’t even care. She counted for me the number of true friends she knows she has, which she said proved that it didn’t matter who said things like that behind her back or to her face. I was flabbergasted; who was this girl? Could she possibly be related to me? I am starting to think that maybe she is this girl because of me. Because for all the pain I carried with me from the fourth grade, I also carried strength. The strength that grew me up, that wrote that email on behalf of my childhood self, is the same strength that raised a brave strong 10-year-old who is nothing like myself at that age. ♦
Eve Sturges is completing a master’s degree in counseling psychology in Los Angeles, where she lives with her boyfriend and her daughter. She still loves Amy Grant. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.