Sometimes I think of an old friend whom I have known practically all my life. Like most of everyone from my past, I haven’t spoken to her in years. However, as kids we were something akin to best friends who at some point turned into frenemies. At some point, I realized almost everyone I ever befriended could fall under this title: frenemy.
Even though this person was a frenemy, I found that there were certain things about her and girls like her I liked. They were smart and resourceful. Once she told me about her teacher’s plan to make people who didn’t like each other to sit with each other during class. She and her friend in that class came up with a plan to fight with each other so that they could sit together for the rest of the year.
This was about third grade. I admired this little plan then and I still do now. It would have never occurred to me to buck the system in this way. Not surprisingly, girls like them tended to be bullies or at least fighters. They may not have always done well with class work, but they were still smarter than most.
Still, what I find I admire most about girls like them is that they are survivors. They know how to take care of themselves and they look out for those they love. Also, so many others had their backs, so they were never alone. I know a lot of this had a lot to do with latching on to the biggest kid in the playground, but, in the treacherous waters of K-12, having a clique could be a survival tactic.
By the time I reached college, I found that I admired two of the women in my family who actually caused me a great deal of pain as I was growing up. By the time I came to this realization, I had learned a few things: I liked that they always knew how to take care of themselves and while they were bullying and being tough, they were dealing with their own pain. By the time we all reached a certain age, we discovered that we needed each other.
This is not to say that I wish I had been a bully rather than the bullied when I was growing up. I would have liked to have developed a harder shell and not let others get to me as much as they did. I wish I could have hidden my fear and my distaste for fighting a little better. I don’t know if that would have made me less of a target, but I know that I was most likely to be on the receiving end of the tough girls’ (and boys’) aggression.
This also isn’t to say that I admired bullies. I don’t agree with bullying in any form, especially having been on so much of the receiving end. What I do know about the girls I secretly admired is that they were much more complicated than the big kid in the TV show taking the bespectacled kid’s lunch money. Many of these girls were not actually bullies, but they knew how to stand up for themselves when the time came. They didn’t always start the fight, but they didn’t back away when it came to them.
I’ve been through things in my life, but I don’t think I could put myself in the same category as those who survived serious trauma. I don’t know if I could call myself someone who learns how to get around the system when it presents roadblocks on my path. However, I still remember the girls who did. They were never perfect, but they are still here. Some have changed. Some haven’t. Some may even regret who they were during those years, but I know that many of them saw their worth even then. I also know that I have love for each and every one of them.
I always hate sayings such as “thank you to those who hurt me because you made me stronger” because that is so much BS. Being hurt or suffering is not a character builder. It just hurts. However, I can say to the ones who have made me miserable in so many ways in the past that they have taught me lessons. If you can’t break the system, you can bend it. You may not have started the fight, but you can finish it. I’ll take these lessons and value them.