Let’s talk about my mean girl. For privacy reasons and so I don’t one day get sued and blah blah blah, let’s call her Kate Wu. And, no, I’m not being subtle. Those are her actual initials. But hey, I did my part. Her real identity is a secret.
I think we all know by now, or at least I hope we know, that mean girls are only ever mean if they have something to lose. For me, my mean girl didn’t look like Regina George. She wasn’t the most popular girl in school with shiny blonde hair and the everybody-wants-to-date-him boyfriend. She was an International Baccalaureate nerd like me, with raven black hair, a 4.0 GPA and a calculus book tucked under her arm. In fact, my mean girl was actually my friend. Though I do use that term rather loosely. We were part of the same group of friends. We sat at the same table for lunch. She was friends with my friends. I invited her to any outing I was hosting, or birthday party, or movie night, or sleepover, you name it, she was invited—whether she came that was her business.
However, I knew practically nothing about her. And frankly, I really didn’t care to know either.
Let me pause here for a second and give you a little backstory about my high school experience. I went to high school in a third world country at a private school where the president, the politicians, and all the higher-ups sent their kids. Where the equivalent of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and the owner of Starbucks sent their children and their children’s children to school. Translation. These people were richer than the devil himself. My school was also where the foreign embassies sent their kids to school, and since I was from a foreign embassy (repping the USA) I got to go there.
Now, back to Kate Wu. I’m not sure what her affiliation with the Taiwanese embassy was or if she had any affiliation at all. That was literally how deep our friendship ran.
But we were “friends” anyway because it was safer for me that way. It was a form of self-preservation. So while she didn’t invite me to her birthday party or to her movie night or to her day trip to the mall, I pretended not to care. Because I knew I had to survive high school and I had to survive her.
All the while, I didn’t understand what her deal was.
For all intents and purposes, Kate Wu was smarter than me. Prettier than me. Had the most enviable porcelain clear skin that I dreamed of while my skin was wrecked with out of control cystic acne.
And she was thinner than me. Which, if you recall, was somehow super important in high school. Why? I don’t know. But it was.
Gosh, even her tits were bigger than mine! I mean, come on, I was just the fellow math nerd that was a friend of her friend to be perfectly honest, what possible threat was I?
The only thing I did know about Kate Wu, the one thing that I was absolutely certain was that she had a crush. A big one. Big enough to stick those glow in the dark stars in the shape of his name on her ceiling in her bedroom. Found that one out from a friend.
The guy? A certain Martin Delgado. A fellow USA embassy boy. And who also happened to be the older brother to my ex-boyfriend. And though his brother and I had split at this point in my story, he was still cool with me and didn’t act like a weirdo around me. Meaning, the breakup between his brother and I didn’t mean that we had a break up in our limited friendship too.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Martin Delgado was an attractive guy. I mean, clearly, I was attracted to that gene pool. But I had firmly and clearly placed him in the “absolutely do not mess with that” list. For two reasons: one, he was the brother of my ex, so ew. And two, Kate Wu would murder me. I was not going to put a hit like that on myself. Again. Self-preservation.
But that didn’t stop the talk. And you can’t control the firestorm when people in high school start to talk. No matter how true or untrue.
Rumors began to circulate that when I wasn’t invited to something, Martin Delgado would ask where I was.
Did he really ask after me? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. And if he did, even if it was just one time, that one time would have been enough to damn me to hell and back.
It wasn’t his fault. Psycho bitches be psycho bitches. And Kate Wu, was firmly one of them.
Just like that, I went from a nobody that threatened Kate Wu in absolutely zero ways, to the slut that was suddenly standing between her and the guy she was obsessed with.
Things went from 0 to 100 real quick after that.
Before I knew it, Kate Wu had me cornered with a posse at her back, Martin Delgado standing clueless on the sidelines as she told me that no one liked me, no one ever liked me and that everyone just tolerated me.
This next part, I tend to tell myself was my mistake. Honestly, I think it’s something people do when they are trying to grapple with bad shit that happens to them as a way to cope with it. Because, no matter how many times I tell this story, I find I get to this part and I begin this part with, “and my biggest mistake was this:”. But that’s not really fair.
Because this is what happened next.
With my back pushed up against the balustrade of the third-floor balcony of our high school, Kate Wu said to me, “Nobody likes you. Everyone just tolerates you. We can’t get rid of you.”
I shot a pleading glance at Martin Delgado. Is this true? my eyes asked him. Do you feel this way? Even you?
I’ll interject here. You know how in movies they do that thing where time seems to slow and everything happens frame by frame as if everything were moving through honey?
That’s how it felt that day.
Martin Delgado’s eyes were full of something. His brows were pulled towards the center and he pressed his lips closed as if words were begging to burst forth, but he couldn’t allow them.
This was survival for him too.
And I don’t blame him for that choice.
I think we all believe we’re going to be the heroes in this moment, and hey, maybe some of us are, and maybe some of us have these moments where we failed another person and we vow to do better next time…but in that moment, that wasn’t Martin Delgado.
In that moment, Martin Delgado chose self-preservation. He chose silence.
But his silence was enough.
Because his eyes said everything that words did not and Kate Wu saw the truth in his eyes too.
By the time she whipped her head back to face me, her face was full of fury and hurt and betrayal. In that moment, the reality of the false rumors had come to life. It didn’t matter that she’d brought them to life. All that mattered was that I had become the incarnation of the thing she needed to hate. I was the problem. I was the threat.
Heat flushed her cheeks as she said, “Why don’t you do us all a favor and just go home and kill yourself!”
Her words were like stones against the glass walls of my heart.
And the brutality of her words were enough to shatter the bubble of people around me.
I ran for it—bumping shoulders with a faceless person, unaware to who it was as I bolted for the stairs and away from them all, to anywhere but there, to someplace they couldn’t find me, to safety–unknowing that I’d never see any of them again. Unknowing that later that day, all of the trauma from the bullying I’d endured my freshman year would come rushing back and that I’d try to do exactly as Kate Wu suggested.
That the awful words Kate Wu had said would burn a hole through my heart right down into my stomach where it would settle and churn. That flashes of being bullied would come crashing back into the forefront of my mind and that the only thing that would be playing on repeat in my head was that Kate Wu was right. She was right. She was right. She was right.
Except she wasn’t. Nor will she ever be.
Nor are any of them like her, those people who wield words like swords for the purpose of cutting someone down until they are nothing more than shards of the person they used to be.
Sometimes our mean girl sits right next to us at the lunch table. Sometimes our mean girl is our mother. Or our sister. Sometimes our mean girl isn’t a girl at all.
And sometimes, sometimes our mean girl looks back at us in the mirror each morning. Sometimes she is that quiet voice in our head that speaks up and expresses self-doubt, and self-loathing, and tells us we’re not good enough, and criticizes rather than praises, and blames, and shames. Sometimes, we can be meaner to ourselves than anyone else possibly can. Because we know exactly how to wound ourselves and we know where those wounds are and we know which are still healing.
That still doesn’t make the mean girl any more right. Even if she is a part of ourselves.
And it is because we cannot escape ourselves, that we must learn to mute that part that whispers lies and makes every effort to subvert the progress that we have made.
I never went back to my high school.
Later that same day, I would make an attempt on my life that would lead to me dropping out of school and re-enrolling a month later back in the United States. I would walk into my new school terrified that everything that I’d experienced would repeat itself. That the things that I believed were wrong with me would make themselves apparent and that I’d once more be bullied and ridiculed.
But I was wrong.
Because there had never been anything wrong with me. Or my personality. Or the things I liked to do or the books I read or the movies I enjoyed. Or the way I talked or expressed myself.
Starting my Senior year at a new school with only two months left was the best thing that could have happened to me. The friends I met and made are still my friends to this day.
None of them ever knew how much their friendship meant to me. None of them knew what environment I had come from. Or what their friendship and kindness had saved me from.
I never told any of them.
Sometimes, kindness is all we can offer a person. We don’t have to know where a person comes from or know their history to be kind. There is rarely an instance where kindness is not the answer.
Moving forward, I think we can all choose to be a little more kind—I know I can. Even if it is not our natural inclination. Even if at that precise moment, we’d rather be mean or nasty or petty or rude. Even if being kind it isn’t en vogue or popular or makes us go viral. Sometimes it can help that in our absolute worst moments, a kind word, or gesture, or even just a smile has brought us to our very knees and reminded us that, yes, what I am feeling is awful, but there is goodness too.
So choose kindness. It is the answer.