Recently, I bumped into a woman who hadn’t changed since I’d seen her last…twenty years ago. I can’t believe so much time has passed but passed it has. When I stop to recollect my social experiences as a pre-teen, the good and bad come to mind. The good being moments that I felt on top of the world and the bad being when I felt the world on top of me. There were instances that life felt somewhere in the middle, but they’re not very memorable.
When I ran into Connie* at a local Jewish organization a few days ago, I almost immediately recognized her from school and flashes of girls mistreating her came to mind instantaneously. You’d never know that this grown-up, attractive, put-together, and self-assured woman was the same girl teased for poor grooming habits, lack of social skills, and very little confidence. Young girls don’t need a reason to identify a vulnerable person and pounce so I won’t offer any. Suffice it to say, our class of pre-pubescent girls was catty (I was on the receiving end plenty) but Connie probably bore the brunt of their nastiness.
I couldn’t recall many interactions I personally had with Connie. I remembered sitting next to her one day at lunch when no one else would. I remembered mentally patting myself on the back for being nice even if it meant jeopardizing my reputation. Fast forward twenty years, should I approach Connie? Would she remember me? Did I treat her properly? I couldn’t remember.
After some consideration, I eventually decided to say hello. I approached her with a wide smile and she responded with a blank stare. “My name is Rachel. We went to school together.” I tried to jog her memory. She answered, “I know who you are.” (Is it just me or is she being cold?) We made small talk for a bit and she openly shared that she was traumatized by her poor experience at our old school. I told her that it pained me to know she had such a hard time. I was surprised she was still thinking about it after all these years.
I spent the next 24 hours thinking (read: obsessing) about Connie. The idea that this woman was so profoundly negatively impacted by a childhood experience I witnessed day-in-day-out disturbed me to no end. I summoned up all my courage and showed up at an event the following evening that I knew she’d attend. I spent most of the time staring a hole straight through her. I just couldn’t get myself to walk over to her.
Finally, as the event neared its end, I forced myself. “Connie?”, I approached her tentatively, and she spun around. “I want you to know that our conversation really upset me… One thing, I have to ask, was I part of the problem?” At this point, I assumed she’d reassure me that I was the only saint in the class and recall that lunch period that I chose to do the right thing over protecting my image. Instead she said, “Yeah, you were part of the problem. You locked me in your garage when I came to your house. You thought it was funny.”
I stepped back, unwittingly, shocked at this revelation. I didn’t remember locking her in my garage. I really hoped she was thinking of someone else or mixing up a critical detail. I stammered through a horrified apology which she accepted and we parted ways. The next day, I called my parents and sister to find out if they remembered Connie or the incident. They all vaguely recalled Connie and even that she came over but, like me, had no recollection of any nastiness.
I’m left with Connie’s word and I don’t know what to do with it. I can’t believe I was capable of such bullying. My sister keeps reassuring me that either the whole story never happened or perhaps I thought we were playing a game. I’d like to believe she’s right. I’ve apologized already so I don’t know what I can do to make this thing better. I’m leaving you with the same lack of closure I feel. Perhaps there’s a lesson in sensitivity here but I just don’t know if Ruining Connie’s Childhood was worth a lesson two decades later.
*Name changed to protect identity