(For a Univeristy Module called ‘Writing From Life’, we had to write a first person autobiographical short story about something from our childhood that had shaped us as people. This was my piece.)
“You know,” Hayley said while fiddling with her rolled up skirt, “I think that you should kill yourself.” Rachel C had followed us over and frowned at Hayley.
“That’s a horrible thing to say.”
But Hayley ignored her and grinned maliciously.
“You should kill yourself. The school would probably throw a party in celebration. You don’t want to deny us of that, do you?” Rachel C took a hold of my elbow and began to drag my eleven year old self away.
“Come on. Let’s go.”
Year eight of high school passed in a haze of rosy memories and year nine started off well. Rachel C and I befriended two girls in our tutor group, Rachel S and Megan, and we got along fine for a few months. The running joke was that of the four ‘Rachel’s’ in our year, the administration had thought it was a good idea to stick three of us in the same class.
Then April came around. The April of 2011.
It began rather pleasantly, what with my birthday being on the fourth, and I had a sleepover with Rachel C, Rachel S and Megan. We drank Shloer, like proper teenagers, and stayed up till the early hours of the morning. Rachel S pretended to get drunk and we fell asleep in a pile on my bedroom floor. With my new group of friends, I thought the days of being picked on were over.
The Beth incident happened a couple of weeks after my birthday party. At the ripe old age of fourteen, I decided to try wearing mascara to school for the first time. No one really noticed until Beth and her lackeys strolled up to us, smiling in that way teenage girls do when they don’t like you. I was standing with Rachel C. Rachel S and Megan were at a vending machine several steps away. From the few times I had spoken to Beth, she had come across as a spoiled brat who thought that her ability to play field hockey gave her the right to be a complete asshole. On more than one occasion, Rachel C and I had joked about where she could put her hockey stick.
Her friends surrounded me, cocking their heads ever so slightly, and Beth passed her water bottle from her left hand to her right.
“Why are you wearing mascara?” The question sounded stupid to me, even then, in her shrill tone.
“Because I wanted to.” I replied, turning away, not caring if I looked rude.
But Beth, with her thin blonde hair and oversized nose too close to my face, decided she didn’t like that answer.
“Who are you trying to impress?”
I kept my mouth closed, not wanting to encourage her to stick around. The mantra I kept up in my head was the same thing we’re taught in class. If bullies don’t get a reaction, they’ll get bored and go away. Turns out that advice is bullshit.
After asking me the same question again, Beth must have realised I wasn’t going to play her game. The first time she hit the back of my head with her bottle, I wasn’t expecting it and stepped back suddenly, bumping into someone from another year. I apologised to the boy but was yet again faced with Beth.
“Who are you trying to impress?” She asked me the question several more times and each time I didn’t reply, she hit my head with the bottle.
When the bell finally rang for lunch, I had tears in my eyes. Not because it hurt, I mean, it was only a bottle of water, but because each time she had hit me, I made eye contact with each of my friends and none of them tried to intervene. It was at that moment I decided I was fed up of being pushed around and, I think, the day I grew a backbone.
I’m fairly sure the date I totally ruined my friendship with at least two of my ‘best friends’ was the 29th of April. Everyone was excited for the royal wedding and the school was selling themed buns and other patriotic junk. I had forgiven Rachel C for not trying to stop Beth because once we were alone, she had burst into tears over how guilty she felt. Rachel S and Megan, on the other hand, never mentioned it.
Rachel C and I spent out entire lunch break imagining ways in which the royal wedding could be better. We envisioned a drunken Lord or Lady vomiting all over Hayley’s dress or Prince Harry driving up in a slinky sports car, high and accompanied by three or four girls.
We arrived back at our tutor room early and Rachel S and Megan were sitting by my desk, hunched over one of their phones. It wasn’t threatening in any way, shape or form. I remember, rather than being concerned about whether or not there was going to be trouble, I was more worried about the potential lifeforms that were growing in Rachel S’s hair. She was the shortest and slightest out of all of us and on that day, her hair was frizzy and back-combed into a weird nest-like bun. In hindsight, she probably inhaled half a can of hairspray and broke two combs every morning to make it happen.
Rachel C and I walked across the front of the classroom slowly, still sharing earphones. Megan and Rachel S were kind of obsessed with Dappy and his fashionable tracksuits. I, internally, always used to mock them for it. When we reached the table, we saw that they were watching an N-Dubz video and trying to pause it at the exact moment Dappy looked up from sucking on a girl’s ear. Rachel C and I exchanged a look and quickly paused our music, knowing, somehow, what the other was thinking. Chavs.
“Have you seen the way he looks here?” Megan squealed and I stepped aside, wishing Rachel C would break the news that he looked like a twat.
“My God, he’s so effing hot.” Rachel S said, staring dreamily at the pasty rapper who had just been caught cheating on his girlfriend in the video.
I dropped my bags on my desk and sat down, glancing around absent-mindedly. We were in a maths room so the walls were a combination of the pale, sickly beige that was statistically proven to calm the mind and corkboards full of mathematical mumbo-jumbo.
“I mean, if that’s your type, I guess he’s alright.” Rachel C said as she sat down beside me, forever the mediator with her spindly hands flat on the table.
“Well, what is your type?” Rachel S turned in her seat, eyeing both Rachel C and myself. Neither of us answered.
In two years’ time, Rachel C would come out as gay and I would remember all the times she never gossiped about boys with me and wonder how I could never have thought to ask. I didn’t answer either and Rachel S didn’t push the topic. Instead, she began fiddling with the handle of my P.E. bag. I didn’t pay it much attention and checked my phone for the time.
Then, Rachel S opened my bag up and started pulling things out. I reached out to try and stop her, but no sooner had I moved, she was standing up and taking my bag with her. I politely asked her to stop and when she didn’t listen, I stood up and tried to take my bag back. She darted around the side of another desk, giggling and dropping one of my trainers on the floor.
“Will you just stop?” I yelled at her but she wasn’t fazed. A couple of other students who were sitting in the room looked over at us but were quickly distracted by a small group of boys who were playing with those spherical Bakugan toys.
“Come and get it.” Rachel S sang out and slipped between another couple of desks, throwing my other trainer to the side.
“Just give it back.” My annoyance was quickly turning into anger and I stormed past Rachel C and Megan. Rachel S laughed again. I suddenly found myself pushing her narrow shoulders and shoving her against the whiteboard. I remember feeling a white-hot rush of satisfaction as her head banged against the board.
I probably should have felt guilty and released her but as she still refused to give me my bag back, and high on the adrenaline pulsing under my skin, I grabbed the front of her jumper and pushed her across to a desk. She tripped over her shoes and was forced to put her hands out to stop her face from colliding with the table top. She was still laughing like a child.
Throughout all this, she managed to keep a hold of my bag and so I shook her wrist and tried to make her loosen her grip. If she hadn’t kept her other arm straight, I’m fairly sure she would have broken her nose on the surface of the table. I managed to pry my bag from her clutching hand and finally let go of her, suddenly becoming aware of Rachel C’s hand on my arm.
“Calm down.” She was saying and I felt my face fill with warmth.
I quickly went around the room and picked up my trainers, keeping my eyes on the floor, embarrassed about losing my temper like a three-year-old. The boys who had been playing the game had come over to watch the fight and one of them was inspecting the board.
“There’s a dent here from where she hit her head.” A couple more people went over to inspect the damage and, surprisingly, I was greeted with smiles.
“That was fucking awesome.”
I sat back down at my desk and Rachel C came to sit beside me. I clenched my hands beneath the table as Megan linked arms with Rachel S and took her to their side of the room. I began shaking my head, knowing what Rachel C was going to say.
“I’m not going to apologise. I don’t care.” Rachel C nodded silently and it was only as the bell rang for class that fear began to bubble up inside of me. The top two words that teachers used in my student reports were ‘quiet’ and ‘conscientious’. I had never received a detention. The only time I had been sent out of class was in year five when my teacher, Mr O’Leary, asked why some people didn’t like the book we were reading. I had stuck my hand up and shouted,
“Because it was crap!” Everyone in the room had gasped and I had covered my mouth with both hands. After the incident with Rachel S, I waited all day for the head of our year to come and reprimand me. In fact, the entire following week, every time there was a knock on the door of the classroom or the phone rang at home, I held my breath, expecting Mr. Douglas (our head of year) to come and put me on the orange card report or suspend me.
After the fight with Rachel S, I found myself slowly pushing my other friends away. I was struck with the mentality that if I didn’t like someone, I shouldn’t pretend to. I remember, in the week before we broke up for the summer holidays, one of my friends came up to me and asked me if I had been ‘talking shit about her’ behind her back. I shrugged and walked away but she quickly caught up with me.
“If you don’t like me, just say it to my face.”
So, I stopped in my tracks and turned to look at her.
“Fine. I don’t like you. Happy?” The girl didn’t respond. “Now piss off.” I walked away feeling slightly lighter.
The girl got her mum to call my mum and my family and I laughed about it. My mum told me a story about how when she was in high school, on her last day she and her two friends had been playing hangman at the back of the class. Their teacher spotted them and told them that if they weren’t going to pay attention, they should leave. So, my goody-two-shoes mum and her friends packed their bags and left. Rather than making me feel better, it just reminded me that I was alone.
That was the beginning of a very dark few months where the thoughts in my head consisted mostly of whether or not anyone would care if I went back to school. Or rather, whether anyone would care if I was alive or not. My parents aren’t the type who understand mental health very well. If ever the conversation turns to depression or anxiety, my mother, while of course saying that she understands it’s something uncontrollable and chemical, always ends with the line,
“Sometimes you just have to snap out of it and get on with life.” So, I never told her or my father what I was feeling and, even though it took me a while, I got over it.
Year ten was like a fresh start. I moved tutors and was in completely new classes. I had decided to try and get a GCSE in art and finally found something I was good at besides making spider diagrams, although it’s all in the same ballpark. I had classes I actually enjoyed with people I actually liked. I made new friends and reconciled with old ones, although my relationship with Rachel C was never the same; I had pushed her away, just like everyone else.
Then the stresses of year eleven came, with exam after exam after exam. I went to a house party and hated it. Never been to one since. And when we all started applying for colleges it was as though I could see freedom through the ugly blue fences of my school. I wasn’t sad to see the back of it and the only time I returned was to collect my art portfolio.