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It’s been so long. Ten years, in fact. I hope you’re well.
Actually, that’s how I wanted to start the letter, but the truth is, when you pop into my head, my first thought is never, “I hope she is well.” On a good day, maybe yes. But most days, it’s a stirring thought of resentment — that pebble in your shoe you can’t seem to shake. It’s thoughts like, “Why did she hate me?” “Does she know how much she hurt me?” “I hope someone spoils ‘The Bachelorette’ winner for her.”
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You know, all the “classic revenge on the mean girl” thoughts.
Do you ever think about me like I think about you? Or am I just a Facebook friend who you vaguely remember going to high school with? Maybe I’m that girl from your second-year French class, or the one who was in your cabin during freshman retreat.
If you do remember me, do you shudder remembering how you treated that 5’2″ quiet girl a year below you? Or does my name just float through your head like an afterthought followed by, “Starbucks sure sounds nice.”
Either way, I’d like to forgive you. But to forgive you, I think I need to tell you that you hurt me. Not only did you hurt me, you instilled anxiety in me that I’d never felt before. Like I-should-eat-alone-in-an-empty-classroom anxiety. Like I-dread-going-to-school anxiety.
Do you remember sending me an anonymous IM the night before my first day of high school at a brand new school? The one written in blood red on a black background? “I’ll kill you,” it said. Was it fun knowing I was shaking at my computer? Did it feel good to know that for the next four years, I looked around corners to make sure you weren’t coming down the hall?
Do you remember starting the “It’s not cool to like Skylar” fad? ‘Cause let me tell you, I sure do.
But here’s the truth, Jess. That girl you were picking on, she was just a 14 year old grieving the death of her father, fighting forehead acne, praying her second kiss from a boy wouldn’t be as horrendous as her first. She was just a 14-year-old girl fearing she wasn’t pretty enough to be loved, or smart enough to be respected. She was just a girl trying to make it through “the best four years of her life.”
I’m mad, I’m angry, I’m hurt. You’re mean, you’re callous, you’re hateful. Phew. I said it. Now what?
Well, I have a confession to make. I pitched this piece thinking I was ready to forgive you. But my words fell flat and hallow. I recognized my tone in my first-draft ending. It was the cadence of “I’m fine” that I use with my boyfriend, the melody of unresolved resentment. I was frustrated with myself. How could I have let 10 years pass and not have grown enough to forgive a silly mean girl? So I put the piece aside. There was nothing left to do.
But then, I did do something, and that something shocked me. Just minutes after I had given into my defeat, I found you on Amazon. And I ordered your memoir. They say there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.
I was already in the middle of a page-turner when your book arrived, but I ripped the package open and put all my other work and reading aside. On the cover was your face, your beautiful, model-esque face, and a “Half-Price Books” sticker stuck just above your head.
My heart skipped a beat. Your book had been delivered from my favorite bookstore in our hometown, the store I desperately wished we had all the way out in California.
Your dedication mentioned my favorite high school Italian restaurant and its magical red sauce. Your book was already making my heart feel something, that kinship that comes through shared worlds and shared experiences. I was ready. I was ready to get to know you — to hear your story.
I read your book in less than three days (and I’m a slow reader). Your words described a broken teenager, desperate to fade into the background to avoid the pressures of growing up (Am I pretty enough? Am I too pretty? Am I smart? Am I lovable?). It felt like talking to my oldest childhood friend.
“I can’t believe we were going through the same thing,” I’d say, looking up at my boyfriend every time he passed me reading your book. Your memoir was about your recovery from eating disorders. I was riding that same rollercoaster, too — locked in, with no way to escape.
By the time I graduated high school, I was still spending my days trying to survive on nothing but Diet Coke and a banana (my career as a professional ballet dancer demanded it, I thought).
But now as I sit here — a happy, healthy adult — I can’t help but think that maybe if we were friends, we could have helped each other. Just maybe.
I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to know you. I’m sorry I didn’t see that you, too, were just a 15-year-old girl fearing she wasn’t pretty enough to be loved, or smart enough to be respected. You were just a girl trying to make it through “the best four years of your life,” too.
So maybe this whole thing isn’t about forgiveness. Maybe it’s about accepting that we were both doing the best we could, and today we choose to do better.
I pulled up your Instagram the other day. It looks like you’ve just moved out to my new home — sunny Los Angeles. You’re on the East Side, and I’m on the West, but still, if we ever do run into each other, I imagine that we would sit down and I would share my story with you.
After all, they say there isn’t anyone you can’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story, right?