Last night, I had a dream about high school. No big deal. Who doesn't dream about school from time to time? It's pretty common.

Sometimes, in my dreams, I've forgotten to graduate and have to go back. Occasionally, I have to sit an exam for a class I never attended. Once in awhile I'm in a school play, and can't remember my lines.

Pretty basic stuff, really.

School dreams are usually about stress. They suck, but I expect you're used to them.

The dream I had last night was not a school dream in the traditional sense. It was a dream about something that actually happened, something I hadn't thought about in years. A nightmare, really.

It was a dream about being Heathered.

That's how I like to describe what happened to me during my last year of high school. "I was Heathered," I say, laughing. I've never found a better way to explain the systematic destruction of my reputation and social life engineered by a small pack of girls who, once upon a time, I considered my closest friends.
We were an unusual group, I suppose. Smart, certainly. Or devoted to seeming so. We were girls who did our homework. Or rather, they were girls who did their homework. I never did my homework. If an assignment wasn't going to be graded, I just didn't see the point. My clique was full of brown-nosers, so I think this reflected badly on me right from the start, though we all got good grades.

In retrospect, I see how important our image was. We were so modern. So multicultural! So perfectly 1990s. Charoula was the prettiest (and the whitest -- not a coincidence, in my opinion). Sonia was the sweetest. Devyani was the richest (with mixed-race parents, like mine, but  hers were famous and had much more panache). Lucy was the artsy-est. (I heard she ultimately became some sort of art therapist. When you get to the end of the story, I invite you judge whether or not this is ironic.) 

I don't know what I was. Mixed race, I suppose, which was important in Canada at that particular moment. My mother is South Asian, hailing from Goa, India. My father is white. I filled a niche. The first time Lucy visited my home she commented, with some disappointment, on how "normal and Canadian" it was. She expected more "Indian stuff." I felt, at that moment, a slight shame. Though the decor certainly wasn't up to me, I had the sense that I was failing somehow. Failing to be "ethnic enough" and to fill the role they'd picked me for.

None of that matters, really. What matters is that I made two fundamental mistakes between 1996 and 1997. I got myself a boyfriend and, like an idiot, I fell in love. 

Matt was older, already in university. And though he was friends with my friends, and for a time, we all hung out as a group, he wasn't around in the day to day. And slowly but surely, the day to day changed.
L to R: Matt, me, Sonia, Lucy, Charoula, Devyani and a perfectly nice person named Kenny
I don't know who said what. I don't know who started what rumour or how they spread. On the surface, at least, nothing was especially wrong. My friends were still my friends, though they stopped calling me, and I found myself left out of plans and conversations more often than not. When I mentioned it (which I did, being unaware of subtlety and unable to read between the lines) the girls said straight out, that they felt we were "drifting apart." That I "didn't understand" them anymore. That we had "different values."

They were 17 and 18 and had, as people say, never been kissed. The dearth of romance in their lives was a regular topic of conversation. By contrast, I was 16 and in love with someone I thought I might actually marry. Ultimately, I think that's what this was about. "We just don't have much in common anymore," said Sonia, during one memorable lunch hour. It stung at the time, but I suppose she was right.

And then it got worse.

I became a "slut." There were whispers. A fringe-friend in a different grade said she'd heard something about me "hopping from guy to guy." It made no sense. I was in love! I was more than a year into my monogamous relationship! I've considered it, and I still don't really understand what happened, or why. I only know that it did.

I was a slut. I was branded.

Once, walking down the crowded hallway, someone actually coughed the word at me.


And there was a burst of laughter.
Other things happened as well. The girls -- my friends -- gathered to telephone my boyfriend. (The Internet had yet to boom.) They each took a turn on the line. Why were they calling? They just wanted to warn him, they said, about me. Hadn't he heard what I was up to? Hadn't he heard who I REALLY was? They didn't want to cause any trouble, of course. But they cared about him, they said. They were calling for his own good.

I was sitting next to him on the sofa when this happened. He covered the mouth piece.

"It's your friends," he said. "You better pick up the extension."

I did. And we spent the next 15 minutes listening to my friends trash talk me.

When the call ended, we hung up and stared at each other.

"What the fuck was that?" he said. I didn't know what to say. I cried, I think. In confusion.

As the year went by and things got worse, I lived increasingly in a state of social fear, sweating constantly and making multiple trips to a little-used washroom in the school basement, where I stuffed paper towels under my arms in an attempt to keep the stains from showing. (I'm sweating right now, actually. I'm sweating just thinking about it.)

We graduated. The girls and I made a show of going to the prom as a group. Matt drove. We were one happy clique.

Summer arrived. I made plans to go to university out of town. I was desperate, for more than one reason, to get away.
Posing, as teenage girls tend to do. L to R: me, Sonia, Charioula, Lucy, Devyani
The whole thing came to a head in the late summer of 1998. The girls invited me to a "group meeting." They called my boyfriend first. Again. Before calling me. They called to ask him to convince me to attend. The whole thing was planned our and staged like an intervention. Something about a united front. 

He refused, of course. And called me immediately. He was loyal, which might have been why I was so very taken with him. He urged me not to go, and in retrospect, I can't imagine why I didn't listen. I was angry at that point, I suppose. I didn't want them to think I was afraid. I didn't want to seem weak.

So I went. Matt came with me. We ended up at a city park. The girls requested that we sit on the grass in a circle and Lucy produced a "talking stone." ("Please don't speak," said Lucy, in a syrupy-sweet 'I'm so mature' sort of voice, "unless you are holding the stone.") And then they passed the stone around the circle and proceeded to tell me that they were kicking me out of the group, and why I was no longer welcome.

To be fair, not all my "friends" were in attendance. Devyani was out of town and missed the whole thing. Sonia, I believe, refused to attend, for which, I suppose, she deserves some credit. I noted at the time, and still remember however, that the telephone call to "warn" Matt about me had originated at her house, so clearly, she knew what was happening.

Lucy was there, of course (she being the meanest of the group and the one who seemed to hate me the most). I must have done something to deserve it, but I never knew what. Charoula was there as well, along with one other person they'd roped in for support. Charoula, to her credit, seemed embarrassed by the whole thing and didn't say much other than that she didn't really have a problem with me and didn't know why she was there. (She acted as though she'd just stumbled upon the meeting or been roped in against her will, despite having directly participated in planning the event. I guess her resolve failed her once we were face to face.) It was Lucy who did most of the talking. But as a group, nonetheless, they were quite the jury. Like something out of a movie, which is why I thought of Heathers.
In the end, I had my say. They finished their spiel, the "talking stone" passed to me (how utterly ridiculous) and I spent a good ten minutes spewing as much venom at them as I could manage on short notice. I didn't let any of them speak again. And at around 11 p.m., I stood up and walked away. And that was it.

I went off to University a week later. I made new friends. I never saw Lucy, Charoula or Sonia again.

Despite all that, believe it or not,  I tacked a picture of those girls up on my dorm room wall not two weeks later. A picture of us all together. Smiling. I guess I didn't want to seem like I had no friends back home. Or perhaps I didn't really understand that it was over. I let those  girls stare down at me for more than six months before I had the sense to take them down. Pathetic, really.

But none of that equals the most important part of the story. Here is the most important part of the story, the thing that matters most after all this time:

That night in the park, as I walked away, riding high on the fact that I'd had the last word, I tripped.

I was wearing a pair of high-heeled suede boots (with cut-off jean shorts, thankyouverymuch -- stylish!). And I had been sitting cross-legged in a park for over an hour. One of my legs was asleep. And so, when I stood to walk away, I stumbled, my sleeping leg twisting under me and making a sickening pop. I turned my ankle badly. It hurt like bloody hell.

I didn't look back, but I knew as I limped away that my exit had been ruined slightly.  Matt and I spent the rest of the evening soaking my swollen and blackening foot in ice water. It was really glamorous.

Why is the fact that I tripped the most important part of the story? Because years later, I ran into Devyani (the one who'd been out of town for my formal execution) and we rekindled a relationship for a brief time. And, somehow, the Heathering came up. She hadn't been there, but she'd been told about it. And what she said about it amazed me.

"I heard you fell down," she said, with a small giggle.

I heard you fell down.

That's the part of the story she heard. That's the part they remembered! That's the only part, I imagine, they found worth repeating.

Hearing it blew my mind.
I was in a play once. I didn't forget my lines.
I rarely think about high school, if I can help it. It was a long time ago. Onward and upward, right? What does it matter?

I don't think my "friends" were bad people. I think they were teenagers. I think they were prone to pack mentality, and without empathy. Maybe all children are like that. Maybe it's how they survive. (At least  one of the girls was over 18, but it's obvious we weren't truly mature.)  I'm sure (I hope) those girls grew up to be perfectly lovely women. Things change. I know I wouldn't like anyone to judge who I am now based on who I was in high school. Nonetheless, I find myself feeling less than perfectly forgiving about the whole thing. Some betrayals stay with you for a long time. They colour your life. This was certainly the case for me. I'm still hesitant and guarded in my friendships with women to some extent, and all this happend thirteen years ago.

When I woke from my fevered dream of being Heathered, I was sweating. Can you believe that? My nightshirt was soaked around the collar. In my dreams, I've been in car accidents, I've drowned, I've even been shot in the head, but I've never been happier to wake than I was this morning. I feel bouts of childhood nostalgia just like the next person, but today, I felt none of that.  

I've never been happier to be in bed beside my partner, with endless work days on the horizon, bills to pay, dishes to wash, laundry to do, and an appointment with my mechanic in the afternoon. I've never been happier to be grown up.

High school is, more often than not, just something we have to make it through.

I made it. And I'm grateful. 

UPATE: Alright princes and princesses. I deleted the last names and blurred the photos. Keep your pants on. 

01/31/2011 13:45

Why oh why does HS torment us so?? To have such life-forming years be in the hands of "friends" who are so incredibly immature just seems...well, counter productive is to mild. Fucked up? How's that?
We are so insecure during those years and so susceptible to what others think, say, do....UGH.
I had my 20 year reunion recently and while I wasn't able to go myself, was amazed by my friends stories of having so many of those same insecurities come up again - as 38 year old, successful, beautiful women.
And thank you for sharing.

01/31/2011 14:05

Wow...that took me right back to high school. Amazing how cruel girls can be to each other. One thing that I recently found...time is a great equalizer. I went to my 20 year high school reunion, and there were a couple of women there that had been my "friends." I say it like that because they had spent a good portion of our time together tormenting me. Two of the three women actually apologized to me. I take comfort in the fact that they had been living with that for 20 years.

I'm sorry that you had to deal with such meanness. This was beautifully written, and really hit home.

Best wishes and better friends to you in the future.

01/31/2011 14:50

Girls are so mean. The worst part is that a group of girls just makes the mean grow. It is so insane how that happens.

Take 3 generally nice girls who all get along, and at any given time 2 are ganging up on the 3rd (behind her back, of course). It is sickening that women are so brutal to one another.

Maybe if women looked out for one another - supported one another and had each others' backs - maybe then we wouldn't have to worry about what other girls think about how we look (more than we cared about what guys think) or whether our boyfriends/husbands/partners will cheat on us with one of these girls.

Because who would be the other woman?

Gah. High school can be awful.

I will say that there can be hope. I personally know someone who was part of a toxic three-some of girls who stepped away after uni and became a really amazing person.

Wonderful post. Sorry for the rambling reply.

02/01/2011 13:44

WOW. Brutal. Glad you survived.

02/01/2011 14:43

When we have lunch, I'll tell you all about the time that I beat up Mike Grossman in grade nine for calling me a slut. Major bullying. That incident followed me until graduation.

What's that line from Clueless? Something about "The wounds of adolescence can take years to heal"? Sounds about right.

02/01/2011 16:13

Thanks for the comments, everybody. (And thanks to those who commented via Twitter and Facebook too.)

Vanessa - you told me that one! Clocked the guy in the face, right? You're my hero.

Pam - very brutal, but yeah. I'm (almost) over it. If only my subconscious would catch up.

Janice - Not rambling at all. It's crazy. And I hate that young women are socialized this way.

Brandee and Sarah - I didn't go to my 10th reunion and I doubt I'll attend my 20th. It's good to know I'm not alone, but depressing to hear that so many of us feel this stuff. Generation after generation of HS hell. Bleh.

02/01/2011 19:21

I totally don't remember anything about any of this! Not that I was really close with your group of girls, but I don't remember a thing about the slut rumours... And it's really weird to read about other people's experiences with people I used to know too, but never saw this side of them. There is so much crap that goes on in high school, made that much worse by how self-righteous teenagers are. I'm sorry for this whole ridiculous experience and I wasn't there!

02/04/2011 07:26

Yup. I popped him one. Actually, several. In a reverse headlock. Nobody calls me a slut! I wish we all knew in high school not only how fleeting that time is, but that everyone--everyone, even the most beautiful, popular students--is insecure and afraid. We'd probably all be much less cruel and spiteful.

02/10/2011 07:58

Hey Jen, great post. Something like this happened to me, not in high school, but in college. Reading your experience gave me that same sick feeling that I had when it was happening to me. Now that I am a fully mature adult I can look back on those events and see what was really underlying it all, namely youth, immaturity, and deep insecurity. But it doesn't make it any less hard to remember. Thanks for sharing.

02/24/2011 07:22

This is an amazing piece, Jen. Gave me chills. Hugs.

02/26/2011 05:32

Dont know who u are, you may have issues, therefore get help. But what u are saying about these people who I watched grow were the nicest kids, if I were u take this off, becuase there are privacy acts.

02/26/2011 05:34

REMOVE pictures,

10/27/2012 08:15

Helen once a joke always a joke...psycopathic bitch..grow up.

03/07/2011 16:19

Wow these girls treated you horribly. Based on your story, it sounds like they couldn't handle the fact that you broke free of the group mentality and followed your heart and they didn't. When they couldn't end your relationship through rumors or by bad mouthing you to your boyfriend, they decided to cut you off entirely. To end it using some silly talking stone ritual is... shameful.

You telling your story is karma in action. They created the story, you merely wrote it down.

The fact that these girls went through high school without being kissed, having boyfriends, and not having dates for the prom (guessing from the story) is telling. Were there no boys who wanted to walk them home? carry their books for them or hold their hands? I bet there were, but these girls likely sabotaged each others chance at happiness with negative comments or outright interference. Misery loves company after all.

When the fury over you revealing your story dies, they will then look inward and realize they wasted their best years and threw away a friendship for nothing. That is when the real karma begins.

03/26/2011 18:34

Posting peoples names and pictures is brutal. Doing this like this is likely why you were bullied. LOL!

03/31/2011 19:44

I read your site sometimes in Facebook but I have never commented before. I know we were not close friends in highschool but I always thought you were cool and I remember this happening. i did not know about them calling your boyfriend or how bad it was but I heard the rumos and I knew something was wrong. I even asked Sonia once about why you were not friends anymore and I remember her saying you had differnt values. I knew what she meant. She was calling you a slut.

Looking back I am sorry I did not tell you that I thought those girls were bitches and that I knew what they were saying want true. No girl deserves to be bulled or called a slut, no matter what. I am tryign to teach that to my daughter.

I am glad you included the names and photos even though you have deleted them now. Anyone who was at Oakwood knows that you are telling the truth. I wish we had been better friends so that I could have helped.

ps I love your writing and I loved you on the after show with Dan and Jessie!!!!!

05/05/2011 16:31

I remember this. I went to Oakwood with you and like Melissa I remember these rumours going around. I also knew they were not true. It's funny how we all think we're alone in these situations at the time when we're not.
Being bullied is not fun and I'm sorry girls are like this. I am now an ECE and in my work with school age kids, I spend a lot of time trying to teach the girls that this meanness and exclusion is not OK.

High school sucked- So glad it's over!

10/27/2012 08:12

Jen, in my eyes you are a very courageous young lady with a future. As per your so called friends in high school I know that Haroula is still very close with Lucy (Haroula was a follower but never a leader..she did as Lucy told her) As per Haroulas sister Helen Tsamis..always remember what goes around comes around..that psycopath is in a bad marriage. her husband Gus cheats on her, she steals from her husband and mother in law,she is taking antidepressents and is down right crazy.I feel sorry for her child that she is raising because she will turn her little girl into a mean vindictive bitch like herself. Walk tall Jen with your head up high because by the sounds of things you are having the last laugh.

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