I don't have a picture of me at 13, so my senior picture will have to do. Guess the year?!
I listen to music at work a lot, to relieve the tedium and frustration. Right now P!nk is in heavy rotation, particularly “I’m Not Dead,” which has the song “Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self.” It got me thinking about what I’d tell my 13 year old self, which is a topic I revisit with some regularity, actually.
I’ve talked about my junior high and high school career in quite a lot of detail here already: school slut while still a virgin at 12, date rape which was directly attributable to the false rumors surrounding my sexual history, and the years of bullying and abuse I took because of those rumors. And periodically, because of internet memes and conversations with both fellow survivors of peer abuse and the well-meaning but clueless, I think about about what I’d tell my 13 year old self. In the past, this retro-advice has taken the form of bullshit platitudes like, “They really aren’t worth it,” or “Just remember, you’re a better person.” Sometimes these thoughts take turn for the bitter, “You’re way smarter than any of them,” and “You’ll get out, but most of them will die in that shitty fucking burg.” Or sometimes the outright nasty, “That guy who hit you with the car? He dies in a car accident, so don’t sweat it. Karma’s a bitch.” Hey, I have never claimed to be an exemplary human being, just a human being.
I’ve also frequently lamented that I didn’t know what to say to my 13 year old self, or any 13 year old really. But I’ve been putting some serious thought into this today, and I think I’m closer than ever to coming up with something that may actually work, or would have worked for 13 year old me.
1. Ignore every single stupid “no matter how you answer you’re going to be humiliated” question they throw at you. Such as, “Are you a virgin? How many guys have you slept with? etc…” If you must answer, respond only with “What does it matter what my answer is? You’re just going to make shit up anyway.”
2. John Hughes is a fucking liar. The only reason the hot jock EVER asks out the nerdy stoner girl is to publicly humiliate her when she’s dumb enough to fall for it. Or he takes all those slut rumors seriously and thinks he’s going to score. And yes, I’m sure there are exceptions out there, but they are few and real far between.
3. Honestly, the drugs and alcohol are a terrible idea. The speed won’t actually help you lose weight, I promise. Oh yeah, smoking’s pretty dumb, too. You’re asthmatic. And as far as self-medicating, the booze and drugs don’t make you feel any better. I’m not saying don’t DO them, I’m saying, don’t do so much of them.
4. Never admit that you contemplated or attempted suicide to your peers. You will receive only ridicule, no one is going to do shit to help you. A suicide attempt is like blood in the water to those fucking piranha. If you need help, talk to an adult you trust who has shown an inclination to help you out. Mrs. Link* might have been a good choice.
5. Your mom is depressed, too. That’s a big part of why she can’t help you.
6. The phrase “Fuck you!” should feature much more widely in your vocabulary. This is kind of an adjunct to number 1. Your tormentors don’t care who you really are, and you can’t win them over by helping them with their homework, or letting them cheat off your paper during tests. They’re just using you. At least the stoners you help out with homework will have your back. The popular kids? Fuck them.
7. Don’t kick down. Making fun of Darrel isn’t going to make you feel any better about yourself, because you’re not a fucking jackal. And when you do try to reach out to him later, he will react according to his own version of Advice #2, which is to say, he will try to punch you. For which I do not blame him in the least.
These are all pretty specific because when you’re 13, you’re not exactly a “big picture” kind of being. You need advice that will get you through the specific day to day bullshit that makes your life a living hell. You need survival tools. All that “It Gets Better” stuff is great and all, but it doesn’t really give you any tools for dealing with daily life, just this nebulous promise that some day it won’t suck, or at least not so much. And I’m not knocking the “It Gets Better” project, I think it’s great. BUT it only goes so far.
And while some of these are awful specific, they also aren’t. I mean, they do cover a fairly wide array of shit that goes wrong for those of us who were bullied in our teen years. You can change the details to cover a lot of ground here.
*Mrs. Link was my 7th grade English teacher, and she was awesome. She was one of the first teachers I really remember encouraging me to write, and telling me other people would want to read what I wrote. I still love her.