me in 7th grade
Me, age 12 1/2, in my FAVORITE outfit.

…yet made me a better person.

This is gonna be a long one. (Seriously. It’s loooooong.) I think Bonnie and Sonja both asked to hear this, so you can blame them.

I went to a small Lutheran school for 4th-8th grade. Every year I was there, I was in a combined classroom. My 7th-grade class spent mornings with 8th grade and afternoons with 6th grade. I didn’t really have any particular friends in my class of nine people, but I had good friends in the grades above and below me so I was pretty happy about that arrangement.

Then, for reasons that have become hazy with time, a girl named Mallory decided she didn’t like me. I think it was because I refused to make fun of the people she made fun of, and possibly even defended them a time or two. So Mallory set out to make my life miserable. She made snide remarks about me every chance she got, which the other kids would laugh at. The kids in her class who had been my good friends up till that year either joined her in making fun of me, or just avoided talking to me altogether. I understand now, and even understood then to some extent, that they were just acting out of self-preservation when they dropped me like a hot coal and laughed at me with Mallory. They didn’t want what she was doing to me to happen to them…but it was still incredibly hurtful. Two of my best friends from that class came to me a couple of years later and apologized to me for not taking my side that year. I was glad to hear that they felt remorse and I forgave them, but our friendships had been irreparably damaged.

I don’t really understand why Mallory held such sway over the other kids. She was averagely pretty, a bit overweight, and wore the latest fashions (Esprit sweatshirts, perfectly-pegged Guess jeans, bangs curled and sprayed just so). She wasn’t the most intelligent or the funniest or the most athletic. What she was, though, was vicious. I guess that was the source of her power. She was really good at finding a weak spot and then poking it viciously and sneakily until you wanted to beg for mercy.

That’s probably why she hated me so much, actually: I refused to give in. I was stubborn enough to not engage her, and I refused to do what she wanted me to do if it went against my morals or principles. Mostly I just ignored her as best I could, went to the 6th-grade class in the afternoons and breathed a sigh of relief that my friends there mostly weren’t touched by the whole Mallory thing (they knew about it and thought it was awful, but they rarely crossed paths with the 8th-graders) so I could pretend it didn’t exist. Then I went home and cried. I cried a lot that year.

My mom talked to the 8th-grade teacher and tried to get her to help with the situation, but she basically just shrugged and said she didn’t know what she could do. It frustrated my mom, but she also knew that she was dealing with a heartbreaking situation in her own life. (Her youngest daughter, who was several years older than I, was sick with leukemia for years, and had died in the past year or so.) So my mom didn’t push too hard for her to intervene. And since I was only in that classroom half the day, I persuaded my mom that I could deal with it.

My mom had her own heartbreak that year, too: her mom passed away suddenly and very unexpectedly in October of that year. My mom was just about to turn 36 when that happened (the same age I am now, whoa) and it hit her very hard.

Also, that Christmas I was very sick with a sinus infection. I remember going to the Christmas Eve children’s program at my church and kind of being in a daze the whole time because of my fever. I spent the days following Christmas mostly sleeping in my parents’ bed, getting up for a half-hour to listlessly open presents on Christmas morning, only wanting to crawl back into bed and pass out. My mom made Chex Mix that year and the whole house filled with the smell. For years afterward I couldn’t eat Chex Mix because it made me feel sick.

The sinus infection went away with meds, but I didn’t really seem to recover. I remained rather listless and just plain tired for weeks. My mom told our doctor that if I were older she’d think I had mono. Dr. Murphy said he doubted it, but it wouldn’t hurt to draw blood and test for it.

Surprise! I had mono. Mallory and her crew expressed their concern for my health by laughing at me and leaving “anonymous” notes in my desk informing me that I wouldn’t get mono if I stopped kissing Jimmy so much. (Jimmy was an 8th-grader who was another constant target of Mallory’s mockery. He was a perfectly nice kid whose crimes were being poor, not wearing fashionable clothes, and not always having the best personal hygiene.)

The mono was far-enough advanced when I was diagnosed that I wasn’t allowed to participate in P.E. or sports for the rest of the school year. I ended up missing a third of that whole school year. Often I’d feel fine in the morning, and by lunchtime I’d be so exhausted that I’d call my mom to come get me. I slept probably 14 hours a day on average for a month or two.

self-portrait, January 1988
Self-portrait, January 1988. On the back I wrote, “a picture I took of me (12 5/6) badly taken.”

Seventh grade was also the year I took the ACT test as part of a program through Duke University for gifted 7th-graders. The 8th-grade teacher, proud of me and not realizing it would give the haters (a boy in my class was also ruthlessly picking on me by this point) more ammo, shared with the whole class that I’d scored a 26 overall and a 32 in reading. (The national average ACT overall score is usually about 21.) So the number 26 figured in a lot of taunting I got the rest of the school year.

So, yeah, my 7th-grade year sucked royally for a lot of reasons. Once it was all over though, I realized it had made me a stronger person. I gained a clear understanding of what it felt like to be an outsider, and a lifelong resolve to side with the underdog whenever I possibly could, and those are good things. I don’t really know what Mallory’s life was like outside school, but I can only assume from the way she treated others that she was a pretty unhappy person. I hope she grew up and got therapy at some point.

Plus, I always hated P.E., and I got to skip it for half a school year.

I wrote this as a note for a private group on Facebook a few weeks ago. I had mentioned my hellish 7th-grade year in passing in a comment, and got a couple of requests to elaborate. I decided to post it here as well, after changing some names and details to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.

14 Responses to “Why 7th grade sucked for me…”

  1. Sam says:

    Bethany! I so completely understand this – I had a really hellish 7th grade year, too. It was awful. I also got picked on by a popular girl – who at first started out as my friend and then turned on me. I was so innocent and hurt and heartbroken. It wasn’t until I was older that I figured out she was probably jealous or threatened in some way by me. I cried a lot, too, and wished that I had a “Diana” like Anne Shirley had. 8th grade was SO much better – a thousand times better! I still shudder when I think of jr. high, though.

  2. Jill says:

    Oh man… kids can be so mean. I was a “bleeding heart” that always stood up for the underdog, which caused me to receive a lot of flack from the “popular” kids. But the meanness that kids can exhibit is one of the things that makes me scared to have my own children! I remember the middle school years, they were particularly awful.

    I’m glad you came through this a stronger person though!

    PS – I hated PE in school too! I got to miss it for most of high school due to knee troubles.

  3. BeachMama says:

    Bethany, if life was only different and we had been in class together We could have shared so much. My year wasn’t 7th grade, but 6th and oh so similar!! I too didn’t give in to the taunts and just dealt with it at home by myself. I hated seeing those mean people and truthfully when someone was mean to someone else, the first thing I did was went to them to offer support. Maybe that made me more of an outsider, I don’t know, but I just couldn’t let them taunt another classmate.

    You turned out so lovely and loving despite the 7th grade taunts, so happy that I know you.

  4. Carrie says:

    Well that just sucks. Junior high is such a hard time. Why do girls have to be so mean? Some girls, of course.

    And mono on top of all that?! I had mono in 9th grade.

  5. leslie says:

    isn’t that sad, that so many girls/boys go through that stuff in their school-life?
    i had a similar experience, but it took me years to finally realize that i can be stronger because of it and not hiding myself….

    is that a reason for homeschooling annalie as well?

  6. a chris says:

    Oh, childhood. I’m so happy to be done with it. Today, though, G broke down in tears for the first time (that I’ve witnesssed) due to rejection by another two-year-old. When she crumbled into tears, I was sure E had hit her or run into her, but it was just her feelings that were hurt. Here we go again!

  7. Sarahgrace says:

    What is it about middle school? I would say that 7th grade was my roughest year too, for a LOT of the same reasons yours was. I’m glad we both learned from our hard years those, it’s the hardest times that mold who you are. :-)

  8. Ami says:

    This sounds like my eighth grade year. I used to say that I wouldn’t accept 10 million dollars to relive that year. Good for you for overcoming. And, I’m the same way about sticking up for the underdog and the outcast. (Part of my torture hinged on the fact my “friend” decided I was gay — I wasn’t, but I lived in a very conservative place, so that was the kiss of death. I then understood no one would ever choose to be gay for that kind of attention, it was so bad.)

  9. Allyson says:

    Having lived much of that sadness and ostracized part, I completely get this post. I think those years sucked big time and was part of the reason I left what would have been the high school we all would have attended to go to a different high school. I just couldn’t take the torture. It bugged those kids so much that they talked all sort of crap when I met them on the soccer field or the volleyball court. It did make me a stronger person though. They couldn’t affect my daily life anymore and there were so many blessings because of that.

    I do feel some mommy groups I am associated with are the new junior high. I am shocked what some of these women say to each other. I frequently say something in defense of myself or others, but they are now a bunch of women stuck at age 13 and who I would never associate if it weren’t for my kids. Drives me nuts.

    Side note: I seriously thought you were going to get to the end of this post and say you have since talked to her via FB. I am surprised she hasn’t found you yet. (And therein lies the reason I don’t FB.)

  10. Mrs. Wilson says:

    Reading this again couldn’t have come at a better time. We talked for over an hour with Kaylie last night about her being bullied. I’m dead-set against her “being the victim” and trying to figure out ways to make her school year better while making her a stronger person in the midst of it. I think I may read this post to her. (I’m pretty sure she can handle it, as she’ll be in 7th grade in only a couple years.)

    I was also the target in about the same age bracket as you were. I know how HORRID kids can be and how horrid it feels to be at the bullied end of things. *sigh* I think it made me a better person as well though. I hope it does the same for Kaylie.

    Thanks for posting this. :)

  11. Jillian says:

    Gosh, I read things like this and realize that my middle school and high school years were a picnic compared to others. I can however, be proud that my friends and I created a group that was a safe haven for those who didn’t fit in anywhere else or who had been ostracized from other “groups”. We were the misfits and we stood up for anyone who deserved it.

    I’m glad things got better for you, I’m glad 7th grade taught you so much. And I’m glad you’ve forgiven those involved. You’re obviously a much, much better person than they.

  12. s says:

    Thank you for sharing this. My daughter enters middle school next year, and after seeing the girl drama over a weekend trip with a large group of 6th grade girls, including my daughter in tears, I am not looking forward to the next couple of years. But, as you indicate, I know whatever happens will make my daughter stronger…yet you hear stories of kids who get taunted and bullied and their parents are clueless as to how on the brink their kids were and then they do something crazy (cutting, suicide,etc) so I worry…will my daughter feel she can talk to me, what can I do if she does, how can I help her navigate, how do I make her feel self confident without being too over the top… I tell my kids all the time to pick their friends carefully – I know I did not, and I regret it because there are girls who I know I would have had a better connection with instead of chasing the “popular” crowd who weren’t very nice girls at all. Again, thanks for sharing – I tell my daughter often that she should enjoy middle school and high school years but be aware that she can and will be a completely different person outside of school – those years do not define who she will be later in life.

  13. Amanda says:

    Oh, goodness! I hated pretty much all of junior high for reasons like this. I had glasses, braces and a bad perm. I was really shy which just compounded the problems I was having. Ugh! In short, I can totally relate… And I agree with you that sucky experiences like this do make a person stronger!!!

  14. Kassie says:

    Oh, wow. This post really brought me back. Back to the hideous three years that were middle school. I can’t tell you how reassuring and painful it was to read this post actually. It kind of brought everything flooding back and yet, look how good we all turned out despite those mean spirited girls? The worst for me was when one of my best friends just dropped me for no clear reason, excluded me from her birthday party the day before the actual event by publicly uninviting me in the middle of biology class, and then proceed to tell everyone what an unpopular idiot I was. I had been feeling pretty good in my pegged acid washed jeans. Sigh. Well done, madam, well done.