When I considered whether to go to my 40th high school reunion – my first reunion ever – the first thing I thought about was whether I’d have to confront my high school nemesis, Medusa (not her real name).
It’s a testament to the power of high school that decades later, I would even be thinking about her at all. I had never suffered any kind of bullying until my sophomore year of high school when a group of some 80 kids from a neighboring town who didn’t have their own high school joined ours. The crunch was such that for the first time we had to share lockers. I got Medusa.
I wasn’t a cheerleader-popular kind of teenager, but I was very social, a good student, and ultimately went on to be the editor of the school paper and president of the school service group. But as a high school sophomore, my only elected office was secretary of the Organ Club (music, not donors). I think it will be obvious that there was not a lot of cachet in this.
“Hey, Inga, wanna play MY organ?” the alphabetical creepo in homeroom would leer when club meeting announcements were read. My husband, Olof, was fascinated by this story. “You should have said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t play lesser instruments,’” Olof opined. WHY, WHY didn’t I ever think of that? I almost wanted to go to the reunion just so I could use that line.
Medusa, meanwhile, was the classic mean girl. I scheduled my sophomore year life around trying to avoid being anywhere near our locker when she was, or anywhere near her at all. She enjoyed making fun of me in front of her equally mean girl friends. School, which I had always enjoyed, suddenly wasn’t fun that year.
From time to time over the years, I would think of Medusa and hope that her children were already elementary school juvenile delinquents and that she had an incurable and relentlessly painful disease exacerbated by the penicillin-resistant syphilis she had contracted from her chronically-philandering husband. In my ultimate east-coast vengeful fantasy, hers was the only welfare family in the uber-tony community of Greenwich, Connecticut where she was relentlessly shunned.
My best friend from high school, Tinker (childhood nickname), ultimately persuaded me to go to the reunion. As it turns out, it was the first one Medusa had ever attended herself. The organ club guy, sadly, didn’t show (I was totally disappointed), but I got to spend some wonderful time with my high school paper co-editor going through his yearbook and reading such touching inscriptions as, “You think your [sic] liberal but to me you’re a champion fuckup. Best of luck.”
The first night was a casual pizza event. There were plenty of people I hadn’t recognized initially that evening but when Medusa walked in, I knew her immediately. Tinker nodded; she’d seen her too. What would I say to Medusa? “Hi, I’ve hated you for forty years?” No, that didn’t seem like it would produce the desired response from her, which, for the record, was, “I’m so sorry. I’m a subhuman life form who hardly deserves to live, but I want to make it all up to you. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret my reprehensible behavior.”
A bit later, I joined Tinker who had sat down for a piece of pizza.
“I really can’t decide what the right thing is to say to Medusa,” I said. “Maybe I shouldn’t say anything.”
“Actually,” said Tinker, guiltily. “I was just talking to her. She doesn’t remember being mean to you.”
“WHAT?? You’re kidding!”
“Actually, it’s worse,” continued Tinker. “She doesn’t remember you at all.”
My pizza slice hung suspended in mid-bite. Didn’t even remember me? I had never considered the possibility. I hunted through my purse for my 9 mm Glock.
I had to admit that during the evening, I talked with some people who remembered me well but whom I couldn’t place, and to several whom I remembered well but who seemed to have very little memory of me. I continue to be fascinated by who and what we remember – why some people with whom we had a lot of contact just completely fade away in our memories, and others stand out so prominently. Of course, we can’t remember everything and everyone – just not enough disk space. But it just didn’t seem possible that Medusa, the source of so much angst and trauma, could have erased me from her memory bank. Or worse, never registered me in it to begin with. Is this the ultimate act of bullying, that your bully doesn’t even remember you?
Just wait till the 50th reunion, Medusa. I predict a wheelchair mishap.
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