This Sunday morning, I would like to tell you a true story about a girl named *Heather (real names have been changed).
Heather was someone I got to know in middle school. She had a friend, *Anne. Every day at lunch they sat together, alone, at a table in the lunchroom. Other tables, including the one I sat at, would take extra chairs from other tables and crowd groups of 10-12 around tables meant to seat 8, but there they sat, a table of two. I remember watching as chairs were asked to be taken from Heather and Anne’s table, sometimes by me, and how the two of them always said yes and kept on with their own conversations. They were true best friends and everyone treated them terribly.
Heather and Anne were bullied. Whether it was outright public-shaming or mean words behind their backs, their peers were unkind. I thank God we didn’t have facebook when I was young. I can’t imagine what the bullying would have looked like for them.
I remember hearing boys laugh about how they were invited to Heather or Anne’s birthday party or how gross it was that Heather and Anne had crushes on them. Girls would snicker when the two friends walked by. The worst thing I recall was when we were taking yearbook photos for student-voted awards; “Best Eyes”, “Class Clown”, etc. The student body played a trick on Heather which was that they voted her and a boy named *Grant for “Best Couple”. (The fact that a middle school was even voting people “Best Couple” in the yearbook is beyond ridiculous, but let’s not even go there right now as this is about Heather.) Heather had no idea it had been a prank orchestrated by Grant and she was elated. I remember thinking that maybe if she didn’t know it was a joke, it would be a good memory for her and she could actually enjoy one day at school. I congratulated her when we were walking for photos and she smiled and thanked me. I noticed that she had dressed up, put a headband in her hair and put on a light shade of pink lipstick. In fact, she was glowing. I felt sick inside. Even though I had not been a part of the trick, I knew about it, and that was enough to make me an accessory.
Grant showed up and came barreling down the outdoor hallway calling after Heather. He wanted to hold her hand, but first, he held up his finger so she’d wait while he put on latex gloves, then he held her hand. Others started laughing. I told those near me to cut it out but didn’t really say enough to make it stop. The photo was taken – Grant tried to pose in typical cuddling boyfriend positions and I could tell Heather was uncomfortable. I just wanted this day to be over, and I’m sure she did, too.
Looking back, I should have done something more to save her the humiliation of that day. It’s sad that out of over 200 students in our class, no one spoke up.
There were a few lunches where my friend *Sarah and I would sit with Heather and Anne. We felt bad that they were always alone. They welcomed us and we would talk, but after those lunches, Sarah and I always went back to our group of friends and Heather and Anne went the other way, on their own, again.
The last memory I have of Heather is her singing while her mom played the piano at our 8th grade graduation. People were saying snide comments to their friends under their breath during the performance – it’s always funny how those who don’t have the guts to stand up and sing can make fun of the others who do. Heather looked nervous, but I saw her mom give her encouraging glances and she began to sing. She had a really sweet voice, something I did not know about her. I can still picture her standing up in front of everyone who put her down and singing a song about friendship and togetherness. It’s a nice last picture to have of her – she was always kind to everyone, even those who did not reciprocate the sentiment.
That summer, before entering high school, Heather died in her father’s arms in the middle of the night from a brain aneurysm. My mom got a phone call from another parent at our school. She asked me if I knew Heather and I said yes. My stomach was sick. I cried for her, I cried for her family, and I cried for Anne.
I know others felt guilty for bullying her, but they would never admit it. It was like this thick, heavy air hung over people whenever she was spoken about after that. No one said mean things anymore. People didn’t know what to say because inside all they could think about was the way she was mistreated. No one had the chance to apologize to Heather or to try to make things right with her. She is immortalized in the yearbook under “Best Couple” in a photo that brings back the awful trickery of that day, but I remember her on stage, singing. Thank God for that.
The first day of high school I found Anne, sitting alone at a table, and I sat with her. I told her how sorry I was and if she was ok. She seemed so sad. I imagine Heather and Anne had stayed up late during sleep overs, predicting how high school would change their lives. There would be new people and new groups to fit in to. The boys would be cuter, the grass would be greener. Anne must have felt that hope for a better future at school died with Heather.
I am no saint. I sat with Anne the first day, but not after that. I would say hi in the halls, but what was I really doing to help her? Anne made new friends and I think she had fun in high school, but I don’t know for sure because I never asked her. I keep up with her on facebook and she has definitely found her stride in adulthood. A good job, good friends, supportive family. She recently posted that she’s pregnant with her baby’s due date, and I noticed a comment from a man I am assuming is Heather’s dad. It said, “That’s Heather’s birthday.” Isn’t that how it should be? Anne will always have Heather with her, and I hope that her baby is born exactly on its due date and will share a birthday with Anne’s best friend.
I hope that what people learn from this is to always treat others with kindness. It’s not fair to Heather or her family that she had a hard 14 years of life. Be kind. Speak up when others are not. We are all capable of kindness.
I love Katy Perry’s “Firework” and I think it fits this especially. For Heather.