I Want to Tell You About *Heather

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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.

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Seriously? – Lift Each Other Up, Don’t Push One Another Down

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This is a new segment of the blog I am going to title Seriously?  Too often I find mind-boggling things that make me wonder why people were even given the ability to express irrational thought.

The first contribution to Seriously? comes after doing my morning scan of internet headlines.  I came across one that read “Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge Dismissed As Britain’s ‘Queen Wag’ By Feminist Author Joan Smith.”

I didn’t want to jump to conclusions right away, so I read over the article.  Apparently, Joan Smith, a feminist author whom I really know nothing about (therefore my opinions are based solely on this article I have just read), believes that Kate Middleton has done nothing since graduating university other than support her partner and get married in a large ceremony, and Joan Smith thinks this is terrible.

Seriously Joan Smith?  You are a feminist and you’re going to publicly shame and put down a woman?  My number one hope for women everywhere is that we help each other by not tearing each other apart and cutting each other down – especially when one has a platform to be a role model as an author does.  A big part of feminism, for me, is that women can choose to be whoever they want to be and do whatever they want to do (as long as it’s not hurting anyone).  This includes this right to support your partner, get married, have children, etc.  Although that may not be a choice fit for Joan Smith, I hope that she would be able to accept that it is Kate Middleton’s choice and that is fine.

There is enough pressure on women by our societies that we do not need to add to it.  It is wonderful that we have outspoken and uber-motivated feminists like Joan Smith to fight on the front lines for women everywhere.  It is also great that we have women who choose to support their families emotionally and raise children.  While some women work, some volunteer.  Seriously, just because a woman is not outspoken about causes doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have any.

Seriously!  Let’s put more attention into our own lives and try to see the best in each other.  If women don’t support and respect each other, we can’t expect anyone else to.

The same goes for the other author mentioned in the article, Hilary Mantel, who has publicly commented on Kate Middleton’s weight as being “painfully thin”.  Seriously Hilary Mantel?  You’re going to criticize a woman’s weight?  Come on!  This causes a huge offense to the feminist community because weight and micro-criticisms of women’s bodies is a major issue with our media and it is affecting young and mature women everywhere.  God forbid people have different weights and different shapes.  Seriously?  Let’s put the focus elsewhere and work together.

Blog creator, Jessica, answers: “What would you tell your younger self?”

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baby me

I guess it is my turn.  I have had a few entries over the last year that women in my life have submitted under this category of “What would you tell your younger self?”  This thought for me is constantly changing.  It is usually shaped by whatever I am going through at the time or certain things I have observed.  My life experiences have varied and I have been a witness to happenings that even as little as five years ago I could have never imagined.  Therefore, let me say that by no means is this all of the advice I could give to my younger self, but it is what I feel I can share today.  I hope that through this blog and through what I have written below, you can find comfort, similarity in your life or that of a friend and feel like you are not alone.  I do not think that I live with regrets, but if I was given the chance to change a few things, I think I would.  I have faith that I was destined to be wher

e I am today and that I am destined to be wherever I am at the end of my life, so I do not worry that changing things in my past will have affected my end result like some people do.  I am happy with where I am and I am so blessed with those in my life.  And so I begin with a letter to myself…

Dear Jessie,

You always thought about what it would be like to be 27 years old, but you never could really picture it.  You thought you would be married, which you are, and you thought you would have kids, which you don’t.  The only person you really pictured yourself as at this age was Barbie, and well…you were a little off, but that’s ok!

There are some things I wish I could have told you, but it’s a little late for that.  Instead, I will share these tidbits in the hopes that someone else might feel a connection and take something from what I have to say.  But don’t worry Jessie, you are doing just fine and those you love and look up to are still standing by you, 100%.

Love, Jessica.

What I would tell my younger self:

-Everything mom and dad told you was right!  I know you have to learn for yourself, but remember that there is a good reason (or two!) that they say the things they do.

-Be happy you don’t look like everyone else.  Here are some compliments people will give you about those odd little things you are not sure you appreciate: “I love that you have these moles (pointing to my shoulder, chest and upper lip).  I like them.” (friend in high school); “You have the best neck.” (husband); “You remind me of a young Ingrid Bergman.  You have the same sparkle in your eye.”(shuttle driver in California); “You’re thick in a good way.'” (athlete at school).  Some of those compliments may seem silly, but everyone appreciates something different so be you and let people figure out why you’re great on their own.

-Never sell yourself short.  In high school, you let school take a back seat to your social life.  Frankly, looking back, I think you could’ve had a social life, played sports and still earned straight A’s.

-Don’t let one thing, like having a boyfriend, run your life and forget about everything or everyone else.  The first person you date will most likely not be your last!

-Friends always want to be there for you.  Let them.  Be loyal to them and never say anything about someone behind their back that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to their face.

-Be kind.  Always.  Remember how it hurts when others tease you.  Don’t take for granted that you have supports – seek out lonely people and befriend them.

-Drinking can be fun, but so can not drinking.  Know your limit so that you stay true to yourself…and thank God facebook and twitter did not exist when you were in middle and high school.

-Do not dress for others to notice you.  Dress for yourself.  Your skirt does not need to be shorter and your tops do not need to be tighter.  The right boys will notice you for you – not how much skin you show.

-Don’t lie to your parents.

-Respect your teachers and your coaches.  Even if you don’t agree with everything they say or do, respect them.  ***Side note – I never disrespected my parents by yelling at them or belittling them.  When I see kids talk back rudely, curse or act condescendingly to their parents (I am talking about good, kind, appropriate parents) it makes me feel sick.  Do NOT do that to your mom and dad.  It does not make you cool and it will not get you very far in life to treat others like that.  You can never replace family so don’t push them away.

-Don’t be afraid to be silly!

-Dance at the school dances.

-Throw “the rules” out the window!  If you want to go out with someone, ask them.  If you want to dance with someone, ask them.  The worst that can happen is they say, “no,” and you move on.  Don’t wait around for someone to call you – if you want to talk to them, call them!

-Hug your friends when you see them, and hug them goodbye if you want to.  Everyone wants to feel wanted.  Show them you’re happy they showed up and that you can’t wait to see them again.

-Tell people what’s on your mind.  If you want someone to know how they make you feel, tell them.  If you want to tell someone that you are proud of them, tell them!  No one can read minds and it feels so good when someone let’s you know something intimate like how you’ve impacted their life.

-Do not live in fear.

-Make decisions that you can be proud of.

-Know that when things don’t go the way you planned, everything will still be ok.  You are who you are, and you can do anything.

-Make yourself indispensable in everything you do.  Work hard and you will be noticed.

-Don’t doubt yourself and always trust your gut feeling.

-Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

-Don’t forget that you are loved.

…I would tell her to work with other girls and not against them.

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Why do we try to cut each other down?  I don’t know why we do it, but I know that we do.  I’ve seen it and I’ve been guilty of it.  Whether it’s the girl who starts the rumor, tells someone else the rumor, or allows someone to tell her the rumor and doesn’t stand up and say that it’s false, that girl is part of the problem.  Talking behind someone’s back, whether it’s the truth or not, is cutting someone down.  The purpose of gossip is to make the person you’re talking about look worse in the eyes of the person you’re telling.

We live in a time where, as girls, we are already fighting against outside forces that want to bring us down.  Television shows like “the Hills” portray us as catty, reality television shows like “Jersey Shore” portray us as shameless, and even the news channels like to play up the missteps of women in power to make them look simple-minded.  It hurts me to see us hurt each other.  We are smart, motivated, and caring.  We should be standing by one another and helping to lift each other up.  Think of all the wasted time and energy we put into disliking the girl that is different from us or the girl that wants the same boyfriend that we do or the girl who is going for the same spot in Student Council as we are.  If we could refocus that energy into seeing the beauty of another’s uniqueness or enjoying that the girl who is the best fit to be Student Council President gets elected, we would be in such a better place.  It hurts when I hear someone say something negative about me, so why would I do that to another girl?  I don’t want to be the cause of hurt for another human being.  I want to be the reason that someone smiled!

There are enough people trying to make life difficult for girls.  Let’s not help them!  We all just have a human desire to be liked by other people.  Is it really so hard to just be nice?  Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little.  Together we can do so much.”  If we work together, we can change the world.

What is a way that you’ve supported another girl?

What is a situation you’ve had where you wished another girl had helped you?