How many years ago was it...?? A year after our 50th reunion, I guess. I began hearing from my old friends from high school. I had mixed emotions about it, as I had hated school, let alone high school, and thought most of the boys, anyhow, disliked me. I never did have a good self perception, so how was I supposed to think others saw me? It's not until NOW, in my 70s, that I've been feeling acceptable to others. It's about time to accept myself for whom I am.
But hadn't I? Actually, I've always liked and loved myself... except for short periods of my life where I thought a judgmental God would not like nor love me. I'm human, and was perhaps hardest on 'myself' for making mistakes.
I was always comfortable with myself when I was alone
, most likely taking a dog for a walk through the woods. I was both my own best friend and my enemy, as when I tried to see myself through the eyes of others, I thought about how they teased my 13 month older brother Jerry. Perhaps his taking over my early upbringing since I could stand in the crib-which HE helped to teach me-had a lot to do with my inability to separate myself from his personality. We were really very much alike: We loved nature and animals, and most of my preschool years were spent with him as my best friend doing everything together in all seasons. We loved the sunshine, the rain, the wind, all animal life including insects and only excluding mosquitoes. Living near a swamp, those bloodthirsty beings thought my blood was their champagne. I almost itch just thinking of it. But, despite putting up with stinging insects, we were more like twins than a year apart, and spent most of our waking time outdoors. My childhood was GOLDEN... until I had to go to school. I made up my mind to hate it from the beginning.
In grammar school, the Rumford school in North Woburn, when coming home after my first day, I announced to my mother that I tried it, but didn't like it, so I didn't want to go anymore. She was sensitive to my feelings and didn't know how to tell me that I had to put up with it for 12 LONG years. One of the saving graces of my schooling was ONE girlfriend from first grade, Judy Clarke. I was with her the first time I stepped into the town library, which was next door to her house. However, looking at all those books, I was overwhelmed in thinking I'd probably have to
read them all. But I got a library card, and took out Dr. Seuss's Horton Hatches an Egg. Mom loved the book and laughed all the way through while reading it to us children. At 6, I then had a younger brother Peter who was three. I remember sitting on the porch swing (we always called it the hammock) while Mom would read to us during the warm evenings of the year.f
I feel I had a good home life, but longed for that freedom of being able to call my own leisure hours... or wanting all my hours to be leisure ones. It wasn't until I married Tom that I felt that kind of freedom again. Actually, it wasn't felt truly until we moved up to The Land, our home in Brackney, PA, but from almost two years before my second marriage in 1985 until Tom was recovering from a five-way by-pass in 1986, we'd been looking for a place where we could reside in Pennsylvania, and accidentally found this piece of land for sale, and purchased it the summer of 1986. 10.2 acres of land, with a creek running through it, and following the deer paths through the woods with my then dog, Gayle, a Guiding Eyes Puppy we were to eventually keep because of slight hip dysplasia, we could walk up to quiet Cranberry Lake. It had cottages along two shores, but even in summer there seemed few residents vacationing there. Between that, and a beautiful field above our hedgerow that belonged to NYC people who rarely visited their land, I felt like I had regained that WONDERFUL feeling of freedom to become a part of nature again as I had in my childhood.
Even before we married, when I first visited the farm where Tom was raised, I had a wonderful déjà vu feeling on Jurista Drive, when we arrived at the house in which he was born. I felt I'd arrived home again in a way I could never feel in Woburn. It was as if I knew this place and had missed it all of my life. I took an immediate liking to Alberta, Tom's sister-in-law. I was Home like never before. I've often wondered if I lived there in another life.
Until I married Tom, I had a lot to overcome in the way I felt socially. I don't know if it was because my best friends in High School all had far neater and nicer houses than I had. I don't know if it was that I didn't get the great marks that Judy got, or that I only could feel comfortable with younger girls than myself, though I tried in every way to measure up to my High School friends. It may have been because of the shame I felt when being teased in school for the first time in my life. When lining up two by two, like always after recess in an early grade--girls first and boys following--my being last, I had to be partners with John Duffney, because of an unfortunate odd number of girls, and immediately the kids started teasing John and me. I got angry, and something that was the most ridiculous thing to do under the circumstances, as I leaned over and kissed John on the cheek. I have NO IDEA why I did such a thing, but it's how I dealt with my anger at being teased, it was a reaction that still puzzles me. After school that afternoon, it seemed like the streets were ringing- echoing- the mean voices teasing me with their chants, "Mary Jo loves John." I held my emotions in and they felt like a hard ball in my stomach. Rounding the corner on Williams Court, where I could see my house, I ran in, collapsing in tears, while telling my mom between my sobs as to what happened. I don't know what she said at that time. I think she almost laughed at my reaction of having kissed John on the cheek. I didn't even Know him. It was out of anger, not affection.
Years later when high school boys found me an easy number for teasing, Mom tried to convince me that it was their way of showing me they liked me... boys just did that. But it didn't help. I've hated being teased... who wouldn't? I hated being reprimanded... making ANY mistakes in school... in life. Well, I'm human. Everyone feels that way to some extent, but all my life, I've overreacted to teasing and shame to the degree that I would review it in my mind over and over as if in doing I could undo the hurt. Then I took it to the nth degree by picturing the worst every time I was to have a social encounter, like shoring up my mind like a fighter tightening his abdominal muscles so it wouldn't hurt if someone gave him a gut punch.
My girlfriends in grammar school were mostly neighborhood friends who were kind of in the same class
or life situation as myself... not so neat houses, easier going moms and families. Comfort friends. But some became a bit wild and unsavory once teenagers. My best neighborhood friend, Julie F., whose mother became my 4H leader, and went to her house not only to play, but weekly meetings for Crafts... once when they had a 4H fair which I couldn't go along, next meeting, Julie just couldn't wait to tell me about how they had such a good time ...going to a neighboring Woolworth's and shoplifting balloons, trinkets, and other 10c articles. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing, something I've since read that others go through, but my reaction turned my stomach and I stopped going to 4H. When my mother asked me why, I told her. I think it's the first time a mother respects a child when they tell them that they rejected the crowd when their friends did something wrong. (Later, when in High School, I was shopping at some clothing store in Woburn Center after school. Julie and several girls came into the shop... but didn't see me. I saw how she had graduated from snitching 5 and 10c store items into scamming off dresses, while one goes in to try on some clothes while another asks the only sales clerk questions about clothing and where such and such is, and "Oh, isn't that nice... are you getting more in soon"... til the other one comes out, seemingly in the same clothes they went in with, and make a quick but smooth exit, and I just knew the girl who went to change and put on the new clothes under her own and left without paying. I'd heard rumors, and then saw the shoplifting gang at work... again I got that sickening feeling in my stomach.
Soon after, I was in High School, and started hanging around with my friend Judy and those friends she had made once we entered 7th grade. We had sleepovers, joined Rainbow Girls, ate together in the cafeteria, and generally clung to each other for that feeling of acceptance and protection from
loneliness. I hadn't realized that anyone from High School was interested in getting together with me until after the 50th reunion when we got in touch through one asking to be my Facebook friend. The group of 6 of us began exchanging email, and, in so doing, I began to realize how much we had in common in school. I don't think Judy had a problem ever with feelings of inferiority, but just about everyone with whom I got in touch had those feelings in one way or another. How I wish we could have shared those feelings at a gut level when back in high school. They, like myself, were afraid that the others would think less of them, if they knew. They, in fact, were completely unaware of my being teased by the boys. Well... it probably wasn't all that much, according to what we hear these days with harassment and bullying in school, and what hits the news is much worse. So my name is legion, for there are many. We all had our awkward teen age years. It was about time I grew up, in 2009 when we finally got in touch.
Someone said it's not so much what life throws at you, as how you accept it. I wish I learned that earlier, but in my old age, I'm becoming so much more at ease with whom I've become, and who I was and really wonder why I've held on to that which hurt more than healed, the wrongs more than the rights... what kind of negative person have I been. I owe much of that to my husband Tom who still thinks I'm beautiful, and who is grateful that I seem cheerful and try to make him happy. But then, I still think he's handsome, and he keeps me happy. He gave me back my dream ...not of returning to my youth, but returning to nature, and realizing that being myself is the only thing I can do well... especially now that I've accepted who I am.