the heather incident

My heart was beating in my chest. A knot grew in my throat. I stared out at the sea of faces--a sea seemingly so large that it would engulf me any moment. My mouth was dry. Nevertheless, I surged ahead with my final project. Starting by reiterating how I was academic-oriented because my interests couldn't lie anywhere else. My interests in socialization had waned or perhaps never existed when I was in the sixth grade. The most brutal harsh year of my life. As I told my story to the class, in my mind, I became shorter. My manners disappeared. I wore thick glasses again. My hair was pulled back in a polyanna. I was 11 years old.

Let me start by saying that I have never liked anybody named Heather. Perhaps it is just the extreme stereotype that came with the name Heather. However the movie Heathers exemplified every event that had influenced my life with a person named Heather. And so there was Heather.

Stanley Intermediate School was daunting at first. Actually having to change classes?! That particular aspect frightened me. At the end of fifth grade, representatives came from Stanley and tried to consoled us with reassuring images of middle school. Then there was a period that we were allowed to submit questions anonymously on slips of paper. I asked two questions. Did Stanley require speech therapy? In PE, does Stanley require that everybody showers? I was still insecure. People in Burton Valley had socially rejected me and I hoped that my life would turn around in middle school It was supposed to be a new beginning.

Somehow though, I realized that I never did learn any social skills. It was either be silent or obnoxiously state your case. That belief basically hurt me in the sixth grade. I liked observing people. Each person always moved in a particular direction. They knew where they were going. Most of all, not everybody had the same intentions. They each desired something...different. It's just like Holden in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye which he was sitting alone in the lobby. Each girl had a different outlook. She either was looking forward to see the play or she was not. Each girl had a different plan for the evening. Each person was different.

However, my joy with observing was cut short. I never knew that it was impolite to stare. Somehow I had acquired the habit of observing just like watching a TV show. There goes Matt looking for Sara again. Hah! I knew that was going to happen. Watch as they break up. Watch as they fight. Watch as they compromise. Even the itty bitty conflict entertained me each day. However, in spite of all the entertainment, I still felt alone. When people saw me "observing", they gave that usual "she's staring at us again" glare. But I wasn't doing it intentionally...really.

In the fifth grade, I was indecisive over what classes to take in the sixth grade. My dad and I went through all the choices. The freedom to choose was very daunting. So in the end, I opted for a class that I thought would be popular and that a lot of people would be taking. I chose Chorus. On the first day of class, I headed to Chorus nearly twenty minutes early. By simply doing that, I earned a spot as teacher's pet. However being in the teacher's favor didn't help me in the long run.

Heather was a girl who grew up in a well-to-do household. She lived in Happy Valley, the West Side of Lafayette. It's ironic that they call the rich side Happy Valley, because really how many people are really happy there? The last time I went to that side of town was nearly four years ago when I attended a girl scout meeting. The house was vast. Yet I could feel the constant tension that pulled and pushed each nerve in the household. Although my own house was considered large by many people, I still was somewhat ashamed of it. Everything seemed smushed together. The furniture, the paintings...placed in my house as if they were temporarily filling up an empty slot in our lives. However in contrast, Happy Valley housed the mansions. The mansions were explicitly decorated so that each element--the vase, the coffee table--sat in a position as if to say, "this is home". That was where Heather lived.

Every day in Chorus, she walked in holding her head up high. Then behind her trailed a group of girls holding their heads up high too. All Caucasian girls dressed in the latest trendy fashion. The $30 jacket. The $50 shoes. As for me, I dressed in clothing my mother got from Hong Kong. Cheap clothing in other words. Ultimately, this was the beginning of my awkward, nerdy years. I began to look at the ground more and more, especially when I walked down the hall. I wanted to disappear. Heather accentuated that desire. Do I regret doing what I did? I don't know.

Heather came up to me one day in Chorus after we had finished our daily exercises of "Oh oh oh!" and "Ah ah ah!" It was always accompanied by the eighth grader Terell the troublemaker's music. I wanted to blot out of the classroom. "So Jennifer, where did you get your clothes?"
"In a store," I answered quizically without realizing that my face was turning red. I disliked talking to people.
"Oooh yes," Heather replied with a smug smile on her face. "Of course, I have always liked that shirt."

Eventually, I realized that they were deliberately making fun of me. Looking back from an adult perspective, I should have talked to a teacher to deal with the situation. But I had social anxiety...and I was scared of the authority. Besides, what good will they do to hush an evil sixth-grader?
So I had to live with it.

Every day, more and more girls would follow Heather's footsteps. It was always before and after class that they would ask that horrible question. It was if they were snickering at me. Especially when I had a look of terror when they approached me.

"Where did you get your clothes?"

How could such a harmless question turn into such a torture?

Because I had no friends, I had nobody to turn to. I was wholly alone. The only person that I confided in was my sister who was in the fifth grade and had an abundance of friends. I couldn't tell my parents, because I was ashamed. My sister nodded her head in sympathy. I told that that I wanted revenge. I wanted Heather to feel my pain.

Eventually, I decided to write a letter. A poem to be exact. It was easy to put my feelings into words.

So I went to my computer, because I didn't want Heather to know it was me. Then I proceeded to write.

Where did you get your clothes?
At the thrift store.
Where did you get your clothes?
At the flea market.
Where did you get your clothes?
In the street.
Where did you get your clothes?
From the trash.
Where did you get your clothes?
From the gutter.
Where did you get your clothes?

I printed out the letter and showed my sister. She nodded in agreement. The letter would show Heather how vicious she was. Now she would know how I felt every time she and her friends taunted me.

Out of laziness, I decided not to print out her address on the envelope. Trying not to emulate my own handwriting, I wrote her address carefully in the envelope. I put a stamp on it. I biked to the mail box two streets down from my house. I placed it inside. Relief spread over me. Now she would know how I felt. How hurt I was. How much I suffered. Now she would know.

The next day at school, I hid my happiness as Heather and her friends taunted me. She would never know what was coming.

The following day, I figured that she had received my letter. I walked into my first period class. She wasn't there yet. Suddenly, I heard a squeal of laughter in the back of the room. Heather. And her friends. They were motioning in my direction. That wasn't the response I was expecting.

But that wasn't the end of it. In my fourth period math class, I started hearing the gossip.

"Someone threatened Heather. Someone wrote a letter."
"Really? That's horrible. It must be someone that hates her."
"You know, I think it's Marisa."
"She's bad enough, yeah. She does hate Heather, you know"

"Did you hear? Heather got a threatening letter yesterday."
"I feel so bad for Heather."
"Poor Heather."

"That person who wrote the letter is probably a bad person."
"Should be arrested."

Nobody knew it was me, except those inside of Heather's clique. How could anybody suspect me. I was the quiet, shy one. By the end of the day, I believed that I would be arrested and sent to jail. My anxiety grew inside me. After my carpool dropped me off, I felt a huge lump forming in my throat. My younger neighbor was just leaving. As I did normally, I stuck out my tongue at him. As soon as he left, I started bawling. My mom came over and I started telling her what had happened. I told her how Heather made fun of me and how I couldn't take it anymore. I told her everything. I then told her how bad I was. That it was okay if the police took me away.

She gave me a hug and thought for a moment. "Heather, is it? I'll call her mother."

I sat down in the living room as I listened to my mom talk to Heather's mother. Then I went upstairs to my room. I felt so horrible. My life was so horrible. My sister came over and gave me a sad look. She was so lucky. She had friends even in the fifth grade. She was going to have friends in the sixth grade. I told her how horrible middle school was.

Eventually my mom called me downstairs. She told me that Heather had burst into tears after getting the letter, but that she forgave me.

My mom had a conference with my English teacher. I had to see a shrink for my social problems. Yet, with my letter, Heather and her friends stopped asking me that question. My mom made me reform. My hair was no longer a mess. It was cut short. I no longer could put my hair in a pollyanna or a ponytail. I had to made sure my clothes were neat every day.

Weeks later, I had a girl scouts meeting. Heather was in the same troop as me. As I arrived, I noticed that the girls were doing a dance. The train. Heather was in the back of the train as they were choo chooing around the room to a pop song.

She looked up and noticed me. She then smiled and said sincerely, "Jennifer! Come join us!"

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