May 26th, 2010

I wish

Facebook blasts from the past

There are very few parts of my life that I really avoid. I had a relatively ok high school experience, great college, wonderful Oxford, and awesome adulthood. Even law school, which I hated, wasn't bad on a social level.

Middle school and--because it was the same place and the same people--elementary school, is the glaring exception. I hated, hated, hated 7th and 8th grade with a passion. I wasn't necessarily bullied, or if I was, I didn't really notice. But the kids I went to school with by and large made life miserable for me.

In the summer between sixth and seventh grade, I went from a relatively flat chested girl to holy-shit!-those-are-boobs seemingly over night. I also was one of the "smart" girls in my class, put into a separate sections for both reading and math with maybe five or six other kids in my grade. Somewhere in this time period, I also ratted out one of my classmates for distributing cocaine in science class. I didn't really mean to do this, but it didn't occur to me not to tell my mother about it, who promptly reported it to the school. All of these things made me go from being a relatively well liked person in my class to one of the least popular.

I don't remember many of the details. I've probably blocked them out. I remember getting a note in my locker from one girl telling me that she and I could no longer be friends because I wasn't popular enough. Unwisely, I wrote her back. I remember a boy wanting to "go" with me as a joke. I remember having very few people to sit with at lunch. I remember the boys pointing and laughing at my boobs, and the girls picking me last for sports teams, even though I was a pretty good athlete for a middle schooler.

It was terribly confusing to me because I'd known these kids for most of my life. Most, if not all, were "friends" in the way your entire classroom in elementary school are "friends" when you're little. Most of them had been to my house at some point or another, most had been to my birthday parties. Some even got to go to the ranch. I'd known them since I was six years old. Having them go from relatively friendly if not actual friends, to horrible enemies who could stab you in the back at any moment was excruciating.

I'm sure it's probably not as bad as I remember. There were some kids that didn't particularly get involved in that sort of bullshit. Probably there were half dozen or so ringleaders, arbiters of popularity, and everyone else sort of followed along to varying degrees. Most people were sheep, but the leaders were vicious.

Fortunately for my sanity, my best friend didn't go to my middle school. When I went home, when I socialized out of school, I had nothing to do with the kids from school, and I could leave all of that behind me. And aside from sports and girl scouts, I didn't have many activities with them. We went to the ranch every single weekend, so I didn't really hang out with them much out of school.

I remember being overjoyed to get the hell out of there when I graduated, and being even more happy that not a single one of the people I went to middle school would be at my high school. I could start a new school with a blank slate, and that's exactly what I did. And with the exception of one person who ended up being a friend of a friend that I see occasionally at dinner parties, I haven't seen or heard from anyone from middle school again.

Until, of course, Facebook.

I don't remember when I accepted a friend request from the one girl. It was months and months ago, and after the friends request was approved, I didn't really notice her much. I mean, I have 495 friends on Facebook. There's no way I pay that much attention to the superficial ones. After that, another boy that I barely remembered added me. Again, this was months ago. I finally remembered him as relatively nice, and I accepted his friends request too. I didn't really think about it much.

Then this weekend, another girl added me. She was actually friends with another friend from another world, so I figured it'd be ok. Then yesterday, the boy who lived on my block when I was growing up sent a friend request. Part of me kept thinking, "I've known these people for well over 30 years, of course I should acknowledge them." But I haven't really known them since we all left middle school in 1987, 23 years ago.

And today, the girl who added me this weekend posted our 8th grade class photo, tagging everyone she knew or was connected to in the picture. There were a couple comments from people in the photo, too. Comments from people I didn't have any Facebook connection to. My privacy settings are set so that only I can see photos tagged of myself, but that whole picture scared the crap out of me. And I went ahead and untagged, just to not have any association with the photo. First of all, who the hell wants to look at them self in 8th grade? Second of all, I haven't sought these people out for a reason, and bonding over photos of a period of my life I've done a great job of putting behind me isn't something that I really want to do. Finally, I am a little nervous that some people in particular would find me through something like this. One in particular may have a very coincidental and tangential connection to my current life, and I really don't want to deal with that intersection in any way.

It's not that I don't like them. Individually, I'm sure most of them turned out great and maybe even regret any pain they caused, to the extent they remember it. I'm sure they went through their own version of adolescent hell at some point or another and weren't particularly interested in anything but surviving their own childhood. The people who were tagged in that photo tend to have profile photos of themselves with/or their kids. Most look married and settled down and the pictures tend to be relatively conservative. I would guess that they're all relatively happy with their lives.

But I find myself wondering what they think of me. Whether I'm too racy or liberal or far out there for them. Whether I would post something offensive for them. And then I remember that I really don't care about what a group of strangers, especially this particular group of strangers, think of me, despite the shared childhood. Most of the people on Facebook actually know me. They're people who have reached out to me because they're people who find something about me to be interesting or funny or memorable or have some sort of current even tenuous connection with my life. Even ancient friends from high school and college tend to be people who have some interests in common with me and that I was genuinely upset to lose contact with. I can't think of a single person from those early years that I wonder about or think fondly of when I reminisce. I just continue to have that feeling of relief that I survived that place and was able to go elsewhere as soon as I could.

I'm not going to un-friend anyone or worry about this too much. The people who have friended me aren't particularly harmful or bring bad memories (though I should ask the girl who added me this weekend if she still has my Banana Republic tee shirt. She "borrowed" it the last day of 8th grade after our graduation pool party, and I've never seen it--or her--again). I imagine that the friend-ing will stop now that the photo is untagged, and I'll forget about them again with the occasional reminder from time to time on Facebook status updates and so forth.

But it is the jarring part of Facebook. Opening yourself up to one person can potentially make you have to deal a whole group that you have no intention of connecting with.