When I was in junior high school, my friends and I were into sophisticated note passing.
Note and letter exchange started for me in elementary school. The first time it got me into trouble was when a guy friend who used to hang out at my house all of the time and play footsie with me when my parents weren’t home (in order to escape my crazy neighbor who his mom wanted him to be friends with) sent me a really cute note in the mail with a picture of Bart Simpson on it that said, “I like you.”
I was embarrassed by the note, because I was hanging out with a girl I wanted to impress when I took it out of the mailbox. “What does it say?” she asked, and I, being shy about feelings if still outspoken in general, lied rather than reveal the truth. “He wrote me a nasty note,” I said. We decided to write him a letter that was all cuss words. We decorated the outside of the envelope with pictures of bunny rabbits. We laughed.
I cringe to think about it now, it was super mean. He was bummed, his mom came over and cried, horrified by my behavior. His older brother (my friend to this day, actually) cornered me on the playground and told me I had to be nice to his younger brother. I went to the boy’s house to apologize and he looked at me, his face shut off, and said, “You don’t have to apologize if you don’t want to.”
“But I do,” I said. “That was stupid, and I’m sorry.”
I was baffled by this experience. I didn’t realize that my words affected others. I was impulsive, and didn’t think much before I did things. I thought words were just words, it was all in fun, that I could take them back. Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me, right?
Even if I was mean, I didn’t really feel that way about him. The cuss word letter was a mask covering up the fact I had feelings about the boy, really liked him as a friend, but his letter signified to me that maybe he wanted something more. In fourth grade, that freaked me out so much I completely eviscerated him with cuss words. Hmm.
The mother of my best friend from childhood, Radish, loved me up until I started dying my hair blue and smoking cigarettes, listening to “the devil’s” music. Before I hit puberty, she encouraged me and my BFF to hang out all of the time. I wrote letters to my friend on my typewriter.
A lot of bad stuff was happening around me that I couldn’t really comprehend or process, and I let it out in my letters to Radish. I was quite expressive, talking about how I was going to kill the girls at school who were mean to me, being extremely detailed about blowing them up with bombs. I also talked about how I felt depressed and like killing myself at times. My friend’s mom found the letters. She took them personally, and very seriously. She highlighted phrases and sent them to my parents, forbade me from ever seeing my best friend again. Here were my words again, ruining my relationships with the people I loved.
My best friend and I started a secret letter exchange, hiding a box outside her grandparent’s house where she lived, and we kept in touch this way for years, until we were old enough that her mom let go of the belief I was sent from the devil to steal the soul of her daughter.
I started writing notes at school to my friend Ginger, and kept up my line of brutal honesty with ample embellishment in my stories based on real life. I also kept up a note writing relationship with another friend, Cami, and we made up stories about atom bombs and the school exploding, to channel the reality of being trapped in a building with a bunch of other junior high school kids we didn’t necessarily relate to, being taught what seemed like useless schlock from teachers we really didn’t like, on a daily basis, to prep us for our future as nine to fivers in the working world. We were bored.
Ginger, like Radish, wasn’t careful with the letters I gave her. She ended up leaving them out on the counter during a class with Ms. Riley, my English teacher. Ms. Riley and I had a stormy relationship, to say the least. Once, I had been writing a note during a movie and Ms. Riley’s eyes went wide. “Give me that,” she said. Instead of giving her the note, I put it in my mouth, and laughed. Ms. Riley found my letters on the counter and took them straight to the guidance counselor’s office. I was mandated to go talk to him about my “suicidal impulses.” My parents were notified. Fortunately, my parents didn’t do anything either of these times.
Writing was completely imperative to me, had been from the time I was a small child. Wasn’t it just an outlet for my angst? Wasn’t it better I wrote about these things instead of acting on them? Sure, the note to the boy who was overly kind to me was a bit of a stretch, and super mean, and I never repeated that mistake, but on the note-passing, really?
When I worked at a publishing company, I made the Dooce mistake and blogged about a coworker who I worked with. She was LDS, and had some opinions about being gay. I couldn’t abide with it, the Prop 8 bullshit was what made me sever all ties with the LDS church. My entire immediate family did the same. Before that point, I’d simply ignored it. This time I tore through the history and debunked all sorts of fallacies I had been taught my entire life.
I understand people who want to believe in, or do believe in something like religion. But. It’s not for me. I do my best to maintain a healthy distance from overly religious people, only because they are threatening to me when they try to change my values and beliefs and can’t just accept them. That is the one thing I dislike about black and white belief systems. To each their own. Please.
Anyhow, she read my blog and got offended and I felt bad and took down what I wrote, even though I hadn’t used her name, had used a piece of her conversation to illustrate the fear-based bigotry I was seeing in members of this church that said gay people couldn’t go to heaven. She had been going to seminars that taught her why Prop 8 was gods will and I felt compelled to let out my opinions. In public.
I learned from that I had to be a bit more careful, because when you write something, you are creating a tangible artifact people might actually read. The thought is frightening, if you really grasp it.
My writing still gets me in trouble. I’m opinionated and still tend towards hyperbole in my writing. It’s the actress in me, the performance artist seeking to entertain. My views are not static, but change often, and each blog post is a moment in time, not an absolute truth. But the more people who read this, the more I realize I have to be careful about my words and opinions.
There is one exception to these incidents. In seventh grade, I wrote a series of poems about guns and suicide, and instead of rejecting me, my teacher, Ms. Jones, referred me to the advanced English department at the local high school. “You have a real talent,” she said. “You should pursue this.” I was baffled by her words, because mostly, I sat in her class stoned or made animal noises from the back of the classroom to get the boys to laugh.