On Girl Bullies & Redeemed Friendships

I am so pleased to introduce guest blogger, Abby from Dear Abby Leigh.  If you haven’t met this woman- full of such grace and openness, you can follow her on Twitter at @dearabbyleigh.  I asked on Twitter the other day if anyone had experience with girl-bullying growing up.  If there is one thing that breaks my heart, it’s how cruel girls (and women) can be to each other. Abby blew me away with her raw truthful account of the pain, and the hope she brings at the end of the story. I hope you’re touched by Abby’s story, as I was.

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If you asked me who my best friend was growing up, I would answer resoundingly, “Liz.”

If you asked me who made my life a living trip to the outlet mall on Black Friday growing up, my answer would be strikingly similar, “Liz.”

And by strikingly similar I mean, of course, exactly the same.

A roller-coaster friendship like only girls can have, we were inseparable at eight, long-distance at eleven, and thrown back together post-puberty at fourteen. When my family moved back to our hometown for high school, we pretended to pick up where we left off while silently struggling to keep the demons of jealousy, lies, and pettiness at bay.

I thought we were fine. Best Friends Forever And Ever And Ever. I was just going by the bracelets and surface smiles of expectation. But slowly, with the encouragement of other petty girls, my BFF Liz turned into someone else. The sudden source of all my anxiety and the catalyst to my already-heightened teenage
insecurities.

In first period Biology she would mock my raised hand. We both made all A’s, but I was the one playing Teacher’s Pet. In second period Algebra, she and Callie would whisper behind me. They ask me to pick a number, the answer always a terrible fate I’d chosen for myself: I now liked Snotty Steve or needed new
deodorant or had to ask Ms. Blakely for a tampon or worse, “We can’t talk to you during lunch today. That’s what 4 means. Sorry.”

By the end of days like these, I’d resign myself to silence, certain invisibility would be better than the barrage of emotional punches. Inevitably though, Liz would win me back, with a smile or an inside joke meant just for me. Her way of reminding me of her power, her hold.

At home I was different. Kooky, loud, comfortable with my family and myself. But that hallway of lockers and closed doors brought out a slavish desperation in me. If Liz didn’t accept me, no one would, I thought. And to gain that acceptance, I just needed to put up with it a little longer. Show her I could take a joke. Take a
punch.

In every game of chicken, someone has to cave.

I remember the day I surrendered, realizing no friend of mine would treat anyone this way. It was the last period of the day, and I could feel the clock-ticking. They’d been especially cruel and I knew the end was close. I would be home in thirty minutes, having a snack with my younger sister who still thought I was cool.
Tomorrow would be better. We had soccer practice and Callie wouldn’t be there. Maybe it would be like it used to be.

Liz asked if she could draw on my arm. Said to close my eyes, it would be a surprise. I had on long-sleeves so I knew I could cover it up, whatever they thought was so funny. I gave them my arm, and looked away. 5 more minutes. Then home.

Instead of the cool wetness of a Sharpie, I felt the sharp pang of teeth in my arm. Human teeth clamping down on my fourteen-year-old arm. She bit me. “Just a pinch. We thought it’d be funny. No big deal.”

I cried all night in my purple and lime bedroom. I felt so betrayed. The rest seemed pretend, like an act, but that was real pain. A few days later, Liz was in the same purple room crying the same huge tears. We both caved. The game was over.

Neither of us won.

She said she felt intimidated when I moved back. Like she’d lose her place as Liz and just be Abby’s friend again. She fought back the only way girls can . . .with petty tricks and whispers. She wanted to be friends. She wanted reality back.

Now, ten years later, the cruelty seems a dream next to the reality of my friend Liz. She’s only thrown a few emotional punches since that freshmen year, and every time recognized that flash of someone else and apologized. I can say from experience, that a redeemed friendship, one that knows its tendencies to lash out
and where to find the bandages, is one worth fighting for.

At a bully’s core lie the very same fears they inflict on their victims. Insecurity, fear, and shame. If only there was a way to bypass the surface and shock the person back to the reality they’ve buried.

I hope for the Lizzes and Callies of today’s school hallways a quick and violent jolt back to the real world. For parents that recognize the mask their girls are trying to don. And for friends that won’t let friends turn them into victims.

There is hope for redeemed friendships out of cruel teenage bullying. It starts with recognizing that every child has the capacity to throw emotional punches and to take them, again and again, with no visible bruising.

Unless there’s biting involved.

That does leave a mark.