The memory is so vivid…so clear…I remember what the classroom looked like…the other kids’ faces…especially his. Mostly, I remember the way I felt…the painful lump in my throat…the flush of my cheeks…the surprise…the way I held back the tears and masked the pain with a confident shrug. I remember hearing those 2 words, over and over and over again that entire day. I’ve heard those words in my mind at various times in my life for the last 25 years. I was 13 years old and in 7th grade. I was insecure and I never felt pretty, so when those words confronted me…in front of the entire class…they shattered what little self-esteem I had. 2 words…that’s all it took…”YOU’RE UGLY!”
His name was Scott Coppinger. He wasn’t good looking. He lived in a small run down house on a street near mine. He was skinny. He wasn’t popular or looked up to, but it didn’t matter. In fact, those facts made the situation worse, because if a skinny, ugly, nerdy guy thought that, I could only wonder what other people…people that “mattered” thought. I remember walking in the classroom and hearing someone teasing him. I laughed as I walked in, and then everything went in to slow motion as he turned and shouted those two words at me…loudly…in front of everyone. I remember the way I felt. I remember taking my chair, but I can’t remember the rest of that day. I do remember that I did not go home and tell my parents. I was too ashamed.
Childhood and adolescence is brutal. It’s almost like wild animals or a primitive culture…eat or be eaten…kill or be killed. Most everyone has had an embarrassing moment in school or been put down. It’s what people do with those words that help define them. Some people use the torments or unkind words to excel…to succeed or to become better than they were. Some people choose not to believe…to forget...to ignore. Some people cling to the hurt and feed it and nurture it until it has become a part of who they are. I haven’t been called “ugly” in a long time, but I still feel that way sometimes. Some people would be surprised to hear that…think I’m lying even.
It’s like going to a thrift store and seeing a beautiful crystal vase from a distance. You are drawn to it…can’t believe it’s not taken…that it’s in a thrift store. You turn it over to find that it’s Waterford crystal and it’s being sold for pocket change. How can that be? Don’t they know what this is worth? And then…you see it. You see that this vase has been broken and glued back together. It is no longer perfect. What was once an expensive, fine piece of crystal, has no real worth any more. Sometimes I feel like a shattered vase that has been carefully super glued back together. If you don’t pay attention or look closely enough, you won’t notice the cracks…the hurt…the disappointment…the pieces of my heart that have been shattered over time.
It seems like a depressing thing to say, but it’s true. Until I sat to write this, I always felt worthless, because I am broken…damaged…from all the times I was dropped…shattered. As I remembered that terrible day…the one that had a real impact on my life and the way I see myself…I realized that if I treated myself, the way I treat others, my life would be so much better. I would never in a million years think of my children as worthless just because they make mistakes and they are not “perfect”. I would never turn my back on a friend, because of bad choices they made in the past. If someone told my daughter, what I was told, I would tell her not to listen to hurtful lies. I would tell her about all the wonderful qualities she possesses. I wonder why I can’t…won’t do that for myself.
Today, I am saying goodbye to Scott Coppinger, once and for all. I have chosen to carry his mean words and the hurtful memories of that day around with me for 25 years. I don’t want to lug them around anymore. Yeah, I’m a mess…broken…no where near perfect, but I’m not alone. I haven’t cornered the market on pain. There’s no such thing as a perfect person…one that has never been hurt…or damaged in some way. We are ALL full of cracks hidden by superglue and we are all probably stronger because of it.