I'm going to tell you all a painful story. It's a story that I've held onto for a long time. It's one that I buried, but that's been surfacing recently as I realize how little I felt I could count on anyone to help me. I may have told it before here, but I don't think so.
I grew up in the city. I'd like to pretend that my city experience was a tough one, but really I was pretty sheltered. My neighborhood was a fairly safe one and the neighbors all knew one another.
When I started in middle school (or Jr. High), I was nervous. There would be many people there that I didn't know from my grade school just a few block away. But I made new friends, and I liked the variety of classes.
I thought I was making a new friend when I met TJ. She sat next to me in science class. We talked and joked. She passed me notes and I thought all was good. And I suppose it was.
But then, one day, TJ asked if she could borrow some money. This was a little out of my scope of experience, but I said sure. I had some money with me that I could lend her, and I did. I didn't think much about it and wasn't nervous about it.
Then a week later she asked again. I think I may have done so again, but things began to devolve quite quickly from there. I told her that I couldn't lend her more money. It was hard for me, but I was feeling uncomfortable about the situation. Then she sent me a note telling me that she and some of her other friends would kick my ass if I didn't give her money.
Now to be fair, I don't think her friends knew anything about this. But I didn't know this at the time. And her threats worked. I couldn't think of anyone that I could tell that would be able to help me, at the time. And the situation just continued to escalate.
She had gotten my phone number and would call in the evenings a couple nights a week. She'd make a show of talking to me for a little while, while all the time leading up to telling me to bring her more money the next day. When I told her I didn't have money, she'd tell me to get it from my parents. It was awful. I felt like I'd caused all this to happen and I couldn't confess it to my parents or to any friends. It was a horrible secret.
This went on for a long time. I don't remember how long exactly. But then she disappeared from school. In retrospect, I think that she got caught with drugs or something. But I had a reprieve and that's all I cared about.
Then one night, several months later, she called again, and I was back to that scary place again. By this time, I was in 8th grade. This had gone on throughout the better part of 7th grade.
TJ was back in school for only a couple of weeks when I got called into the principals office. TJ's mother had found out that she had money that had not been given to her by her mother and had gotten it at school. When the principal had asked, she'd told them that I had just lent her the money. Why would you do that? I was asked.
I was terrified and didn't know what to do. Clearly TJ expected that I would lie to protect her and I was afraid of what would happen to me if I didn't lie. So I lied. Yes, I'd lent her the money. No, I didn't know why. I just did. Then the principal asked, were you buying drugs? Because that's what this looks like to me.
Something more terrifying than the prospect of getting my ass kicked was that of being accused of using drugs, apparently. I cried as I confessed that she had been threatening me with violence in order to get money from me. They had me write out a statement, then they sent me back to class.
TJ must have been expelled because I never saw or heard from her again. But here's what haunts me...I never heard about the situation again from anyone. I was never sent to see a counselor at school. My parents were either not informed or they never mentioned it to me. I don't remember anything about what happened after writing out the statement. It's as though they sent me back to class and forgot that I existed.
I spent about a year of my life being terrorized and forced to give this girl money and no one helped me...no one saw it was happening, and when it was over no one helped me integrate what had happened. I buried it. But when I think about it I can't still feel that sick feeling I'd have in anticipation of her phone calls. I can still feel the fear that came at reading that first note. I still carry somewhat a kernel of shame that I should have known what to do.
In retrospect, I do, of course. My parents, I believe, would have been horrified. They or a teacher would have stopped it, if I'd told them. But I wasn't an adult then. I was a young, fairly sheltered girl.
I feel a little more than anxious putting this out here, but it also feels better getting it out. I don't have to hold onto this as a shameful thing anymore. I can tell people and I can acknowledge that it was awful without feeling like I was to blame. I can be more than a little pissed off that no one did anything, once they knew, to help me make sense of it.
Okay, then, that's the story.