Callie and Savana and I finished getting ready and walked over to the gym, where the party was.
Savana and I chattered on and on, and Callie snuck up behind us and tried to be annoying. But it didn’t work. She was too interesting.
We were almost there when who should show up but Roberta and a couple of her friends. I was afraid they would be mean to me, but Serenity wasn’t there, so maybe not.
“Uh, Can we talk to you, Joy?”
“You seem to be doing that just fine,” Callie snapped.
Roberta rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll be blunt about it. Go away Callie an-”
“Absolutely not,” Callie interrupted.
Savana looked at me. “Go on ahead, I’ll be there in a sec.”
“We, uh, want to apologize.” Roberta told me. “We were jealous.”
“Of me?” I practically shrieked, I was so surprised. “What could you possibly be jealous about?”
“The teachers were always so nice to you.” One of the other girls spoke up. “They always asked how you were, you got extensions on assignments, sometimes easier stuff,”
“And we never got any of that.” The last girl admitted. “We thought you were faking, we really did, or at least making it out to be much worse.”
“When you started to act fine, we thought we knew we were right.” Roberta sighed. “I never realized that you were, you were…”
While Roberta groped for words one of the other girls interrupted. “Pretending to be okay while actually ruining your health so that we would be nice.”
“And we are really sorry.” Roberta apologized. “If I knew how much that had hurt me, I wouldn’t have gone along with it.”
While thankful for their apology, I had more to say. “Here’s the thing Roberta: You were really mean. Whether or not you knew shouldn’t have mattered. Whether or not I actually had the illness also shouldn’t have mattered. Not knowing is not an excuse to be mean. Now, I know that I should have asked for help, taken care of myself, and not let you do this to me. We both should have done things different. But you and your friends hurt me a lot.”
“I’m sorry Joy. I really am.”
“Me too,” Chimed in her friends.
And then I turned and walked away.
I knew I would never be friends with these girls again. But I also knew that never again would I let anyone hurt me that much. Never again would I care so much about what other people think and do that I let it hurt me.
I went to go find my friends, which were, as always, hanging around the food. We had a good time talking and laughing and eating food.
Callie was in the middle of a great story about her cat and the ceiling fan when who should arrive but Serenity. Serenity who hadn’t even bothered to apologize.
“Hey, you want to join our group again?” Serenity was trying to act all friendly, but I suppose it was because a lot of people had been talking to me, now that they knew my story.
“No thanks.” I said coolly. “I have friends. Real friends.”
When I was on my way to talk to my mom a girl I didn’t know approached me.
“Hello. You don’t know me, but my name is Anika.”
“I wanted to tell you that you have inspired me. I have a chronic illness too – though I don’t think its the same one. I came here from a different boarding school, which I left because the other kids were mean to me because of my illness.” Anika paused. I got the feeling that this was not an easy story to tell. “For the longest time I didn’t tell anyone my story, and I didn’t trust anyone, which resulted in no friends. And seeing how you told people your story, even though it turned out bad, but you didn’t try to cover it up and pretend you were normal, okay, well you did, but you never said you didn’t have the illness.” Anika stopped talking, and I thought she was done. but then she continued. “And you were finally willing to tell your story and get help. And now, here you are, facing the people who hurt you. I think that’s really cool. I finally managed to tell some people, and they, they actually cared. And now I have friends, and well, hearing your story has helped so much for me.”
“Wow. That’s, I mean, It’s so cool to see that my story has helped someone else. But how do you know it?”
“The day after you left we had an assembly about illness and bullying and such.”
We exchanged contact info, and promised to keep in touch.
But I couldn’t stop thinking “I inspired someone with my story. That’s SO cool!”
Ellen also came to talk to me. “I’m so proud of you Joy.”
“For having the strength to recover, and also for being brave enough to come back.”
It was only halfway through the party, but I was ready to go home. I was tired, and not feeling well, and I wanted to stay, but I also knew that I needed to take care of myself.
I was worried about what people would say if I left. But then I realized I didn’t care.
This wasn’t about them. It was about me. And I was going home.
I went to go find my friends. They were disappointed that I was going home, of course, but also happy that I was going home if I needed to go home.
“One last thing,” Savana insisted.
We took a picture of the three of us, and I hung that picture on my wall when I got home, and looked at it when I was sad. I kept it for a long time.
And then I left.
“We love you!”
And for the first time in a really long time, I believed them.