When I tell people that high school was a life-changing experience for me — in a good way — they seem surprised.
Perhaps they assume that I was somehow “setting the world on fire.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I was average in every way. What made high school so special was that after four years of being tortured in grammar school (I’ll spare you the details) I finally found myself accepted by a wonderful group of friends. And this would never have happened if not for one life-changing event.
I was frankly terrified to begin my freshman year of high school. If I had suffered at the hands of my Catholic School companions, I imagined that I would be irresistible bait for those scary public school kids. Sure, all my friends in the neighborhood went to public school and frankly I wished I could have as well. But only one of them was in my grade. I knew that some of the “tough” girls a few blocks away would be my high school classmates. And I knew that I could never stand up to them.
I remember getting through the first few days of classes, the half-days, okay. Meaning that nothing horrible had happened. But I certainly hadn’t really spoken more than a few words to anyone except my familiar grammar school friends (all three of them). And then on the first full day of classes my worst fears were realized. A trio of girls confronted me in the hallway and one of them accused me of flirting with her boyfriend.
I racked my brain trying to think of how this girl knew me, and who her boyfriend could possibly be. The words “set-up” never entered my brain. Truth be told I was a flirt, for sure. But never a man-stealer. As the girls continued to stare me down and move closer, I thought my knees would buckle. I eyed the exit door behind me, planning a possible escape and not caring if I set off the fire alarm. Suddenly another girl that was standing behind the group stepped forward.
“Mary Ann is my friend,” she announced. “And if you want to mess with her, you’re going to have to deal with me.”
I was shocked and so relieved I could have cried. I recognized the girl, and knew her name was Diane, bot other details were lost on my fog of anxiety. The group of girls dispersed, angry and disappointed. And suddenly I knew who Diane was. She was my hero.
Empowered by Diane’s support, I reached out to other students and became friends with a terrific group. Diane and I remained friends throughout high school, and my heart swelled with pride when she became the first female police officer in our home town. I was thrilled to know that I might have been one of the first people to benefit from Diane’s caring and protection — but I certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Diane and I reconnected recently on Facebook, and then through this blog. As it turns out, Diane’s mom lives with her in a similar situation. Diane’s supportive comments and appreciation for my work reminded me of why she is such a special person.
I recently attended my 40-year high school reunion. For some this is a stressful experience, but I knew that for me it wouldn’t be. I was blessed with a terrific graduating class, good friends, and people who always had my back — like Diane, who had started it all.
The first person I saw was Kevin, with whom I had gone through grammar school. We embraced warmly — as all of the St. Francis graduates tend to do at the high school reunions — like the survivors that we are. And then, suddenly, there was Diane.
“You are my hero,” she announced. I was shocked, since I had always thought of her in that way. I knew that Diane’s thinking of me as a hero was certainly due to the blog. But had I ever told her that she was MY hero? I tried to recall, but came up blank.
The reunion was a blur, with all of us dancing and talking and trying to fit in 40 years of memories in about a three hour time span. But it was fun, and friendly, and fabulous. “It felt like no time had passed” was a frequent follow-up comment.
With all of the conversation taking place that night, I never managed to remind Diane of what she had done for me. She had changed the course of my life with her actions; and when in the course of my work for the schools I attend anti-bullying talks and presenters speak about “standing up” for someone else, I always think of Diane.
As we were walking out of the reunion, Diane had another surprise for me. Not only does she read my blog, she reads every entry to her kids.
People sometimes tell me that my blog posts bring tears to their eyes. I get that. I become emotional as well, when writing them. But honestly, I have never felt so emotional about a post as I have about this one.
I really needed Diane to know this. And now her kids will know as well.