Open Letter to My High School Class. Especially Paula.

Donna Trussell, then and now.

In my four decades since graduating, I have avoided high school reunions. But this year we’re coming up on the 40th anniversary, and you know how everyone likes round numbers. And, unlike ten years ago, we now have facebook.

Just a month ago, my maiden name was nowhere to be found on the Internet. I didn’t want to be found by people who knew me during that painful time in my life.

My father was an engineer, and he made an excellent living. Despite that, we lived in a run-down Dallas neighborhood. But the district lines of Bryan Adams High School were so expansive — graduating class of 1,116 — that I was in the same school as kids from affluent, professional families.

If my only obstacle had been poverty, I might have been fine. But over the years, my father (who died in 2000) descended into mental illness. The things he did to our family were not just cruel, but criminal.

This was long before the days of 1-800 phone numbers to help endangered kids. I did not cope well. Imagine a teenage girl with Asperger syndrome and a mean streak (I was taught by masters, after all) and you’ll get a sense of why I faced so much rejection in high school.

To make matters worse, my 7th-grade teacher enrolled me in the honors program. For the next five years, I shared classes with the same small group of bright, highly functional students from successful, conscientious families.

Except for one class. I took civics with the normal kids. You know, the class taught by a coach who’s easy prey for students trying to distract him and get him to ramble on anything but civics.

I loved that class. Students wore cheap, sloppy clothes. No one put on airs. Boys flirted with me. What a thrill, at last, to “belong.”

I should have taken the hint and spent the remainder of my high school days outside of honors and certainly outside of extracurricular activities like the drill team. But I was a fool.

The upside of the path I chose was an exceptional education I’d rank with that of any private school today. The down side was my square-peg-round hole grind, five days a week, for five years. And weekends and summers in my little room in my scary home.

So it was with some trepidation that I attempted to join in the fun with a new facebook group founded by a former classmate. He’s one of those rare creatures who was nice-looking, popular and smart, but also kind enough to give me the time of day, then and now.

The group was brand new. My yearbooks long ago ditched, I looked around online for relics from our Dallas past. One treasure: The old Buckner Drive-In with the strange clown on the front.

As a professional writer, I strive to come up with a lively headlines. Above the picture of Buckner Drive-In, I posted: “Who lost his/her virginity here? Might as well fess up. The clown knows.”

I was joking, but a classmate named Paula was not pleased. She posted:

Obviously you lost YOUR virginity at the Buckner Drive-in Donna, or you wouldn’t be looking for SO many companions who did. I find this offensive and unnecessary to the content of this website.

Oh, the irony. “I wished!” I privately commented to a friend. “It wasn’t from lack of trying.” In high school, any kind of life, even that of a runaway slut, looked better than going back to my house every night.

But I was a religious girl in high school. And in any event, no one wanted me.

I replied to Paula: No offense intended (but fyi you’re incorrect). If you’re not enjoying the comments, feel free to unsubscribe. You can start your own group, you know.

Paula did not back down.

Oh geez Donna….didn’t know you were the “Goddess” of this website. I meant no harm, it appears from a psychological point of view (which I have a degree), you were pushing for information from others. I have no desire to participate, unsubscribe, or start another “group” . I never liked you, Donna, in HS so 40 years later I see no point. Enjoy your CONTROL here, you obviously need it. CHEERS! Have fun with your “groupies.”

Whoa, nellie!

A few classmates came to my defense. I attempted to stand my ground without adding to the bile just dumped on this heretofore friendly, easygoing facebook gathering.

In reply, I posted that high school was not a happy time for me, and I don’t blame people for disliking who I was. To quote the songwriter Lloyd Cole: She drove her mother’s car / to get away from me / heaven knows that I / I can sympathize / oh I can sympathize.

But, I continued in my reply, 40 years have passed, and I’m not the same person. I like my life now. And I thought maybe the people who knew me at my worst would cut me some slack. I told Paula I did not remember her, but if I was unkind to her, I am sorry.

I haven’t seen her online since, and her two posts to me have disappeared. One classmate commented: Looks like Paula has taken her vitriol and gone home.

I was touched by the classmates who stuck up for me, but I was surprised at how much Paula’s comments stung. I guess you never really get out of high school. But I’m going to try.

I was religious back in the day. I am religious no longer, but I still admire the pacifist traditions of Buddhism and Judeo-Christian religions. If I do attend my high school’s 40th reunion, and Paula is there, I will extend my hand and say, “Bury the hatchet?” Just as she could not know of my hellish existence at home years ago, I have no idea what she has endured that would make her say such harsh things today.

As a middle-aged woman, she’s unlikely to throw a punch. She’ll probably just turn her back, and I’ll say my own secular version of a prayer for her, just as I wish she’d once prayed for me.

In fact, everyone might turn their backs. For all I know, I’ll be greeted with one big flash mob “freeze,” where everyone looks away, and pretends I’m not there. (Kind of like high school.) No doubt I’ll cry a few tears. But, unlike high school, waiting for me at home will be a good husband and good friends.

I also have memories of a grandmother who did everything humanly possible to counteract the transgressions of my father. And — before high school, before the bad times began — my free-range childhood, full of adventures.

And I’ll have life. As an ovarian cancer survivor, I honestly didn’t think I would make it this far. Every day I wake up to the sight of the “wonderful world” immortalized by Louis Armstrong.

When you’ve seen so many lovely people die prematurely (and most cancer survivors have) you don’t take the world for granted. Case in point: The Silent Killer Takes Out a Woman Who Would Not Shut Up.

To paraphrase the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, why dwell on those who have hurt you when below you is the river that welcomes you, and above you the sky, which has never betrayed you?

Even if someday I lose my house, my husband, my career, (and what’s left of my health), I’ll still have the sky. I’ll take it.

[originally published by Politics Daily in 2011]


About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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2 Responses to Open Letter to My High School Class. Especially Paula.

  1. Susan Hardesty says:

    Dear Donna,
    Thanks so much for your letter. I am also a BA grad, and those were difficult times for me too, I never knew then that my life would get so much better…. I am so sorry for the ways you were treated at home, at school, and on facebook. (let me apologize for her!) So glad to hear your life is so good now, “a good life is the best revenge!”
    Blessings, Susan

  2. Sue says:

    This is another wonderful reminder to me of a recurring thought I’ve been having: we’re all unique, have our own issues, situations, etc., but there are also so many things that we have in common. We feel hurt by other’s unkind words. Your response to that hurt is what makes you unique, and in my opinion (which seems to be shared by Susan who commented ealrier), is the best response. You see those hurtful words for what they are; a reflection of where that women’s own pain lives. And you see how much love you have in your own life now. I’m deeply touched by your story and thank you for sharing it.

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