My mother always taught me to keep my promises. And the first day I met you, I promised myself five times over that I wouldn't like you, wouldn't let you get close to me.
It wasn't a game. I meant it.
But you were nice to me, you always smiled and I was ten and so lonely that I needed it, even if it was once a week, even if it was only an hour.
I was ten, you were ten. We were both friendless, both sad, both victims of cruel acquaintances and crueler "friends".
You talked non-stop and I was too scared to breathe. You would laugh often. I had forgotten laugher, but you said I had a pretty smile. I would have another set of braces before considering the notion, but by saying it you could usually goad me into smiling again.
You taught me that I was beautiful. I still hate myself for believing you.
We didn't go to the same middle school. And I grew into a twelve-year-old, a thirteen-year-old on the same diet as once a week for an hour and a couple times per summer.
We were good friends, and we had two mutual friends who we saw just as often as we saw each other. They went to my middle school. You didn't, but you did apply to go to high school with us.
Do you remember how excited I was when you got in, how thrilled I was to show you around that first day?
I now wish that you didn't. Maybe, if we had left things how they were, things could have stayed how they were. But we starting sharing too much. Or maybe we were sharing too little. You started devoting more and more time to our now-expanded circle mutual friends, and less and less to me until they became your friends, not our friends. Your lunch table, not our lunch table.
I was too blind to realize how isolated I had become, didn't realize it until you made me know it. Until you used a mutual friend to rob me of my self-esteem, until you used your text messages to slowly chip of all the self-respect I had amassed. Until you made me hate myself as much as you suddenly hated me for reasons you never could explain to me.
You taught me that I was beautiful, and you taught me that I was ugly.
They'd blame it on me in the end, school administration. The principle and your parents and even our once-mutual friends. It was my fault for being weird, for having synesthesia, for being sad about my great-grandmother's stroke, for having migraines. My crimes were endless, yet never anything that anyone could agree on.
Eventually you'd send that message, and it would be shown off to enough people that finally one, would take my side. And while the rest refused to believe me, while the principle told me to stop talking to my one remaining friend because I'd "damage" her, our counselor finally used the word for what was going on. Bullying.
The next time I saw you, I stamped that word into your skin with my eyes. Bully.
But I lacked the desire to reciprocate my hurt upon you, to stoop to your level, and so I made myself and unbroken promise, that the minute you apologized, told me that you were sorry for what you had done, I'd take it off. I'd forget this, or at least forgive you enough that I could believe that I had.
But you didn't, never did. I guess you didn't think that you needed to, that you could count on me to be my strange, silent little self and accept it.
But I didn't, never did.
And so today, today over two-and-a-half years later, you stand in front of our class and give a presentation on the damaging effects of bullying. You stand and look somewhat hurt, vulnerable even, like you might cry at the memory of how damaged and hurt you've been. You.
And I'm in the front row, my fist jammed into my cheek as I struggle not to laugh or cry, I don't know which. I don't want to hate you. I don't want to be angry. But I don't want to be hurt, to be sad, to be banned from closure.
So I just stare past you, right above your shoulder onto the presentation screen and trace the word Bully with my stinging eyes.