Because why does everything have to start at one? Twelve is a good, under appreciated number, so this story shall start there. Twelve is the number of the clock, the number of zodiac symbols, and of course we can’t forget about the twelve days of Christmas. I mean… it’s a bit strange if you think about it, how often we see that number is. If anything we should be suspicious of it, rather than thirteen which gets all the blame. Thirteen is the odd one out, the one that just doesn’t quite fit in the perfect set of twelve. Twelve completed a set; thirteen testifies that. It try’s to break the rules and stand out. And for that we hate it, disown it, we even grow to fear it. Because that’s what our society does with things we can’t quite understand… we throw them out. We beat them and hurt them. We say we do it for protection, but in reality we fear the unknown more than anything else.
And that’s where I fit it. I simply… don’t. I am number thirteen. I am the one who just barely doesn’t make it, the one who is always sticking out and causing a ruckus, without any intention of doing so. So why, you maybe wondering, would I not just title this chapter thirteen then? Simple. Because I was twelve when it all started. Not thirteen. Thirteen year old me had to deal with the monster twelve made. If anything, thirteen saved me.
When I turned twelve it was the beginning of second semester, my first year in middle school. So far there was no drama, as everyone was still figuring out the ropes of a new school. But by my birthday, everyone had fully settled, and the fun was only getting started up.
We were best friends, her and I. Inseparable. The teachers had stopped trying to separate us months ago, and the kids knew not to get in our path. We have the BFFL thing figured out, and nothing could stop us. We had a notebook full of notes we passed in every class. We had plenty of drama, but that kept things interesting. Best friends, more like sisters. We were glued to each other, right up to the end.
Things started to get rocky right around the start of summer, but dumb 6th graders don’t know how to read the quite obvious signs. I didn’t know it was going to be our last good night together. If I did, I probably would have tried to appreciated it more. Her birthday party, a summer pool party in fact. Everyone who was anyone went, but she only really cared about me and I only really cared about her. Then, in a blink, summer was over and 7th grade started. I still haven’t figured out what happened to her but something inside her changed. Suddenly she decided makeup and hair was more important than her family. A fake personality was more important than a small group of friends. And being number one… being the most popular, most talked about girl in the school was suddenly more important than me.
I tried to talk to her, to mend what little friendship we had left, but she shooed me off like all her other royal subjects. She didn’t like hanging with someone who didn’t wear makeup and whose clothes didn’t match. Someone who was better at reading books than guys. And being associated with me definitely wasn’t going to get her any action.
So we had a fallout. Clearly, the details aren’t important, or I would have remembered them. Before I knew it, best friend turned into stranger, which snowballed right into worst enemy. Just like the good ole days, we were always together. We didn’t leave each other alone. We were the talk of the school, and the highlight of each other’s day. Only, more like low-light. Rumors flew between us and then the school, and we both turned into **** versions of ourselves. We were snakes, attacking each other at any given chance. Her attacks were more direct and loud, usually insults about my attempts at makeup, or how I should be skinnier. How could she call me her stick if I looked more like a leaf? On the other hand, my attacks were passive aggressive and well thought out. I knew my prey’s weakness, her love for herself, but also her deep hatred for herself. I kept all her hate notes and death threats. I caught her in her own trap many times. I made sure that every time we passed each other in the halls, it was always right under a camera.
And so the school got involved. It would be nice to think they tried, but in the end it was always my fault. Somehow the bully was never at blame or in trouble. Somehow I spent a whole year eating lunch tucked away at a desk behind the counselors office. Somehow I got death glares, and when I walked down the halls the only thing I heard were whispers of my name. Somehow she turned the whole school against me.
My science teachers were my only friends. Maybe that’s why I like science so much. They saw her for who she was, and then didn’t blame a single thing on me. I always stayed after school to be part of a science club, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It was my favorite place to be, and no matter how bad my day was I knew science with my favorite teachers at the end of the day would make up for it.
That’s how I could tell it was getting out of hand. When one day, I left in the middle of my class, I ran past the front office, forced open the doors, and ran home. No one stopped me. The teachers knew what was up. For any other kid to run out of the middle of class crying and never come back… well that wouldn’t fly very well. But I was more than obligated. My math teacher practically opened the door for me on my way out. I cried the whole way home. I cried for myself. I cried for her. I cried for my parents who would have to deal with another bad day, again. But I mostly cried for science, because it was the first day I was missing. That’s when my eyes fully opened, that’s how bad it was. I was missing something I swore I would never miss.
For another year I dealt with the same torture, day after day, month after month. Very quickly it was close to impossible to get me to school, and if I did go I always started the day with puffy red eyes and zero confidence. I learned very fast how to hate myself, and where all my flaws where. I was reminded every day by every human I came in contact with. The counselors offered no help, unless we are referring to teaching me how to blame myself for everything that happened. My self-worth, my confidence, my voice, all of it was gone. My flame was blown out. I was nothing. I was just another name on a roster, but somehow still the talk of the school. For a year they continued to beat me down to nothing, until finally the principle practically begged me to move schools. It was almost winter break of my 8th grade year. One more semester till high school. And he was telling me to move. For one more semester. He knew he couldn’t fix this, and he knew I couldn’t deal with it much longer. He knew I was on the edge of breaking, falling into a pit I could never climb out of. He knew I had to get out of there.
So I did. I moved. I went to a different middle school for my last semester, and I learned more than I had the past three years. This school actually had good teachers…. but they didn’t have my science teachers. I was torn away from my love for that club, but I couldn’t have stayed. At the new school I met new people, people who I thought would be my friends forever. I was finally part of a good friend group, a group who cared more fictional universes than their own. I thought the days of betrayal and hurt were over. I was ready to start over, and grow some roots. I was ready to learn to start accepting, and if not accepting than at least tolerating myself.
Turns out I was misled. Accepting myself was a hard lesson to learn, and I’m not quite sure if I ever even fully learned to tolerate myself.