I Just Thought You Should Know.


“I don’t know if you know this, but everyone is laughing at you behind your back,” she said gathering her books to leave. “I just thought you should know.”

I stood frozen at my desk and watched her disappear through the door. I hadn’t known everyone was laughing at me behind my back.

The classroom was emptying, and I didn’t know what to do. At the front of the room, the teacher cleared his throat. I grabbed my books and rushed out into the bustling hallway. The warning bell rang as I hurried through the sea of laughing students while clutching my books to my chest. Fighting the lump that was rising in my throat, I burst into my next class and slid into my seat dropping my head in my hands.

Everyone is laughing at you behind your back.

The words on the cover of my textbook blurred, and I blinked furiously to clear the tears that were burning my eyes. Suddenly, I knew why everyone was laughing behind my back: I was fat, I was ugly, I didn’t wear the right clothes, I didn’t say the right things, I didn’t do what everyone else did…

I was different.

That statement from one mean girl in junior high helped launch 20 years of insecurity. I was dogged by eating disorders, self-doubt, and constantly looking over my shoulder to see who was laughing at me behind my back. And, I searched for validation and self-affirmation in the wrong places.

I can’t remember who the mean girl was who “just thought I should know.” Her face has become a blur in my memory along with what I said in response. I’d like to think it was something clever and witty, but I know myself well enough to suspect that I just stood there staring in surprise while she stacked her books to leave and smiled at her friends.

I just thought you should know.

Thinking back on it now, I like to believe this was just one of those mean-spirited things girls do because of their own insecurities and that no one was really laughing at me. But, I’ll never know for sure. Maybe that faceless girl is a grown woman now and thinks about the “helpful” advice that she once offered a kid in junior high. Maybe she even feels bad about it. Does she remember my face? Did her comment give her 13-year-old self the satisfaction she was looking for?

Everyone is laughing at you behind your back.

For me, that memory marks the end of my childhood. Until that moment, I had no reason to be self-conscious or to doubt myself; it had never dawned on me how nasty and ugly people could be. That faceless girl in junior high was able to destroy my innocence with one comment: She introduced me to the meanness of the world. That realization makes me incredibly sad because everyone will have an introduction to what adults like to call “the real world.” Some will be painful, some will be mild, and some may pass by unnoticed, but it will happen because that’s what ultimately forces us grow up. Thinking of the fresh-faced youngsters that I know losing their wide-eyed innocence breaks my heart…

I’m a grown woman now who managed to survive the emotional trauma of those miserable teenage years. Mine came with a lot of scars, but I consider myself stronger because of them. Despite all of the years that have passed, I can still hear that 13-year-old girl whispering in my ear that everyone is laughing at me behind my back. My secret fear is that she’s right. But, the difference is, these days I tell her to shut the f*ck up, and I don’t let her hold me back.

I just thought she should know.

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By Heidi Van Heel
Heidi Van Heel

Heidi Van Heel

Writer, freelancer, and believer in magic living in Minneapolis. In my free time, I love reading, exploring the great outdoors, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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