The People Who Matter by Tamara Mataya

Teen girl holding a card that says no bullying

I could tell you about the time they poured pencil shavings—and staples—into my hair and rubbed it into my scalp.

I could list for you the names they called me. The ones no one but me remembers, and the ones that stuck.

I could tell you about the time I got stabbed with a pencil.

But I’d rather tell you about my best friend.

We didn’t start out that way. I was never someone you’d be proud to walk down the hallways with in case the brashness of my presence tainted the way others saw you. Others more popular. Outside of school was a different story. You’d be more than happy to be my friend until the “cool kids” let you into their ranks, then you stopped being my private friend as well.

I was the girl who said what she wanted, wore clothes she thought were awesome even if no one else did, listened to “the wrong” music instead of what everyone else worshipped. She had funny hair and awful teeth and didn’t suck up to anyone. In a landscape where those politics are everything, she was never going to win.

Time went by. Friends left me. I remembered the silly shit that you’d loved before you became too cool to laugh at it anymore. I remembered the panic on your face when your little sister had to be rushed to the hospital with a high fever during one of our sleepovers and you cried and thanked me for being there. I remembered those things years later when our friendship was only a memory—maybe an embarrassing one to you, as your stares went right through me like I was invisible.

But you didn’t forget me completely because without an audition, you argued for me to sing the solo in the drama production because you remembered I could sing—I could really sing. You, and a small chorus of other girls like you who’d once been my friends all swayed the vote and I got the solo.

But back to my best friend.

We never started out as friends. I wasn’t the one she wanted, but I was the one who was there. She’d lied about not having a birthday party once and I called to wish her a happy birthday—and heard the party in the background. Maybe if I wasn’t already familiar with secret friendships and the way I could embarrass people, it would have made me act differently. Cutting me up behind my back and then being my best friend when we were alone was a pattern I knew and wore. It hurt, but I didn’t stop being her friend.

Time went on. Other friends came and went. But she stayed and one day she looked at me and said, ‘You know, you were never afraid to be yourself. And all those things that people used to give you shit for, that I used to give you shit for, those are the things that make you the coolest person I know.’

When I self-harmed for the first time in high school and showed her my wrist, she kissed my scabs.

When her dad passed away, I slept in her bed when she didn’t want to be alone.

She defended people like me at work when others said unkind things, thinking about me when she did it, regretting the times she’d stayed silent or joined in any ridicule.

Now, 21 years later, we’re still best friends.

I’m still the brashy, direct, odd girl who says what she thinks and wears things she thinks are cool without paying attention to trends. I can still sing like a motherfucker.

Not everyone is going to like you. Some may pretend to. But the thing I learned is that the people who matter—the people YOU will want to be around? They will like you for who you truly are. (Even if it takes them a while to sort through their own shit.)

Keep being yourself. No matter who you are, some people will try to cut you up. You might as well be whoever the hell you want to be while they’re doing it. I sewed ribbons of myself back together—not pieces of a person I was trying to impersonate, and I think that’s what got me through it.

It does get better. You will get through it.

Get through it as yourself. Don’t be someone you’re not to impress people who will only be your friend if you morph into a different person on their terms. Maybe they’ll like you—but you won’t.

And in the end, that is all that truly matters.

 

Tamara Mataya

Tamara Mataya

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Tamara Mataya is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a librarian, and a musician with synesthesia. Armed with a name tag and a thin veneer of credibility, she takes great delight in recommending books and shushing people. She puts the ‘she’ in TWSS and the B in LGBTQIA+. She’s the co-creator of Pitchmas, a bi-annual pitch contest for writers, and as a freelance editor, has worked with NYT Bestselling authors.

 

To find out more about bullying and to learn the warning signs of bullying, go to http://childsafetyblog.org/.

“8 steps to combat the bullying epidemic” by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/8-steps-combat-bullying-epidemic-ann-marie-gardinier-halstead

“Is it Rude, Is it Mean, or Is it Bullying?”: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/201211/is-it-rude-is-it-mean-or-is-it-bullying

4 comments to The People Who Matter by Tamara Mataya

  • Nina

    Beautifully written. I love the points of “keep being yourself” and to not “morph into a different person” just to please others.

  • Evelyn Lindell Lauterbach

    Thank you, Tamara!

    Your story moved me. Thank you for being strong enough to survive and brave enough to share. I wish children and young adults didn’t need to be so brave… I wish kindness and empathy were nurtured in all children… but we know that’s not the case. Your words will remind youth they’re not alone and remind parents they have a responsibility to raise thoughtful, compassionate individuals.

    For the record, I think you’re amazing.

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