As I entered the halls of my new high school for the first time as a 12-year-old freshman, I dreamed of what would unfold in the years to come. My parents had both talked about their own high school glory days and what wonderful memories they still held. I was ready and optimistic with open arms to experience all of these wonderful things myself. However, it seemed as though someone else had a different idea for how my high school years would pan out; painfully.
At first, my attempt at fitting in seemed to progress well. I made friends and felt part of a clique. However, this was short-lived, as my awkward sense of humor, braces and face full of acne made me less and less desirable as a "cliquemate." The tables turned quickly as I went from a friend to a target. For the next three years, school became not the place of hope and laughter I had hoped it to be, but a place I dreaded daily. I would fake sick or skip class, all to avoid showing my face. My previous friend, now turned high school bully, seemed to have made it her mission to make my life as painful as possible. I could take the shoves in the hallway or swift kicks attempting to trip me as I walked by, but it was the notes in my locker, such as those asking me to spare the world and go kill myself and the posts online spreading horrible rumors, that truly broke me down.
After high school ended, I celebrated and thought I'd never look back; but the pain stayed with me and the need for retribution. I had always heard that "the best revenge is living well" and dreamed of bringing Taylor Swift's "Mean" to life, as she sings "someday I'll be living in a big ol' city and all you're ever going to be is mean." In my mind, being better than my high school bully in every way was the only way to finally move on and let go of what she had done to me. I had to be better, or what was the point of enduring all those years of torture? I would often look at my bully's social media, trying to establish whether I was skinnier, prettier, smarter, more educated, richer and better in every way possible. I thought that if I lived well, lived better, that it meant that in the end, I win, and that would be the best revenge.
I continued on this path with my unceasing pursuit of being better than my high school bully, thinking that this idea of living well would alleviate the pain and emotional scars she had left me with. Until one night, while out with friends at a local bar, I ran into my high school bully. After years of simply seeing her posts on social media, here she was, in the flesh. Before I even had a moment to think about what I would say or do, she ran up to me, and threw her arms around me with a hug and a smile, as if we were old friends. She asked me what I was up to, and I took this opportunity to boast about my accomplishments. She gave me a big smile, said "awesome! So nice seeing you!" and left, just like that.
The moment I had been waiting for and built up in my head for years had come and gone in a flash. I dreamed that I would feel the ultimate retribution, pride, and a thousand pound weight off my shoulders, but all I felt was dissatisfaction. I realized when she saw me and talked to me that, while I spent the last several years trying to "beat" her in a game of life, she hadn't given me a second thought. The only person I was in competition with was myself, and with this, in the end, the only person I was hurting was myself.
Through the media, we are often sent the message that the nerds become millionaires, the victims of bullies become big wigs or stars, and the bullies are low-lives who never really do anything with their lives. We are taught that in the end, karma will be distributed evenly and everyone will receive their just reward or punishment. But this often isn't the case. Sometimes we don't get the apology we are deserved, sometimes we don't get the revenge we feel we need to move on, sometimes the bully ends up with a great life. It is up to us to repair our own wounds.
When I first read the quote "the best revenge is living well," I understood it as living better; living better than the person for whom I sought revenge against. Now I know that living well isn't about comparison or being better, it's about being happy. Living well is living happy. Living well is living in the present moment. Living well is living for yourself and not needing to prove your happiness to anyone else. And when you live well this way, revenge becomes entirely unnecessary. The quote should say "the best way to let go is to live well."
I am no longer holding any anger towards my high school bully or seeking redemption. I don't need an apology to be able to forgive and move on. I sent a Christmas card to my high school bully, wishing her well and all the best in her future; this was my own way of saying "I forgive you," whether this means anything to her or not. Now, I'm living well for me and that's all that matters.