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July 2 was our 35th anniversary. We decided to celebrate by going for a swim before eating supper at a restaurant. I'd finished my swim and shower and was beginning to dress in the women's dressing area at the pool when I heard you coming.
I turned to the corner to be as modest as possible, but even so, you screamed, and exclaimed about the ugliness of my body as you ran from the dressing room. I continued to hurry, hoping I would be alone until I finished, but you came back. I heard you talking. I thought you were talking to each other at first, perhaps teasing each other. "Come on, flash us! Show us some skin!" Then I realized you were talking to me.
I was surprised. I wondered if this could really be happening. I did not look at you.
You kept on until I finished, making fun of my older woman's body, making fun of the way I look, daring me to turn around. You were foul, and rude, and abusive. When I was done, I reached for my bag and you ran out without being seen.
As I left the office area I could hear your voices, laughing and talking about me. I held my head high, looked straight at you and smiled.
It wasn't a friendly smile. It was defiant, angry, and in your face. I wanted to dare you to say those things in front of a crowd to a strong independent woman. Would it be as easy as saying them in the dressing room to a woman who was alone and undressed?
I'm not proud of that smile. Maybe you are not proud of your words.
My husband suggested reporting you. I said no. They are kids. Any one of them alone would never have said those things. They did it because they were in a group and needed to impress their friends.
I remember being your age and seeing an older woman in a swimming pool dressing room, so I understand your reactions. I was surprised at what time can do to a body. Some part of me wanted her to hide herself from the rest of us so we would not be confronted with that reality. Now I am that woman.
I dislike large open dressing areas. I had been glad the room was empty, and tried to stay as modest as possible. I didn't want to use a bathroom stall because there is no clean dry place to lay my clothes.
* * * * *
I work with kids. I have seen kids I love bully each other. What I know about them is they are good kids. I know when they make cutting comments, on some level they don't realize they are hurting another person. I've heard them say it is OK because it made other kids laugh. I know these same kids would be very ready to stand up for someone who is being bullied, if they could only recognize it.
So this is what I believe about you. I believe each of you is a good person, and what happened Monday was not part of your best self. I believe if we met under other circumstances, we would like each other. I believe someday you will remember this night and feel embarrassed, and wish you could take it back.
I don't go to the pool very often, so I don't know if I will see you again. If I did, I don't know if I would recognize you...there are too many emotions wrapped up in my memory of the evening. However, if you saw me at the pool, and came up and talked to me, I think I'd enjoy meeting you. I'd want to know about your school, your favorite classes, the things that are important to you. I think you might even like me, since other young women your age are good friends of mine.
I think the hardest part of what happened was believing there was nothing I could do then to change the interaction positively. When you were in your group, my saying anything would have made it important for you to save face in front of your friends. I couldn't know who you really were. You couldn't know me.
Now, the next day, I wish I would have looked at you, made eye contact, let you see my humanity. I'm not glad to have let you control the interaction.
I'm also not glad to have given you that angry smile. I don't want that reaction to define me any more than the bullying should define you. When I smile, I want it to be genuine and to offer friendship. I apologize.
This morning, these are my hopes.
I hope this event is a one time thing that changes you to be more fully the strong and loving women you want to be.
I hope I can help young people I know to understand bullying, so when they are in a group, they can be strong enough to walk away, or even stop the activity.
I hope I can learn to be my best self even when I'm feeling vulnerable and hurt.
I hope when you are old and your body sags, you will somehow still feel beautiful, as I do.