By Marisa Bate

You weren’t the first. The first were the girls in Year 4 who threw the contents of my school bag down the loo, and told the others at Friday Club that I was a bastard because my dad wasn’t around. They were more cunning than you,

I suppose. Especially for ten year olds.

No, you came along in secondary school. You were blonde and pretty and all the boys knew you. I didn’t know you. Not until we were wearing the same Miss Selfridge Chinese-style dress at the Year 7 disco. Was that it? Is that what made you torment and humiliate me for the next decade?

Like the girls in Year 4, you set to work behind my back. Sometimes, literally. I’d turn around and there you were, mimicking me, pushing your hair to one side (a nervous habit of mine you’d picked up on). Or when I’d hear Mar-freaka, an impressive reimagining of my name down a corridor from your direction. If you’d been this creative in class, you might have passed a few more GCSEs #justsaying. Sometimes you’d be more sly. A nasty rumour would get back to me and you were always the source. Looking back, spreading rumours is perhaps just what some 14-year-old girls do. But you were still telling boys lies about me when we were 18 and in our local Wetherspoons. You just wouldn’t let up.

And then I left our sleepy town. And flew.

Flew to new adventures, new cities, new countries. I left you far behind. I met kind, warm, genuine people who liked me, and eventually loved me. People I could rely on, who didn’t say things behind my back, who didn’t force me to walk in shadows avoiding places you might be.

And what a revelation it was. I began to realise I deserved good friends. That I didn’t

need to feel humiliated or be surrounded by people who got their kicks from kicking others.

I had a choice. And I choose loving friends.

Yes, your constant poking and pinching, your incessant attempts to trip me up, to exclude me from playground games or parties or pub dates were exhausting. Over the years you wore me down and maybe you’ve made me wary. Perhaps I don’t always trust new female friends. But, at the same time, you’ve also helped me find the best set of friends a person could have. They may not be an army but the ones I’ve chosen are my backbone. Your attempt to pull the rug from under me at every stage of being a teenager has been replaced with rock-solid friendships, holding and helping me upwards into adulthood.

A few weeks ago it was my birthday. As I was walking back from the toilet, I saw my table with 15 of my favourite people. They were all smiling, waiting with prosecco. How bloody lucky I am,’ I thought. I took a second to look and appreciate them, red-faced with booze and nattering away. My heart glowed and not for one second did I think about you.

By Marisa Bate

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