Earlier this week, I turned on my phone to see a barage of little red bubbles sitting atop the Facebook logo.
A college friend liked my baby pictures. An uncle sent me yet another political meme. Someone posted a cat video.
And Jessica Johnson — holy crap, what?! — sent me a friend request.
My hands got clammy. Apparently, at 32 years old, I’m still not immune to the ancient anxieties that came bubbling up in my stomach at the sight of a high school mean girl. Dadgummit, even after years of therapy, all it takes is one push notification to send me spiraling.
I was back in the lunchroom, trying to find the seat farthest away from the girls who made my life a living hell.
And there she was: Jessica. Freaking. Johnson.
She hadn’t aged a bit. Her profile picture could have been ripped straight from our senior yearbook, save for the precious curly-headed toddler clinging to her legs.
I clicked through to her profile.
Let’s see what this chick has been up to for the past 15 years.
Looks like Jessica graduated from nursing school and married her college sweet heart. She has a lovely family now, and by the looks of her pictures, it appears she really enjoys her work as an everyday hero in the pediatric oncology unit.
The gods have continued to smile upon Jessica Freaking Johnson.
My finger hovered over the word “reject” for a minute. What a dose of justice it would be to reject this girl, who for four years of my life, literally rejected me. Not that a deleted friend request would balance the scales of four years of torture, but you get the point.
This was my big chance. Social retribution was mine!
But I hesitated.
Don’t get me wrong, the petty runs strong in my DNA. I get giddy at the vision of a hot pile of karma being served up to my very own Regina George.
But looking at this picture of a wife, nurse, and mama of a happy little boy…
I was taken back to a night in college, when my nemesis, a Jessica Johnson 2.0 (let’s call her Jenny), was crying on the back porch at a frat party. And since I have a bleeding heart and terrible judgement, I sat beside her for a chat.
Jenny was my polar opposite in every way. I brought a guitar to parties, she brought a beer funnel. Flip-flops vs. high heels. You get the point. And man, she was nasty-mean. Jenny could stand in a corner, give you the once-over, and you’d instantly know how little and insignificant you were. No matter who competed with Jenny, they lost. But that didn’t stop me from trying when I found myself in her crosshairs.
Ultimately, she proved her point by having a fling in the back of a Toyota SUV — with my boyfriend.
So you can imagine how I felt about Mean Girl Jenny.
But as we sat down together that night, gazing out at a landscape of burning couch cushions and crunched Nat Light cans, Jenny told me a story. A story about a little girl who was abused by her mother’s boyfriend, wound up in foster care, and never really knew the love of a caring, decent parent. A story about a little girl who spent her formative years lonely and scared, lashing out at any person foolish enough to get in her way.
Jenny was angry, bitter, and hurt. She acknowledged that she was — in her words, not mine — a “bitch.” Being mean made her feel strong, less vulnerable. Truth was, she never hated me at all. I was just collateral damage in her rage against the world. She was sorry. She was sorry. She was sorry.
She was drunk, for sure, but she was also sorry.
I didn’t walk away that night with a new friend. Not even close. But I did walk away, for the first time in my life, feeling sorry for the mean girls.
I had learned an important life lesson — one that I almost forgot this week when a surprising friend request came through my notifications.
I had learned that while everyone in this world has hurt, some react to it differently. Mean girls? They aren’t made of steel. They hurt too.
Being mean isn’t a weapon in the Mean Girl arsenal. Meanness is their armor.
I have to imagine that Jessica Freaking Johnson has her own story. Some reasons for the disaster that was high school.
And anyway, I am married now. A wife and mother with a home full of laughter and noise for which I am very grateful. The truth is, I don’t have space in my heart for hate or bitterness. I don’t have energy to burn being angry at the ghosts of mean girls past.
Which is why, when a high school mean girl sent me a friend request this week, I smiled. Sure, I could have ignored it. The world would have kept on spinning. It’s likely she wouldn’t even notice.
But instead, I sent a virtual hug. A tiny nod of forgiveness.
I pressed the button that instantly sent a mean girl where she belonged.
You and Jessica Johnson are now friends.
And man did it feel good.