Digging Up Dirt on Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving. The time to visit your family, to give thanks for what you have; your loved ones, your health, your path in life. An opportunity to return to your old room, to dig through your old stuff, to admit that you’re glad to be outta there. And then it’s late at night and the whole house is snoring, except for you. You find yourself wide awake, dusting off a copy of your junior high yearbook, lit only by the glow of the MySpace welcome screen. You type in the first name, hit “Search,” and it begins:

Your middle-school tormentors. Still living in that town you left behind. Wait, are they still living with their parents? Ha! Their top friends – your other tormentors from junior high. You think of all the people you’ve met in your life – on a train in London, at a gig in Rome, on the playa at Burning Man, on a photoshoot in Portland, in class, at a roller derby, on LJ, that time you volunteered – and you wonder, is this tiny slice of the world the only thing they know? Yes, you decide for them. It is. With great delight, you page through photos of their greasy significant others, and their babies, with their stained bibs, who look so heavy. A sense of poetic justice settles on the story you’ve been playing in your head, in which you’re the main character in the universe. Yes – the boy who put garbage on your desk grew up to be a garbage man. You won. They lost. And you all deserve everything that you got. It’s so simple, after all.

After a while, you find that the schadenfreude has an aftertaste, and it’s not something you expected. You begin to feel melancholy, and somehow very alone. Why are you clicking on their pictures, by yourself, in the dark? You try to tell yourself that you only wanted a laugh, but there’s something there. “Does what they did still hurt me, after all these years? Why else would I need to look up their crappy pictures?” What would happen if you suddenly found one of them in a wheelchair? Is it right to laugh when maybe they lacked something you had – say, a nutruring upbringing that made you succeed? And finally, what does this impulse to raise ghosts from the past say about you?

Readers, if you’ve ever engaged in this type of “research,” fess up. What did you find – and how did it make you feel?

76 Responses to “Digging Up Dirt on Thanksgiving Eve”

  1. January Says:

    Ugh, thinking about this always depresses me-
    I’ve never looked up anyone from the Villiage of the Damned that I grew up in, but not too long ago, I heard reports of what some of the jerks I went to school with were doing, and while a lot of them never left town, and are leading very small, simple lives, some of them aren’t.
    One girl in particular stands out- she was always just like the rest of them, very judgemental and mean, etc, but last I heard she and her man were teaching overseas, and travelling constantly.
    I always expected to be able to look back and feel great about the choices I’d made in comparison to the tiny, boring lives I expected my former classmates to lead, but now I often find myself wondering if they could look at my life, and feel superior because what did I do? Grew up and got a job in (ick!) finance.
    Yup, should have been a rock star.
    Oh, and Celine? You’re singin’ my life- third grade move, acne, rich kids, the whole story.
    Solidarity, sister. =)

  2. R. Says:

    I haven’t looked up anyone I went to high school with or college with for that matter. Actually I’ve lost contact with all of my high school friends and enemies because most of us went out of state to college and if we did go local we didn’t go to hang out together, so we grew apart. When I do run into them I just find it strange to see how they’ve matured. Some of them may still live at home, have kids and work a 9 to 5 but they’re living the lives they wanted and I find that comforting.

  3. Z Says:

    Feeling nice about yourself is good, but having too much schadenfreude means that you’re still playing the “small town game”. You may be winning now, but you’re still playing it.

    During college, I began working out, filling out and taking care of myself. When I went back home one summer, all of a sudden all these people who would never give me the time of day in high school started approaching me and talking to me. I was a little stunned, I didn’t even know they knew my name. I went home and thought about it, and how I should react in the future. I decided that instead of being “superior” about it, I would be friendly to them. That means that I’ve taken more shit than I’ve given, but I’ve made peace with that.

    Plus, you never know how your own life will turn out. I mean, you’re cooler than them now, but what about 20 years from now? You don’t want to be the person who was an asshole to them at 28, but at 48 they’re the shit and your life is a dead end.

  4. Nadya Says:

    Guys, I want to thank you again for your incredible comments and stories on this. I read them all, and I wish I could respond individually to each one.

    I think that the comment Z made just above me is very profound. Maybe “The Test of the Small Town” isn’t over when you town physically. And it’s true, you should never assume that everything will just turn out right in the end. You have to keep working at it, improving on yourself and helping the people you love. That’s the most important point, and the reason I posted this on Thanksgiving: to be thankful, and try not to take shit for granted.

  5. jessu Says:

    I actaully had this conversation with my other half on the way to dinner yesterday. We both come from the same small town and got the hell out. Most people we know are still there. Some are doing okay, some not so great. I think it’s crazy that so many of the ones who actually went to college moved back. Even worse, they want to raise kids there- in a school system whose arts & music programs they saw cut when they were the students. I don’t hate them, and we’re still friends, I guess I just question their judgement.

    I admit it, I gloat. IMO, no one from my past is doing better than I am. I travel, I party, I dress like a princess regularly. I own a house in an area I love, and for the most part my social life rocks.

    Maybe I just measure success differently. I don’t want to be a teacher, or a soccer mom, or live near my family or drive an suv. I want to be the center of attention. I think I kick ass at life, and I guess I hope they all feel the same way.

  6. Magess Says:

    I haven’t even looked up the people who used to make my life miserable. I think part of me is afraid to find out that they’re doing better. Maybe they’re even doing fabulously. Because me? I’m not doing that great. Or not as great as I thought I should be with a quality education, talent, and intellect.

    Bad things don’t always happen to bad people. And I don’t want to find out that those bad people are rich, happy, and living well.

    I imagine most of them do not live here, because you have to be really rich to live where we grew up. Unless they all turned out to be investment bankers, it isn’t going to have happened.

    There is wisdom in thinking or knowing that it shouldn’t matter. That other people’s success or failure has nothing to do with me. Believing that is a lifetime of effort, I think. Maybe effort worth making, as we’re raised to believe that keeping up with the Joneses is the point of life.

    That was rambly. But no, I don’t look them up. I try my best not to think about the people who destroyed my ability to believe anything good about myself. I try to believe that I can someday move beyond the need for their approval, as they have moved beyond the need for my degradation. We shall see if that ever works out.

  7. zombiemonk3y Says:

    I live in a huge city, and play the small circles game every day, there’s always someone surfacing, I find it’s safer not to get caught up in thinking about people I would’ve liked to strangle for all those years.

    Move on, move up.

  8. Jami Says:

    I wasn’t really bullied in high school, I had thick skin by that point so I didn’t notice it much. 6th grade was the worst for me though. There was a kid that said some of the most hurtful things I could imagine to me on a regular basis, I was commonly referred to as Medusa by most of the school (ahh, having curly hair is fun!) and all of that. It was a really horrible time in my life.
    In Junior high that boy and I went to the same school, we never had classes with each other so I was overjoyed by that fact. It wasn’t until I was we both got to high school and shared a public speaking class that I really got over any hatred I had for him.
    He gave a speech in class one day talking about when he was in Junior High he nearly died from kidney failure, how he had to have surgery and was terribly sick. He was a totally different person and he did apologize to me shortly after that.

    I do admit that I enjoy looking at the profiles of people I used to know on Myspace, but it’s a hollow joy I get from it. I really don’t understand the people that are overjoyed at the idea of staying in their hometime, having kids in their early twenties, working a completely crap job and sending their kids to the same shitty schools they went to. It boggles my mind.

  9. alumiere Says:

    nadya – in response to the comment:

    As someone who fucked up at the register a lot in my life (hello, RadioShack!) I actually feel really bad for that girl, based on the scene you’re describing. But if she tormented you, she’s totally a bitch and she deserves it. Still – working in retail is actually a hard job. I’d have a harder time there than at my current desk job.

    oh trust me – i agree retail isn’t easy – i’ve done it too and hated it, and i did feel bad for her at the time – no matter how badly she’d screwed up her manager had no right to be yelling at her like that right in the middle of the store

    otoh, since i got to hear the specifics it made some part of me (ashamed of it though i might be) feel like her karma earned her this asshole for a boss

    anyway – thanks for the excellent thoughts and drawing the readers that have made the replies such an interesting read as well

  10. B Says:

    I’ll admit to doing this, way back when. But it wasn’t out of any sort of vengeance or schadenfreude as much as curiosity.

    But what I did find depressed me. A girl I didn’t care for had a baby soon out of highschool, the majority of the people I didn’t like still live in the small depressing town I grew up in, and many of my old uber religious friends have either married or are engaged.

    But some of the people I did enjoy are still in that shitty town, working at Wal-Mart or some other minimum wage gig.

    I don’t know, I had been planning to leave that town ever since I began high school, and I guess I just kind of assumed most of the people I found solidarity with were going to do the same thing. Maybe I’m just projecting how I would feel in their shoes and when they’re actually perfectly content. Who knows?

    But I did meet a few people from my grad class about a year back who had also moved to the “big city” to chase their dreams too, so that was cool.

  11. mayhem Says:

    once I left highschool i discovered none of that crap mattered to me at all. But it does to others, I had a guy who had been one of the popular guys at school come up to me at a party in front of all his mates and say he was sorry for saying the things he said in high school (which to be honest i had forgotten) and that i was a good person and he was just young and dum. I said all good and i accepted his genuine apoplogy. It was about a week or 2 later i found out he killed himself. Although his reasons for suicide where nothing to do with mine and his encounter I still to this day often think about it and hope he knew i had no hard feelings and did forgive him.

  12. Warren Ellis Says:

    It is much easier to simply presume everyone you knew is dead and move on accordingly.

    After all, sooner or later, you’ll be right.

  13. Jackie Says:

    A girl who was mean to me in high school, one night watching TV I could have sworn I saw her in one of those Girls Gone Wild videos. She didn’t look happy though, more like she was nervous and feeling used. I thought then, even she doesn’t deserve to be used by those scumbags.

  14. David Forbes Says:

    This piece has stayed on my mind, and as a bit of a postscript, I’d like to add the following thoughts.

    Small towns get a lot of shit (so do big cities). I left the place where I grew up not because I hated it as a whole but because it wasn’t where I was meant to be after a certain point. But there are a lot of really good people that live there. It would be a poorer world if every interesting local adult I knew growing up had moved elsewhere when they hit 18. Some of those people ended up being really important influences in my life. I still cringe (or bristle) a little whenever I hear someone assume automatically that people who don’t come from a large city must be narrow-minded and uneducated.

    One last thing. I found out recently that one of my friends in high school, a person much smarter than I in terms of sheer IQ, was still in the same place. At first this made my sad, as it did to find out some of my friends had just spiraled down.

    While brilliant though, he’d also been kind of an arrogant heel. I figured he’d be some sort of high-powered attorney or investment analyst by now. Instead his mother got extremely ill and he stayed behind to take care of her and help pay the bills.

    He eventually became a volunteer fire fighter and an EMT. He is, by all accounts, pretty happy: a good father and a much more humble, giving person than his younger self. Better? Worse? I don’t know. I don’t think I ever will.

  15. rickie Says:

    i find myself in a bad mood, made worse by thinking about how lame it was of me to look them up in the first place.

  16. Jamie Says:

    I was never “tormented” or teased beyond the occasional and astute comment that it wasn’t Halloween. =P But one girl I went to school with, a real ditz, now has her own porn website. That kind of makes me sad, but it’s also kind of hilarious. I guess I feel a little bad for her, but she seems happy enough with it, so who am I to judge? (It ain’t Pornoween?)

  17. Heather Says:

    Middle school had to be the worst period of my life, worsened by not having any private place of my own. Before I moved into my current apartment, I was living with my mother and grandmother; my mother and I shared a room (which is a nightmare in itself). For three years I came home four out of five school days crying to the point of developing migraines, begging to be put in home school. Everything about me that could be pointed out and used against me was; same shoes worn every day in 1998, tallest girl in the class (my reign still continues at 6’2″), freckles, crazy mother, pants too short.

    It took me way too long to get over the harassment, and I’ve gotten to a healthy point of indifference. I still live in the same neighborhood, and see some of the same people. I know that most of them became “addicted” to pot in eighth grade, dropped out of ninth, and proceeded to knock each other up until prom-night babies came out of their ears.

    My inner 10-year-old is still a bit pissed at the jackasses who poured food on her notebooks and laughed at her when she talked with the only openly lesbian girl in school. But I sat her down, gave her a spine, and reminded myself that everybody’s middle school experience sucks. Besides, if they happen to come up to me today and remain the selfish little fucks that they were, I can handle it far better. For now I get to work on my illustration career.

    And yet I’d still probably do this:

  18. Beth Says:

    I don’t know. clicking through all of the responses (+ chatting with my housemate) I’ve kind of lost the original question.

    But I’m only a junior in college, so those things are farther away. But I did kind of look around at the end of high school + go “Yep, there’s only about two people here I actually give a damn about. The rest can go to hell.” And I just kind of shut down to them.

    I also deny a lot of facebook friend requests, because I honestly don’t care to hear about everybody’s business all the time.

    Ugh, I need a nap.

  19. tymcode Says:

    I experienced a corollary to this over the weekend. Someone created a Facebook group for the beloved, doomed coffeeshop in Campbell, CA called the Upstart Crow. All the South Bay alt-crowd hung out there in the late 80’s, and it was an important part of what made me weird.

    I spent the long weekend cringing at the photos, at others’ inability to remember me, my inability to remember people who remember me, my inability to remember names, faces and events that were so influential to me, my confession of a crush only to be immediately friended by my former object of ardor… There was a lot of cringing.

    And yes, I was looking at the current photos, what we’d all become. And yes, there was a certain amount of satisfaction that I wasn’t the only one who had lost most easily identifiable signs of former hipness.

  20. Al Embic Says:

    I visited my old home town over the holiday hoping to see some of the holier-than-thou crowd working in second rate hair salons, or as receipt checkers at Costco. Oddly, the only person I recognized was a “special needs” kid I remembered from when my parents made me go to Cub Scouts.

    I expected to find catharsis from the misery of spoiled kids working meaningless, menial trades. Instead I felt a kind of optimism watching this under-appreciated, working class guy carefully packing groceries with an air of genuine pride.

    Thanks Audie.

  21. meaghan Says:

    I didn’t have too many tormentors but I’ve looked up some jerks from my past. I don’t feel bad for laughing at them, but I do pity them.

  22. Seth Says:

    Late post, I know, but I blame TurkeyNap ™.

    Forget Zoloft, holy crap! Hit me especially bad this year.

    I intentionally didn’t read many replies so I’d give you something non-biased and directly from my brain squozenings.

    You hit the nail on the head with the duality of the thing. At once I find myself horrified at how little of this majestic planet they’ve seen/understand, but also find myself jealous of their simple existences and companionship.

    I’ve done and seen some crazy stuff so far, and have many days yet to come (I hope). Still, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that I’m missing something. It’s much harder to find a group of reliable like-minded people when you’re working towards a higher state of intelligence.

    That’s not elitism talking, it’s just sad fact. The more I think, the more I find to be True, the less I can relate to your average person. A simple conversation with Joe The Plumber on the potentiality of the quantum universe becomes akin to describing a degree of “brightness” to a blind person. They’re never going to really understand, because they don’t have the basic framework to put it into context.

    Not that they COULDN’T learn the basics, but realistically most people do not take the time. Perhaps that’s your answer, Nadya. We who exercise our mental capacity are lonely because there’s too few humans making an effort to truly do so.

    Or maybe I just explain things horribly. A realist embraces all possibility til proven false, after all.

  23. lucylle Says:

    It’s strange… I was reading these posts and finding that many things in common, both with the people who “made it” and those who are still struggling, I had the urge to do a google search for the guy who I spent six years of my life with, from 16 to 22.

    Why? Because his inability to change and grow as a person (he decided to settle down in his town working dead end jobs rather than try to better himself despite having potential) was one of the reasons I decided to move to another city… with both him and my father prohetizing that I wasn’t going to amount to much and would fall back in place in no time. Well, I managed to move out from my parents home and have been living on my own ever since without taking one cent out of their pockets. Got a second scholarship that eventually landed me the job I wanted, took up freelancing and now am in the middle of another bout of change due to hobbies now becoming more and more serious and job-like…. I’m also in love, which is something I didn’t really think it could happen. I’m not as nearly happy or satisfied with myself as I would like to be, but I know that I can do better and improve if I keep on it, because these past five years are proof enough. Better yet, I know that I have to cherish the desire to keep change coming rather than fight against it.

    And the ex boyfriend, you might ask? I found him on Myspace and yes, I gloated for about ten second. Now, I might have been influenced by the past, by the haunted expression of his only picture and the mentions of harsh dealing from life, or by reading the posts above, but I feel like I have deserted a person I could have helped, because I was too busy chasing my own life goals. So, as hopeless as it can be (as he was the one who walked away from my offers of friendship at the time and decided to burn bridges) I sent him a message… maybe he’s discovered that change doesn’t necessarily mean something bad.

  24. meardearna Says:

    I did the 90% of things described and actually bumped into a bunch of them not too long ago.

    My only feelings after seeing them is they are still a pathetic bunch. They have turned out as one would expect.

    But at least they seem happy, as happy as ignorant pigs. And maybe I am an unhappy thinking person.

  25. o Says:

    I never knew anyone like that in school,
    but I did end up at a party with a bunch of
    old bleached blonde ex frat girls a week or so ago.
    I stood there astonished because they were all so LAME.
    Then I wondered why I was even there
    so I got drunk on the free booze,
    knocked off their knickers and left.

  26. cdthomas Says:

    Or what’s worse, that the grown-up bully who lowered the discourse and increased the racism, sexism and homophobia in one’s old department has been awarded a national prize for his career professionalism?

    That he went on to teach other professionals in the field, poisoning their minds about whether anyone other than poisonous white, straight men should ever do his job?

    I was more shocked that he wasn’t dead from his own bile than he won something from the industry this year, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. The proof of the system? Is what it does.