A Tale of Verbal Sparring Partners

There is more to my story about the Sesame Street-themed assembly that I attended in high school.

I told the story about the guy in my class who was ridiculed by the speaker for bringing up Herry Monster when prompted to name Sesame Street characters, but I took out the parts about my complicated relationship with the student in question because I didn’t think it was germane to the story. 

We were more than acquaintances, but we weren’t exactly friends either. When we were freshmen, we sat next to one another in geography class according to the teacher’s seating arrangement. He (the student, not the teacher) used to tease and pick on me a lot. I mostly tried to ignore him, but I’m afraid I behaved rather condescendingly to him on occasion. I regret that now, but I’m not sure he minded. My impression is that he found my reactions, or non-reactions, to be funny.

Over the four years that we were in high school together, we cobbled together a loose relationship that I would describe as a verbal sparring partnership (imagine Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe but without the nascent sexual tension). His teasing was mostly harmless and sometimes amusing, and occasionally sparked some genuine creativity in me when I deigned to respond. 

For example, on April Fool’s Day of our junior year, I told him that I only wanted to be addressed as “Violetta” for the whole day, and he, in turn, took advantage of every available opportunity to talk to me so that he could call me Violetta, and we both laughed about it a lot, and I had so much fun that I forgot to be condescending to him.

When we were seniors about to graduate, we exchanged senior portraits. He wrote a message on the back of the picture he gave me saying what an honor it had been for him to have me in his class. I suddenly realized that I’d misjudged him all those years.

All my life, I had heard that boys tease you sometimes because they like you, but I’d never given it much credence. I’d endured bullying from classmates and schoolmates (male and female alike) throughout all my years of schooling prior to high school. I didn’t know how to tell the difference between good-natured teasing and malicious bullying because my mom regarded them as essentially the same thing (and still does). Even today, I still struggle to tell the difference. 

It got to the point where I regarded the antics of my verbal sparring partner with a certain amused affection, in much the same way that I would have regarded a misbehaving puppy. But because I didn’t understand the difference between teasing and bullying, I never invested any trust in him. To extend the metaphor, I regarded him as a potentially vicious puppy who could turn on me and bite me at any second if I let my guard down and allowed myself to get too close.

Therefore, when I received that picture a few weeks before graduation and found out the high regard in which he held me, that his admiration had been sincere the whole time, I regretted that I’d missed an opportunity to forge a real friendship.


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