My Own Ophelia

opheliaWhen I was in fourth grade, my tight-knit group of girlfriends took me out to the Par Course (remember those?) and through the low, slanting light of late fall, told me they had decided together I couldn’t be friends with them anymore. Then they ran away, leaving me standing under the parallel bars with wickedly painful tears welling in my throat, making it hard for me to breathe.

I’ve been through a lot of heartache and pain since then- but I would give birth to five ten more children without drugs before I would stand in my fourth grade blue Nikes, out there under the cold autumn sky.

It was a pivotal moment in my life. The shock and pain was confusing- in grade four, your friends are your life. I was utterly alone. I would hide behind the sun-louvres on the building to eat my lunch. Hiding was less painful than the lunchroom where girls got up and moved. No one would be my partner for games, no one would chose me for teams, in class I was ignored and I slowly became invisible.

So I overcompensated. I became the nicest, kindest girl on the planet. I became a Yes Girl. I would do anything to please the teachers, the other kids in class- anything to have some positive human interaction. Recess gets awfully lonely when you are invisible- and I found every excuse to stay in, to help grade papers, to paint in the classroom. I tested into the Gate program, and studying at lunch became my refuge. I knew more about Greek Mythology and California grassy wetlands than any 10 year old.

In sixth grade, me still invisible, a girl named Wendy moved from Colorado to the desk next to me. She was in Gate too, and was an outsider, and was also the kindest and brightest girl. She didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to see me. We became friends, and were soon inseparable. Sunlight came back into my life because of Wendy.

Junior High started the following year, and with the effluvia of elementary schools flooding into one massive middle school, suddenly my stigma was gone. Girls from other schools knew nothing of my curse, and soon I had many friends. Wendy was still my girl, but I found myself quickly being drawn into a fast moving and popular group of girls. It was heady, to be part of the pretty, popular, (and let’s be honest, snotty and bitchy) clique- but they didn’t like Wendy. I was welcome, she was not.

I wish I could say I chose the high road. I wish I could say I did the right thing. I did not. I bailed on Wendy, and would see her sitting alone in the quad at lunch, her viola next to her, as she read a book. I hid my twinges of guilt and shame in the gossip and machinations of pubescent girl-pack. Make no mistake, there is little more cruel than a group of 13 year-old girls.

I was pretty and popular, I shared hair products, shoes and clothes with the prettiest and most popular girls in school. We shared lockers, had sleepovers, wrote notes about boys, ignored our parents and talked on the phone for hours.

Then, it happened again. How short my memory…

One morning, as I approached the gaggle of girls around our locker, they all walked away. The girl I shared with told me she needed more space, and could I please move my things to my own locker. A cold, hard lump was forming in my belly- but I was still clinging to the illusion that this was just minor.

Walking down the corridor at lunch, I saw the girls lockers open- and in three of them, my school snapshot, amid the many, was turned around, facing the metal. Not gone, not a vacant space- still there- but invisible. Again. I learned that everyone had turned my picture around. They had decided I did not have whatever makes snitty, young, teen girls run, and had excised me.

Seventh grade turned into a living hell. I was no one. I was completely invisible. Wendy had moved on, and was friends with a terrific group of girls who cared more about music, science and grades than about cliques.

Eighth grade was just as dismal. Finally, I met up with a nice girl who was a little bit of an oddball, too, and slowly, cautiously,  our small circle of friends formed. It was those girls I maintained a friendship through the levels of Hell that is Jr. High, and on into High School and through to graduation. But I was scarred. I was guarded, mistrustful and defensive with most people.

To this day, when I think of Wendy, the shame stings my conscience. It embarrasses me that I repeated the horrible pattern. I went to her during those years, apologizing and begging her forgiveness for my crass and hurtful behavior. Of course she was gracious and kind. Of course she forgave me. And of course, her life had moved on.

I don’t know what all this means in the grand scheme of things. I do know the actions of a group of girls, who have probably long-since forgotten my name, changed my life. Even as an adult, I am cautious with new friends. I wait. I wait for the other shoe to drop- I wait to see when they will find the something in me unacceptable. My walls are high, and they are thick, and it takes a lot for me to trust you.

The good that came from those experiences? I take nothing for granted. My friendshipsare choice and few, but deep and treasured. My loyalty is unshakable. If I count you among my trusted, I count you so for life. I value honestly and forthrightness above all else in a friend. And I will return the same.

I will never be invisible again. And now you know.

Wendy and I talk a couple of times a year still, and always exchange Christmas cards. Her husband is military, and she is a chiropractor and naturopath. She has lived in Spain, the middle east, England, Japan and all over the US.  Our kids are close in age. I still love her, and count her among the most amazing people I’ve ever known.

19 thoughts on “My Own Ophelia

  1. Much too close for comfort, nevertheless, this is exquisite.

    I distinctly remember one of those girls who had moved in and not known my status, turning on me when she did. She told me that some day I would look back at that moment and laugh. Not yet. Not ever, I’m guessing.

  2. We moved alot when I was a child. After the last move we landed in Utah and I will never forget the first girl who made friends with me in 4th grade- Jill. She’s still as friendly as ever, we just reconnected on facebook. Those years are so full of the bitter and the sweet, I lean toward having a selective memory for the sweet (although I DO remember every low-life boyfriend).
    Now that my own girls are at those ages it is exquisite pain to nail my hands to the chair and let them go out the door to face those witches they call friends. In reality most of them are fine, it’s the queen bees that should be locked in a room to kill each other off.

  3. (I left this out)
    Well written post, it’s hard to excavate those tender emotions of so long ago. I know I’d rather just leave my long ago indiscretions hidden, thank you for sharing. I hope you’re slowly letting us in.

  4. Uggg, I didn’t like being that age, and the people who say that they would like to back, are crazy. Popularity is a crazy thing…or so it would seem on the outside looking in. There were many times that I wish I could move just for a fresh start. I’m glad you still keep in touch with your friend.

  5. Yeah, I thought about it, Michael. But I wrote about Maggie once, and that’s enough.

    Friends, part of why I love blogging is that you all get to know me and decide you like me anyway. When I meet someone I know through blogging IRL, it’s been sucessful every time- and I think it’s because all the stuff I’m afraid of is already out there. You know me- and most of the time, I you as well. You know more about me than most of my local friends- and you are kind to me and read anyway. That makes knowing you safe.

  6. Came over from MMW and just have to say that not only are your posts interesting and insightful, but you’re a good writer, too!

    Oh how I know this story well from mine own life. I too was outcast in school as a girl and did my very best to be invisible. And even though, like for you, some of that changed in Junior High and High School, I still today have a hard time making friends and trusting people. I was poor and had ugly clothes, poor hygiene, and would answer questions incorrectly in class which made people laugh at me. Of course, children don’t realize that they aren’t responsible for those kinds of things, so I always had a complex that it was my fault, there was something wrong with me.

    Anyway, I appreciate how you told this story. I too am a convert to the Church and always get something out of what you have to say about faith, Church involvement, etc. So, thank you! 🙂

  7. First of all, that is one creepy painting.

    I’m sorry you had rotten friendships when you were young. I’d like to say my life was perfect, but I’d be lying. I think we all have our share of friend problems, but sometimes it seems like some people get more of a share than others. Once I got to the middle of my sophomore year, things were much much better for me.

    Beautifully written, though.

  8. Much too close for comfort for me, as well. It is extremely traumatic to be told “I don’t want to be your friend any more.” I did eventually find my own small group of friends. These experiences have long-lasting effects.

    I love how you have found blogging to be a form of bridging the gap and finding safety in online friendships. I know I am not the only one who learns and benefits from your writing and sharing so much of yourself. Thank you for doing so!

  9. Why is it that we all go through that horrible stage? I wish that I could protect my daughter from all of the unkind things that people do. It hurts to know that I can’t, but hopefully I can teach her to feel good about herself regardless of what other people do or say. And just maybe she can cling to a shred of that when she gets ditched on the playground.

  10. Interesting…. last night, as the girls were in the bath and I was doing my half hour nightly face/skin rituals, B asked me “Mama, which one of those things makes you pretty?” and I replied “None of them, kindness to others is what makes you pretty” She of course then stated “Well, I am really kind so I must be gorgeous!” Kind of ruined the sweet moment, but the jist of it was there. 🙂

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