Do you remember being 11?
I mean, do you really remember what 11 was like? Take a moment, if you will, and reflect. I'm not talking about the 11 that's steeped in nostalgia for our youth. I'm talking about the 11 full of pubescent pre-teen angst. The 11 whereby kids begin to understand solid friendships are forged on common interests rather than simply being the same age or being in the same classroom. The 11 that sees the venomous personalities of mean girls develop and exercise themselves.
Who was your first mean girl? I refuse to believe any of you were the mean girl. Do you remember her? Remember her name? How she looked? How she dressed? Was she your occasional BFF or were you always on the outs with her?
My mean girl's name was Stephanie.
She and I, we were BFFs for most of grades 2 through 4 and I thoroughly enjoyed - took for granted - the perks of being popular on her coattails. I spent the night at her house countless times (I didn't invite people to spend the night at mine), played regularly together after school, participated in Blue Birds, 4-H, and then, ultimately, Girl Scouts together. I vacationed at Alcova Lake with her family. But then, in grade 5, when hormones began raging, when she and I were apparently deadlocked in a biological race to develop first, she inexplicably turned on me. And how.
I spent most of grades 5 and 6 utterly friendless. Even the two girls from our class we'd shunned all throughout grade school, treated me as though I was a pariah. It wasn't so much that anyone taunted me, beat me up at recess, or did anything overtly awful to me. They just...well...I ceased to exist. I became invisible to both the girls and the boys. All because one mean girl decided I wasn't socially fit.
The thing is though...she wasn't really mean.
Oh sure. What she did to me - ostracizing me, deliberately turning everyone against me - was horrendous. The sting of that loneliness still sits quietly aching to this day - 30 years later. But she wasn't really mean. Not as I see it now in a moment of enlightened self-awareness.
Only I knew what her life was like. Only I saw the hole in the wall left by her half-brother's head when he was thrown callously into it by her step-father during one of his alcohol-fueled rages. Only I knew about his alcohol and drug addiction...pot for certain but I'm now convinced - after having witnessed the symptoms as an adult - it was also heroin. Knowing now what I do about PTSD, I understand him for what he'd been through in Viet Nam and know what terror must have gripped her and her two little brothers day after day after day as he mentally lived in a war zone where his own children were the Viet Cong.
And maybe that's why she turned on me. Because I knew too much. Because of that one time - that last time - I spent the night at her house even though I had an early morning piano lesson and became terrified to leave her bedroom because, as I opened her door to tiptoe out, he - the step-monster - yelled at me. Would he stoop so low as to throw my head through a wall??? I didn't know and I was too young, too terrified, and too experienced with violence myself to find out.
Regardless of why she turned on me, she turned. And so I sat out on the rest of my grade school years making friendship pins for friends I didn't have.
And, to be frank, when I ran into her again in high school, sitting alone in Smoker's Alley, not a friend in the world to be had, there was a huge part of me - the me that had fabulous, crazy, awesome friends I would know and love 3 decades later...we weren't popular but OMG we were oh-so-cool - that was fiercely, triumphantly glad.
There is still a wee small part of me now, tonight, as I stalk her Facebook profile as I write this and realize she is as ignorant and low-class as I remember - Fox News, REALLY?! - and that feels somehow victorious, superior over her for what she did. Robbing me of friends, of affection, when I needed it so very desperately...just as she did.
I'm not proud of it. But it is what it is. Vengeance is bitterly mine.
Last night, I talked to Beasley - hee hee, for another 3 1/2 hours (I'm sorry I kept you up until 4, Jen. I hope the girls still got their breakfast). And, most of the conversation was her describing, in detail, the friend drama of her 11-year-old daughter. Horrible, awful drama...
That flooded me with memories of Stephanie.
And, as she was giving me the details of the angst, I wondered aloud...
Is it worse to be 11 or the mother of an 11-year-old girl, experiencing her first real heartbreak and angst, while powerless to do anything about it?
I don't know.
I would never, ever...ever Ever EVER go back to that time.
But now, in hindsight, I think it may be easier to live through it yourself than to be the mom who wishes she could help and knows she can't. The mom who wants to just make it all better...like it was...and is powerless to do so.
All I can say is...
A) To Lily: Sweetheart, I promise, swear on everything valuable, it WILL get better. Pinky swear. Just hold on.
B) To Jen: As much as it hurts, as much as both of you hurt, she has to go through this for the very first time. She is learning now what she will need to know for the rest of her life. Sometimes, it isn't about her...it's about someone else. It has nothing to do with her...the beautiful, extraordinary her. It has to do with someone else working their way - clumsily - through their own pain. Just love her as only you can. Be there for her as much as she'll allow. And you'll both make it through.