Sunday, September 16, 2012


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 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'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.


Never again.


Gaelyn said...

The pain of youth when faced head on in maturity makes us stronger, and more compassionate. Hold on Jen, with your love and examples Lily will make it through.

Excellent piece Jane.

annie said...

As lonely as it is to be the grade 5er, not popular and forever the runner up, watching your child go through it is worse. Because you know. You felt it. Lived it. Hoped it would never happen to your kid.

Of course, you know she will get through it. She will have a keener sense of empathy and be a better friend herself because of it (with luck), but no one wants to stand by while her child muddles through and thinks somehow it is her fault and not just the realities of learning to live in a world where not everyone is taught to value good friendship.

I tell my daughter that it's not her. That the girls she desperately wants to friend have "issues" and without piling on too much info and talking at a level she can understand - she mostly does. It doesn't make it less lonely. And I remind her that she has other friends and other avenues for making friends and slowly she is beginning not to rely solely on the idea of a single BFF and spread herself about a bit.

Is there anything more treacherous than the social networking of preteen and just teen girls, I wonder? I don't think so.

Graciewilde said...

SH*T - yes, I remember the social isolation and the meanness. It was Debbie in 6th grade and Karen in 7th grade - for my, there as a class devision. I was working class but going to a Catholic school with a lot of rich kids. Yuck.
HIgh school was the same . The thing that made all the difference to me was that, academically, I was a success and, in my family, that was ll that mattered. I could endure the school days b/c I went home to a place where I was acknowledged for academic success. Of course, when the grades were NOT perfect (and, work as hard as I could, I could NOT pull A's in chemistry or physics and only rarely in Latin), well, let's just say love was conditional.

The thing is, all of that drove me to my current work. Being a middle school counselor can be a painful experience. I know those girls. Damn! I know them. I want to completely dis the mean girls and I want to tell the other girls that it is NOT their fault. And I do both at times. It's thc school culture that must change and I have yet to figure out how to do that. Two years ago, I started the first GSA (Gay/Straight Alliance) for middle schools in our county. The group is focused on inclusion for all - the student leadership is awesome - gender, sexuality, color, wealth, athletes, scholars, disenfrnachised - you are all welcome. We meet weekly at lunch with a variety of activites but our stated goals are three: support, education, and fun - all in safe, inclusive spot. I like it.

Masked Mom said...

Wise words as always, Miss Jane. I can remember some mean girl moments--especially in 4th and 5th grade--what a mess. The whole mean girl thing always reminds me of this Margaret Atwood quote from Cat's Eye: "Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another, they are not cute. They are life-sized."

Frances D said...

Her name was Catherine. We were best buddies during my 13th year. Then one day I saw her in the street with new friends that she made at her new school - she walked right by now and never contacted me again. I can still see her marching by me in her cream colored bell bottoms.