Ch. 4

ELEVEN

I just started middle school and it was not a good time in my life. All of the friends I made in 5th grade were gone and scattered in different classes. In the elementary school, students were divided into four “houses.” But in the middle school, the grade was shuffled together and divided into three “color teams.”

The friends I had made in 5th grade, you know, those 20 kids I spent every day with, were no longer with me. I didn’t have class with any of them and was starting over from scratch… again.

The whole grade had lunch at the same time, but none of my former 5th grade friends cared to sit with me. They had all moved on to their new friends. I was an outcast and a loner.

One day at bus dismissal, I recognized a girl named Wendy whom I met during swim team the summer after 1st grade. We started talking and she invited me to sit at her lunch table with her and her two friends, Nicole and Sally.

For a few weeks, it went okay. I couldn’t really follow along with the current American pop culture drama or relate to the bogus sales at Ralph Lauren, but they loved asking me about England.

That year, the movie Mean Girls came out. And soon I found myself reliving the real version when they, the only three friends I had, publicly told me I couldn’t sit with them anymore because I wasn’t pretty enough. They didn’t like my face, frizzy hair, braces and said I was too fat and poor, which was somehow “damaging their image”.

Wendy, who had taken the lead role of Regina George, smiled the whole time as her sidekick Gretchen Wieners (Sally), spat out the famous line, “YOU CANT SIT WITH US ANYMORE!” loud enough for the entire cafeteria to hear and break into laughter. Dim-witted Nicole sat quietly, nodding along.

At the end of the humiliating verbal assault, I was stunned. I was red in the face and fighting back tears. I had never been so embarrassed. I couldn’t stand everyone’s eyes on me, so I eventually got up from the table and left the cafeteria, while the girls snickered behind me.

That is a day I will never forget.

For a bulk of the school year after that, I didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch. I didn’t have a single friend in any of my classes. No one wanted to be associated with a loser like me so I would eat my lunch in the bathroom, or walk the halls aimlessly trying to act like I wasn’t hungry and didn’t care that I was alone.

One day pretty soon after that, I pressed my luck and wandered into my empty art classroom. I found a sharpened pencil and some loose-leaf paper, started drawing, and it was like the world on my shoulders had sloughed off. My mind was returning to what it once was in England- free and happy.

I was able to be myself for 30 minutes that day. And that meant everything.

Each lunch period after that, I’d return to the art room to avoid the cafeteria and spare myself from further ridicule. I would pick a chair hidden away from the door, eat my lunch quickly so no one would see me doing it, dispose of the evidence, and spend the rest of the time drawing, pretending I didn’t care that I was all alone incase someone walked by and saw me.

On the days a class occupied the art room during my lunch break, I’d revert back to eating in the bathroom or roaming the halls. Sometimes, I would sit at my locker to do homework or would strike up conversation with the hall monitors. I was willing to do just about anything to keep me away from that cafeteria.

Eventually, the art teacher figured out what was going on, although she never mentioned it to me. She made sure to always leave her door open, not just at lunch, but before and after school, too, incase I needed it. She also created an ‘open door policy’ during the school day, which allowed kids to go to her classroom any time during the day to do art whether there was a class or not.

Every day after that, I woke up a little bit happier, went to school, talked to no one, and took the bus home.

Aside from my art room lunches, the bus was my favorite part of my day because I finally had someone to talk to, my brother Hunter. Well… I did after all of his friends got off at their stops first, because you know, little sisters are embarrassing to be seen with. But those bus rides and the talks we had walking home from the bus stop were the greatest.

Since we moved back, all of my siblings handled the transition flawlessly. They had no problems making friends and it seemed like the bond the 4 of us had in England fell apart. They didn’t need me anymore now that they had friends. But I needed them. I was lost in a world of Abercrombie & Bitch.

I was no longer in my happy bubble in England. I wasn’t accepted or embraced anymore. I wasn’t respected for being different. I was ostracized for it and pressured into conforming into becoming another Fairfield County clone, or what’s now referred to as a “basic white bitch.” But I didn’t like any of the things the other girls did. I didn’t think the same way as them. I thought for myself, and when I did, I considered things from multiple perspectives. I didn’t like the gossip and caddy drama. I didn’t buy into the fictitious superficial bullshit. I was just me, fun loving, artistic, shy, polite, and kind me.

Throughout middle school, I was never one of the cool girls. I wore actual athletic clothes to gym class, unlike every girl who showed up in a Juicy velour tracksuit, and I didn’t let the boys win to fluff their egos. If they wanted to win, they had to earn it. I treated everyone like equals. To me, it didn’t matter what you were. If you were nice, I was nice. And if you were mean, I was still probably nice…

Eventually, I made two friends during 6th grade 3rd quarter study hall. Jedrik and Isabel welcomed me into their clique of the intellectually competitive and artistic Asians. In doing so, I didn’t miss England any less, but they restored my faith in people just a little bit more each free period.

I loved being friends with them. We would draw and teach each other new art techniques. I felt motivated to do better and try harder in my classes because they made it cool and acceptable for me to be myself and enjoy school again. Plus, they loved my sense of humor… and they seemed to be the only ones in the whole school who appreciated it.

It was the first time since we moved that I felt like I wasn’t invisible anymore and like I mattered. And I owe that moment and so many thank you’s to them.

Unfortunately, outside of lunch and free period, my social life was still failing and the bullying got worse as I grew older. Nothing seemed to be off limits. My peers criticized every thing I was, did, and said.

– – – – –

At the end of 6th grade, it was so obvious that I was… uh, blossoming… in the boob department that my science teacher phoned home to tell my mother it was probably time to buy me bras. Let me tell you, nothing is scarier for a preteen with social anxiety than bra shopping.

For starters, my mother wasn’t the one who took me because she was always too busy with everyone else. So my aunt, Nana, took me.

Secondly, I was the first daughter in my family so this was some serious unchartered territory that I was by no means prepared for. I always thought girls go to bed on the night before their 16th birthday and wake up the next morning with boobs. I also thought bras were only for adults. At no point in my 11-year life had I ever considered possessing chesticles this early in the game.

Thirdly, as if I wasn’t uncomfortable enough, my aunt had to take me all around Kohl’s, going bra to bra, feeling each one. FEELING THEM. I considered myself to be a real badass, you know, super b-b-b-bad to the bone, but I was not about that life. I associated feeling them to be like touching the boobs of women who had previously tried on the bras or were going to in the future. And that just made me want to crawl in a sleeping bag and burrito roll off a cliff.

Fourthly, Nana asked a Kohl’s employee to help us, which not only increased my awkward levels well beyond turtle level but also sent them hurdling towards the land of “Jesus take the wheel.”

When I returned to school on Monday in my new bras, everyone, and I MEAN EVERYONE, could tell that my boobs were a little more supported. I know this by the amounts of comments I overheard. Suddenly, people noticed me. It was like I became someone else overnight. Boys still didn’t like me, but they were talking to me. And some girls were even nice to me.

But then there were the other group of girls- The group that deserved a lifetime of dodge balls to the face at recess. These lovely girls mocked me until no end. They spread rumors that I was stuffing my bra and others told me I only had boobs because I was fat. Given the fact that I was the only 6th grader in a bra and my boobs were still growing, I was a walking target for preteen harassment, which I quickly learned.

– – – – –

At the end of the school year, there was a group of girls/angels who took me in and acted like the big sisters I needed, for which I am eternally grateful. Mackenzie and Kari showed me the ropes. They taught me how to put on make up and change my outfit on the bus so my mom wouldn’t know. They taught me all about the 6th grade hierarchy and even explained the past history/drama so I’d be able to follow during lunch conversations.

I had my first sleepover since 3rd grade at Mackenzie’s house. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was older or because of the cultural differences between the US and UK, but the whole thing was very different than I remembered sleepovers to be like in England.

We didn’t wear pajamas. Instead, we wore sports bras and boxers with the waistband rolled over to bed. We were allowed to use the computer and phone whenever we wanted, for as long as we wanted. Could eat whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted to eat it. Could be at the house without adults. And had no bedtime. You don’t understand, I thought Mackenzie was the coolest girl ever and completely idolized her because of this.

At her house, she introduced me to AIM and helped me set up my own account. She showed me her long ‘buddy list’ and I knew I wanted to be just like her as I watched her scroll through her long list of friends. I wanted to have a list of friends one day. But so far, I only had her and Kari.

Kari was Mackenzie’s best friend, and had been since they were 3. Needless to say, I was the third wheel, but always felt a competitive streak when it came to Mackenzie’s attention. These competitive feelings came from my mother favoring Logan, leaving me to fight for attention as the odd-man-out.

I remember I was absolutely elated the day Mackenzie listed my initials on her AIM profile under her “BFFLS” category. I not only had friends, but I had a BEST friend! And that meant so much to me.

As soon as people learned I had an account, I received some really hateful messages. I was cyber bullied so hard every night I came home from school. Sometimes it was by people I knew, and sometimes it wasn’t, but I spent most nights crying and most mornings with puffy eyes. I couldn’t understand why it was so hard for people to like me. What was wrong with me? Why did I have to be just like them? Why couldn’t they like me for me?

– – – – –

I read 250+ books every summer, usually 3 per day. I didn’t have many friends when we first moved back and only knew the school year as the time to see friends. I never had play dates or attended many class birthday parties. I was either never invited or my parents were to strict to allow my attendance, so I’d lose myself in the fantasy world books offered. I’d read the teenage romance novels and practice making out on my hand just about every night. I remember one book said the main character was wearing a thong so I hid the book under my pillow because my parents were so strict that I thought it was like a naughty adult book.

 

TWELVE

The current trend was to buy clear or white binders and allow your friends to write on and decorate them. Halfway through the school year, my friend Nikki got a new binder and passed it around to all 25 kids in homeroom so they could sign their name, draw a picture, whatever. At the time, Paris Hilton had just started using the word “hot”, so girls everywhere jumped on the bandwagon, calling each other hot and sexy because it was just the trend.

When it was my turn, I wrote, “Nikki is my BFFL! LUV YA”, “I <3 Nikki!”, “Nikki is so sexiiii”, etc. You know, typical wannabe 7th grader stuff.

            Once everyone was finished signing and decorating, the binder was returned to her, and she loved it. Every inch of that thing was covered in little scribbled notes, each more elaborate than the last in a different sharpie color. 

            The next day, one of her teachers saw her binder and recognized my handwriting. It was pretty hard to miss… I had been known for having the best in the entire middle school and often designed school pamphlets, banners, and bulletin boards. Her teacher took her binder to the “team leader” and called a teacher’s meeting, like the overdramatic, spineless jellyfish he was.

That same day, I was approached by 2 of my team’s teachers. They pulled me out of class, cornered me in the vacant French room that was across the pod, and questioned me about the binder explaining, “There are really inappropriate things written on this binder that support gay and lesbian relationships and we do not allow that at this school.”

            First thought, you’re idiots. 

            Then, they informed me that type of behavior was punishable and I would be receiving a phone call home, detention, and a trip to the dean’s office. 

            Second thought, ….okay….? I get harder punishments for not changing the lint tray in the dryer at home… amateurs.

            And finally they asked for the names of the other students and explained my punishment would be less if I told them who else wrote on the binder. But coming from the household I did, I knew better than to tattle. I had never done that in my entire life and didn’t plan on starting now. 

            Which brought on my third thought: bring it on. 

            I took the blame for everything and falsely admitted being the person who wrote everything. They tried to clarify by asking, “You mean to tell us that all the different handwritings in all the different pens was you…?” Smiling, I replied, “Yes. Oh, didn’t you know? I’m a very talented artist and apparently a raging lesbian.” 

            They stood there, blank faced, knowing I was lying, but also realizing they picked the wrong girl to try scare tactics with. You see… punishment didn’t scare me anymore. By 12, I had become so desensitized to it that there was nothing they could have said to make me give up the names of my classmates and friends. It made more sense to me anyway. I remember thinking since I was so used to being punished and the other kids weren’t, that it was going to impact them more. And I didn’t want that for them because I knew that feeling all too well. So I wanted to shield them, and took the hit to protect them. 

Just like I protected Gabe… And just like I would protect everyone else the rest of my life.

– – – – –

            My friend Michael told me he had a crush on me, but there was a catch- his girlfriend Emily was a stage 4 psychopath with an inability to reason. I would have rather told knock-knock jokes to a squirrel drawn on a brick wall than engage with her because her voice alone made me want to crawl out of my skin. Think…… a high pitched Nanny Fine, with the attitude of an entitled brat from Toddlers and Tiaras. She was just an odd-shaped blonde bitch with diabetes, bad teeth, and was more possessive than my grandmother is with cheesecake.

            Anyway, I was so shocked someone liked me. ME. I wasn’t popular. Emily and her jack o’lantern-looking face were, but not me. 

            Although I was so happy someone finally liked me, I always knew Michael was spoken for, so we just remained friends. Normal friends. 

            However, that didn’t stop Emily from going through his AIM account and reading all of our messages, overreacting (her special talent), and then proceeding to cyber bully me online with her best friend Sally for the next 6 years. 

            Those two were a couple of dense, classless white trash dingbats with the mouth of a sailor and the appeal of sheep shit. Every night FOR YEARS these asymmetrical goblins messaged me the most horrendous things. For example, I was instructed to go to the kitchen and get the sharpest knife so I could just cut off all my excess fat and finally be “worth looking at”. They told me if I died in the process it would just be a blessing.

            In addition to picking on every physical feature, they also liked to press upon the point that I barely had any friends, which, if I’m being honest, stung the most. I knew I didn’t have many friends, but I didn’t need it thrown in my face by some moldy human life forms with bad highlights. 

            What’s happened to them since? Michael and Emily broke up. Emily still looks like she opens cans with her teeth for a living. And Sally… not sure, she’s probably featured as a new zoo exhibit somewhere. 

– – – – –

Kenzie and Kari took me to my first real party at a girl named Charlotte’s house. Her parents weren’t home and there was a live band with a mosh pit in her family room. Preteens were having sex in the upstairs rooms, and then there was me… who brought her own snacks. 

– – – – –

As AIM popularity skyrocketed, I was introduced to online chat groups, curtsey of Kenzie. We would join these little cyber gatherings with no idea of who was really in them. In doing so, was I putting myself at risk of being kidnapped? Probably. But truthfully, I didn’t care. I was making friends and that’s all that mattered to me because it made me feel less alone.

Kenzie and Kari introduced me to a lot of things growing up and took me in like their sister. I remember we went out to the local teen center one night and they made sure that we were all wearing matching outfits so everyone would know we were friends. It was the coolest I had ever felt in my entire life because I felt INCLUDED. My mother and Logan had gone so far out of their way to ostracize me that being included was incredible.

 

THIRTEEN

At 13, I had full C-cup boobs and it was obvious. Guys started noticing and routinely messaged me on AIM to ask me my bra size. Although it wasn’t really the attention I wanted, I was happy to be getting any and obliged to answer all their requests.

– – – – –

I remember being on a flight to Cancun for spring break and making a list of pros and cons between two boys that liked me, Jon and Beau. According to my friends, Jon was “too nice.” He called me beautiful and just wanted a shot with me. Beau could’ve cared less, but he thought I was “hot”, which was a big deal back in those days. Ultimately, I decided on Beau because that’s what my friends wanted me to do and I didn’t want them to stop liking me. But truthfully, I didn’t want to “date” either of them. I didn’t like them in that way at all.

            Beau was the worst choice. Ever. He was not only my first AND WORST “make out” ever, but he also sent one of my private photos to our entire grade and kids in the high school. It was a faceless photo of me from mid stomach up to my neck. I was wearing a white hoodie, unzipped with cleavage showing. There were no nipple sightings and no titty committee had to be called in. However, this was still a huge deal given our age.

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