“You’ll never be able to do anything on your own,” S sneered. We were standing in the girls locker room of our junior high, some of us in swimsuits, others in jeans and t-shirts. It was halfway through our seventh grade year (2008-2009) and if anybody knows anything about junior high girls… well, they can be vicious. S was particularly snarky. She was independent and slightly hot-headed, seething with stories of abandonment and other illegalities. These stories were supposed to make her seem cool and adult and maybe they worked for a little while, but if I were to choose just one of the girls from my junior high to describe as mean… it would be her.
Most girls had changed into their street clothes by now, the bell having just rung to dismiss gym class. I’m standing by the sinks, a towel in my hand, tears flying down my cheeks. All the other girls had held up towels for each other as they changed, but for some reason that morning, nobody did the same for me. And that was why S was sneering at me as if I could have held a towel up for myself the entire time… or as if I should have somehow been more comfortable stripping naked than everybody else. “I’ll hold the towel for you,” M said as she tied her shoes. But I would never forget S’s snide remark.
Lots of girls talked about me in junior high. For some reason my existence was a common piece of gossip. It was weird. Like, I wasn’t the pregnant girl or the girl with pink hair or the girl who slept around or the girl with the weird boyfriend or the girl whose parents just got divorced or the girl whose mom was flirting with a teacher or the girl who always sang off-key in choir or the girl who always made up some wild story about her family or the girl who had a crazy hyper-active ADHD episode in the middle of class. I was just… I don’t know what I was. The quiet girl? I can’t imagine there’d be much to say about a girl who doesn’t speak much.
I didn’t hear most of the gossip. I was mainly just told of its existence.
G abruptly stopped and turned around. We were standing at our local mall near the Hot Topic, but she had spotted a few girls from my junior high. I’m not sure how she knew them considering she went to school two and a half hours away, but perhaps she had met them through our friend, O. The girls, B & C, laughed as they left the store and G muttered underneath her breath, “Those girls talk about you.” It wasn’t the only time a friend had warned me about the conversations of the other girls and honestly, I didn’t find it all too shocking.
B.J. stared at me. We’re sitting in geography class and I know he’s going to ask me for a pencil because he’s done it a thousand times. In fact, more often than not, he would neglect to return the pencil, so I kept up an endless supply of them. It wasn’t long after I had handed him a new pencil when I realized he was still staring at me. Squinting his brown eyes, he finally spoke, “Hey,” he struggled to keep a straight face, knowing he had gained my attention, “go kill yourself.” He cracked a smile and I stared at him, dumbfounded. What had he just said to me? He might have said it a few more times just to make sure I had heard him, but I continued to stare back, my head cocked to the side, unable to formulate a good comeback. What I was really trying to do was figure out his motives for saying such a thing. It was completely out of the blue. Random, even. Like… what just happened???
I was asked a lot that year why I was quiet. In fact, I was asked so much that in the eighth grade (2009-2010) I thought I would start a running tally. Except only one person asked me in the eighth grade and I think it might’ve been my science teacher. It was disappointing actually. One year I seemed to be the talk of the town, the next I was suddenly ignored. RUDE.
I never had an answer for them. Over the years I formulated many theories. I wondered if anybody else thought of any…
There was one instance in eighth grade in which I remember my friend, N, pulling me aside before language arts class. He was suddenly very serious which was unlike him. N was a fun-loving guy and would only grow serious when he felt the necessity to make a point of things. I recognized this tone from many short conversations, one in particular in which he had warned me to stay away from B.J. But this was even more serious than that. “Hey, you can tell me,” he half-whispered in the hallway, studying my face, “Do your parents hit you?”
First, a little background information. In junior high there was such a thing as “poke wars.” It was kind of like a food fight, except everybody was always poking each other, no food involved. Anyway, N had been the first to notice that I jumped or flinched whenever I was touched. Classic sign of child abuse, right? So I suspect this was what led him to ask the question.
I was surprised at first. “No,” I answered incredulously. Believe it or not, I was actually a little disappointed this was my answer. No, my parent’s didn’t hit me, but man, would that explain a lot if they did. I was also a little disappointed because N seemed to really care about me and his worry was endearing. Except… he had nothing to worry about. At least, nothing regarding that type of abuse.
It was weird because in the eighth grade all the classic signs were there. I was socially withdrawn, jumpy, and depressed. What else could it have been…?