What Not to Wear
I never had a chance.
I showed up for the first day of Third Grade, and my first day of Public School, in a dress homemade from a cotton Strawberry Shortcake print. White tights and black patent leather buckle shoes finished off the ensemble. My long blonde hair hung in two braids.
Those clothes were acceptable and required at the private Christian school I attended in Ohio, but not in rural Indiana.
A girl walked up to me, sneered and asked, “What are you wearing? Dork!” That was my first experience with the gang of Mean Girls that plagued me until graduation.
It was 1983. I didn’t know what Star Wars was. I didn’t know who Michael Jackson was. I didn’t even own a Cabbage Patch doll. I was almost entirely ignorant of pop culture.
I could not have been anymore uncool.
The kids quickly learned my dad was a pastor. They didn’t like that either. Not long after starting at my new school I remember being followed home from the bus stop by a Mean Girl yelling at me, “You’re dad’s a pastor. You’re not even allowed to swear. You’re such a baby!”
Not all Hoosiers can Dribble a Basketball
My greatest burden, however, that brought the most ridicule and disdain was my complete and utter lack of athletic ability.
I couldn’t hit a baseball, shoot a basketball (This was extra sacrilege in Indiana.) or kick a kickball. I could purposely throw myself in front of the dodgeball to end my suffering, and sit on the sidelines for the rest of gym class.
How I hated gym!
They always picked me last. They laughed at me. They told me I was dumb. Just because I couldn’t kick a ball.
Steve Jobs and Geeks Weren’t Cool Yet
I wasn’t stupid. I was smart. I liked learning. I loved reading, writing and History. I liked to participate in class.
One day in fourth grade, I raised my hand, and gave the wrong answer. The Meanest Girl, who sat in front of me, turned around and said cruelly, “You. Are. So. Stupid!”
The entire class looked at me and snickered.
I turned bright red. Tears came to my eyes. They laughed even harder.
My ego, already fragile, couldn’t take anymore.
That day I decided to never raise my hand in class, talk to those kids or make eye contact with them again.
And I didn’t.
I did everything I could to avoid the Mean Girls. I spent Jr. High and High School looking down at the floor to avoid eye contact as I walked through the halls to class. If my small circle of friends wasn’t in my lunch period, I hid away in the newspaper office to eat. You definitely didn’t want to find yourself alone and vulnerable to their attack.
I also did everything I could to be less like myself and more like how they thought I should be. Not that it made them like me any better.
It went on until we graduated. They worked in insults whenever they could. They’d say things like, “You’re a nerd. What’s the answer to this question?” Or, “Wow. That top is actually cute. You usually look like such a loser.”
I wasn’t a loser. I was just different. I knew there wasn’t anything wrong with me, but their cruelty still hurt. I was a teenager. I just want to be liked and fit in.
As an adult, I know they were scared and insecure. It made them feel better about themselves to stomp on me. I threatened their world by being different. They couldn’t understand someone who wasn’t just like them, so they hated me.
I was very shy after so many years withdrawing and hiding. I was hard to open up and make friends. I was afraid to meet and talk to new people, because I worried they wouldn’t like me. It haunted me at college even though no one there ever treated me the way the Mean Girls did.
Even as adult I have a hard time making friends, and it takes me a long time to trust and feel comfortable around new people. That shy girl, worried they won’t like her, is always there with me. She makes me hang back in a crowd. She leaves me tongue-tied when I try to make small talk.
It takes a lot of courage and energy for me to enter into new social situations. To be honest I’d rather just sit at home by myself. I do it because I need to. I need connections with friends for my own well-being, and there are people who need me. It’s selfish to hide when I can help and encourage someone else by being their friend.
So let’s be friends, but two things: Let me take it slow, and don’t ask me to play dodgeball. It gives me flashbacks.
Other posts in the Memoirs Series: