Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Adolescence is awkward.  You’ve moved on from elementary school’s small cocoon, that if not comforting was at least somewhat supervised, and are thrown into middle or junior high with kids you don’t know during one of the most emotionally vulnerable times of life.

Sometimes I wonder if someone who hated kids thought up middle school just to toy with us.  The thought being, “Let’s take 11 to 13 year-olds from three elementary schools who are jockeying for position, in various stages of puberty , and thrust them all together into a hormonally charged environment, give everyone a good shake and see what happens!”

 Junior High was an awkward time for me.  I wasn’t in the bottom tier of the junior high hierarchy but I was definitely in the bottom fourth, burdened as I was with an easily mockable last name and red hair.  In the 80s red hair wasn’t yet the new blond and I stood out, my hair begging for attention, my freckled face letting others know exactly what type of attention to give me.  I was surrounded by friends, also in bottom fourth, who jealously guarded their precarious position.  I wasn’t as worried about my position but that was mostly due to my oblivion rather than any strong internal sense of who I was.

But I wasn’t so oblivious as not to know who was below me -- the kids who were always picked last, the absolute bottom tier; the kids who would, if they walked too close to you, lower your social standing.  One of those girls was in one of my classes.  She was tall and overweight, two sins that modern junior high society gleefully punishes.  And halfway through the school year she asked me if she could eat lunch with me.  I don’t know why she picked me.  We weren’t friends.  I don’t even remember whether we had talked prior to her request.  I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t want to eat with her.  But, of course, I said yes.  I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

She followed me to the table I sat at with my friends.  I don’t remember if anyone talked to her.  But I doubt it.  My friends probably didn’t speak a word after hello, and I, my good deed done, was surely no friendlier.  After lunch my friends confronted me.  “Why did I let her sit with us?”  They demanded.

“She asked me and I couldn’t say no.”

“If she asks you again say no!”  They commanded.

She asked me if she could sit with us at lunch again the next day in class.  I said yes.  And again she followed me to our table in the lunchroom.  And again my friends cornered me after lunch, and reminded me before school.

She asked me again the next day.  And hesitantly I said yes.  By this time the pressure was relentless.  My friends were furious with me.  Our social status was sinking daily.

The next day she asked me again if she could sit with me at lunch.  

I said no.

I instantly regretted it.  I knew I should have said yes.  And I should have at that moment apologized and asked her to sit with me.  But I didn’t.  

And she never asked me again.  

I’ll never forget that moment and my response is one of my biggest regrets.  I was too concerned with status and with what my friends thought to stand up and do what was right.  I didn’t know then that sometimes doing what’s right means that you’ll be alone ...  but I didn’t … and I wasn’t.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...