Notable Armor

The smell of doughy dinner rolls and cafeteria beef stroganoff warming on a steam table hung in the air as I sat down with the lunch my dad made for me.  It was the usual: turkey sandwich on white bread, Cheetos, and 2 Chips Ahoy cookies.  It was like every other day of fifth grade.

Then, I saw the note.  It was a neatly folded piece of spiral notebook paper that someone slipped under my lunch.  I looked around at the six girls sitting at my table– all on my left– but not one of them met my searching eyes.

Still, I wasn’t suspicious.  My heart did a tiny dance of hope. Maybe this was a note from a boy who likes me.

I unfolded the note and read with horror.  My heart’s little dance turned into an adagio of shame.

Christie,

Please don’t sit at our lunch table any more.  We don’t like you and do not want to sit with you during lunch.  You have to sit somewhere else.

Beneath those three lines were 10 signatures of girls who no longer wanted to be my friend.  I noted that the signatures included girls who didn’t even have the same lunch period I did.  Apparently, the Christie-hatred went deep enough to permeate even those so-called friends who ate lunch a full hour before I did.

When I looked up again, all the girls were staring at me.  My cheeks burned as I met their eyes, mean and courageous because they had each other. The ringleader wore the smile of a victor doing a lap around a stadium.  I had no one.  I stared at the lunch my dad made for me, his now-loser daughter.

I could not bear the weight of those six sets of eyes.

I left my lunch and the note and made my way through the tables to the hallway.  I pretended I had to go to the bathroom when the 6th grade hall monitor stopped me.

I hid in a stall.  I was still a few years away from bulimia, that homeopathic remedy I invented to soothe me in times of emotional distress throughout high school.

I had nothing to do.  I didn’t have to pee, and I never ever went poop at school.  I wished I had the note. I wanted the words or those 10 scraggly signatures to cut me like a razor blade or make me understand as I read it over and over.

It was bad enough not to fit in at home, but it felt so much worse at school.  That one meal at school meant more to me than the two others I ate at home with people who seemed to hate me half the time too.  But at home we were all stuck with each other; at school, I could be ousted.

I just was.

I was going to have to walk through the halls as The Girl Everyone Hates day after day.

This is not an “I held my head high” story about my triumph in the Glee Club after getting the note.  I hunched low, weighted by shame, and limped through the rest of fifth grade.  Then, I changed schools– back to the Catholic educational system where my mother was certain that a moral underpinning would prevent ostracization by mean girls.

After fifth grade, I wore the plaid uniform of an obediant Catholic school girl until 12th grade, but underneath I hid an impenetrable armor that I still wear today.

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112 thoughts on “Notable Armor

  1. boo mean girls!! almost every girl i know has a similar story. somewhere between elementary and high school, your friends turn on you. happened to me in 10th grade. it was terrible!!! leaves a scar i still carry – and i’m friends with the girls. we grow up, but we’re always those little lost girls.
    great read.

  2. “Adagio of shame” – beautiful. I am also wearing this armor and sometimes wonder who I would be if I hadn’t been bullied so severely for so long. While I appreciate the strength and self-acceptance I’ve grown into, there’s a coldness in me that makes it difficult to be close to someone even when I want to. One of my greatest fears is that my kids will be bullied like I was and I won’t be able to stop it. My parents tried, but the school blew them off for the most part. I’ve already decided I’ll take it as far as possible if this happens to my kids: legal action, media, whatever I need to do so that at least my kids see someone cares and is fighting for them tooth and nail. An overreaction? Maybe. Let’s hope it never comes to pass.

  3. My heart hurts for 5th grade you. Girls are so mean, and 5th grade seems to be the worst. I hope at least some of them get to see the incredible, talented, warm, friendly, wonderful person you are now and realize what they missed out on.

    I made the mistake of saying something at our 5th grade lunch table about how much food seems to go to waste when people in other parts of the world are starving. Not only was I ostracized, but the mean girls thought it funny to throw their leftovers in napkins at me while yelling at me to include them in the package to China.

    Ugh. Girls suck.

  4. this is one reason i never wanted a girl. they can be SUCH bitches. i know boys can be jerkfaces, too, but there’s something about a gaggle of little girls who think they’re all that and a bag of chips. sorry you had to go through that.

  5. So sad yet powerful, the kind of story that spawns our own memories. I always remember huddled groups, looking my way and giggling. Just cause I couldn’t hear their unkind eords didn’t mean I wasn’t hurt. I didn’t have to know the words to get the message.

  6. I had no idea!! I have a 6th grade girl and am hearing about this type of thing on a daily basis! Of course, they now have texting and Instagram to use as weapons. Why do girls do these things to each other! How can we stop the cycle?

  7. Does any girl escape this? I know I didn’t. Eighth grade was miserable for me. I got a similar note, except it was printed in the school paper “Dear Abby” style. I’m working on taking off the armor. I hope you will, too.

  8. This story could have come from me – although not as eloquently as your wrote it here. I lived this life from the first day of eighth grade all the way to high school graduation. My heart breaks for you, for me, and for all the other girls who felt abused, small, and left out by the peers who should have been our friends.

  9. I can’t even begin to fathom you not fitting in someplace. Through your writing, you have such a confident voice. I’d beg you to get to sit at your table!! I am glad those days are over for you. Raising girls!! UGH!! And wow, with this line, “I was still a few years away from bulimia, that homeopathic remedy I invented to soothe me in times of emotional distress throughout high school.” I eat lunch around 11:30 each day . . . next time you’re in Dallas, will you come sit with me?

  10. Christie, this broke my heart to read but at least your story does have a happy ending! I know for a fact that you never sat alone at lunch at St. Rita. :)

    But overall, girls suck. Bracing myself for Mia’s middle school years.

  11. A very well-told, poignantly written piece. It is truly sad that most people have one of these stories. I am terrified raising a girl. My daughter is only in 2nd grade, but I can already pinpoint who the mean girls are going to be. I think all we can do is build them up enough at home that they can withstand it out in the world.

      • It seems like the super clique-y moms tend to produce the super clique-y girls. I have observed that the moms who are really nice and down-to-earth generally have girls who are much the same. That’s not to say that some of the superficial, botox-obsessed, see-and-be-seen moms don’t produce some sweet kids, sometimes, too. I think there are a lot of factors involved. But I can pretty much say, looking at the girls my daughter has been in school with for several years now…the apple doesn’t fall from the tree.

  12. I hurt for my dearest Christie who went through this as such a tender age. I would have and will sit with you any day any where for the rest of your life.

  13. What a powerful and heart breaking piece!
    This topic is all over our news right now. Last week a bullied and cyber stalked teen in BC, Canada killed herself. A few weeks before she posted a poignant video on Youtube telling her story. The police are investigating and looking closely at social media. It’s so tragic and senseless.
    R.I.P. Amanda Todd

  14. That’s why Sweet Pea swears she hates girls…and she is one! She’s always been accepted but I hope I’ve also taught her that she’s to be a leader and not a follower and sometimes leading means standing up for snarky, petty injustices by insecure adolescent girls like those that wrote that note to you. Moving piece!

  15. This really hit home for me, too. I had stomach aches every Sunday night from about grade five to high school graduation. Summer was a huge relief to look forward to – two months when I didn’t have to see those girls! Although I was always wondering what new horrors they were dreaming up during that time, too. I haven’t recovered to the extent you have – congratulations for becoming the wonderful you that you are!

  16. The most amazing part of this post was the beauty with which you wrote. We’ve all been there (mine was in 7th grade and I hated my mother when she wouldn’t allow me to change schools. Hated her.) but you said it with such force, such vivid imagery I forgot about my own pain and felt entirely through you. This was powerful. You rock my friend.

      • yes, sort of. I was at a school with less than 50 kids in my class. It took the better part of the school year but then one day I was back sitting with them at lunch. But I don’t know if you ever really get over stuff like that. I don’t have any close friends from high school. Thankfully I went on to meet better girls in college and law school, but my circle of girlfriends has always been small and tight.

      • Yep, I hear that. I rehabilitated enough to have some lasting friends from high school (and after 5th grade) but I’m not sad that I don’t see those girls-now-women any more.

  17. That mob mentality is horrible, everyone so smug and secure because there’s a crowd. That is horrible. I could just feel your loneliness and relate to much of what you said here.
    Wonderfull, powerfully written. Oh, the armor. I get the armor.

  18. I don’t know about you, but my shoulders ache from carrying that armor. Sometimes it is too heavy to carry (and that’s when things like last week’s post happen), but that’s when we need a friend to help carry a shield for you.

    I have three daughters and I am more terrified about this than I am about anything else. Two years ago, at the ripe old age of three, Violet came home from daycare and told me, “Well, B & C finally becided that I’m pwetty.” My heart stopped. It just fell out on the floor. I talked with her sitter and the sitter was so upset about it she cried. She said, “I just don’t know how they can say that! Violet is absolutely beautiful!”

    Fortunately, she’s got confidence to spare for a five-year-old, far more than I do most days.

  19. It’s devastating, reading this as an adult. I know how those moments felt. And I know how to overcome them now. But there’s no way we can prepare our kids for that feeling, or for how to react.

    I hope my kids will never feel pain like this. They will. I hope I don’t burst into tears and threaten revenge. I hope I can give them a small piece of the grace I have learned. And I hope against hope that my small words will somehow rise against the din of self doubt and mean kid taunts.

  20. I am horrified by this story and my heart broke wide open for 5th grade you when I read it. And yet, it truly didn’t surprise me…the meanness of those girls, the cruelty of those words, the way they made you feel. I wish it had, because then it would mean that girls aren’t vicious and hateful when they want to be, and I could relax knowing my girls will never know that pain. But I can’t, because girls can be really mean.
    By the way, I just want you to know that I am linking to this post in my own blog tomorrow. Excellent writing.

  21. Holy hell, outlawmama. What is wrong with people? This is the kind of thing that makes me terrified about having a little girl. When I was in 5th grade, some girls left a fake love note in my locker and tried to make me guess (and approach) who sent it. As oblivious as I usually was, I smelled a rat. But, it wasn’t until mid-college – TEN YEARS LATER – that I could actually believe someone of the opposite sex was interested in me rather than a pawn or player in some elaborate joke on me.

    I don’t want my daughter on either side of this mess. How do we do it?

    • I don’t know! Homeschool is my best idea and that is a horrible idea because I can’t fit lockers in here! It really scars you, right? I blame 5th grade for why mom groups terrify me.

  22. Ecccchhhh…3rd grade. 8th grade. I freaking hated the bitches. Years later they wanted to be facebook friends. They have no idea that their little superiority flights were so scarring. Maybe this is why we’re all here blogging :)

    • Yeah, I don’t get the FB friends thing. They honestly expect I’d be even that involved with them after they made my life a living hell for years? I don’t think so.

      • I secretly want them to facebook friend me so they can see how rich, thin, smart and successful I am.* Oh yeah, and my kids are f-in adorable too. Enjoy your trailer in Omaha bitches!

        * It’s all relative! I’m mostly a SAHM who pays more in childcare than I bring in in income, so rich is definitely an overstatement. And thin (hey, I had two kids!). But smart and successful and my freakin adorable kids, I stand by.

  23. Ugh this post is so relatable! Beautifully written! I want to go back to your fifth grade class and sit with you. I went through a similar thing in 9th. I don’t miss school!

  24. OK, felt that protective sister thing again when I read this … I’m so glad your parents moved you out of that school. But I don’t think it matters if you go to a public school or the private Catholic ones like we did … bullying happens everywhere. During my 8th grade year at St. Patrick, some of the girls (who you knew at UA) played a really mean trick on me. It hurt – bad. But you know what I did? I used it as a small anecdotal story for my protagonist in LITTLE 15! (The flash back she had about some girls having a popular guy pretend that he liked her.) My message to you – use it for fodder for your fiction! Luv ya!

  25. I started having heart palpitations as I read the note in your heart wrenching, beautifully written story. I want to rant and rage and cry for your little girl inside and mine. I was more of a tortured bystander, a traumatizing role, but one less immediately painful. You’re a miracle.

  26. I’m just going to go ahead and share my first thought: fuck those bitches! I don’t know think that comment was constructive at all, but I got this too. In seventh grade, some girls asked me, “Are those real Guess jeans you’re wearing? Want to sit at our lunch table today?” If I could, I would go back and kick my own ass for sitting there that day. I should have told them to fuck off for judging me on the brand of my clothing versus the quality of my character because I’ve always been fabulous — and I think you are too! Much love for being better than the mean girls!!

  27. Girls can be so mean. This really took me back to some dark junior high days as well. Eating lunch in the bathroom alone and wondering why all my friends had decided they didn’t like me that day.

  28. This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a a long time. The way you wrote it, the tone, the distance, the lack of sentimentality. Beautiful. The honesty of the post, not what happened to you. You know what I mean, I hope. What a moment that expanded into months that was. That continues today, that has shaped you. Brave story, Christie, amazing writing!

  29. So brutal. I dont understand how or why people act like that. I’m glad I never treated anyone like that. I remember that my girlfriends in grade eleven decided they didnt like an old elementary school friend of mine that had taken to hanging out with us. They gave me an ultimatum, they basically said, her or us. I chose her. I told them to their face that if they were that immature then I didnt want to hang out with them anyways.

    Bah. I seriously don’t get people sometimes.

  30. God almighty, girls are mean. For no reason, they can be so vicious. It’s heart breaking that this happened to you. They were too shallow and small-minded to know what an amazing person you are. I’m glad you got out of that school.

    Well done, you made me feel like I was sitting there with you.

  31. This was one of the best, if not THE best, posts I’ve ever read about mean girls/bullying. There isn’t always a happy, glee club ending, and many of us walk around carrying the weight of that armor, myself included.

    My 8th grade son just went through a bad round of ostracizing this past week. It happens to boys too. Thankfully, though, they seem to deal with it and be done with it.

  32. Mean girls are everywhere, even Catholic school (where I grew up). Something similar happened to my daughter at the end of 7th grade. “The Group” decided she was no longer in. Both our hearts were broken, maybe mine more, for her. “queen bees and wannabes” was a book I read around then to help. The movie “Mean Girls” was loosely based on it. It’s incredible how things like this shape us. My daughter has a different view of friends but has an incredible set at college now. Took a while.

  33. This broke my heart in so many ways. I had my fair share of encounters with 9-15 year old bitches. And I’m dreading the day when my 6 year old runs across her first bitch. Cruel little assholes. I’m fairly sure those ten little punks didn’t turn out as awesome as you.

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  35. How did I not see this post before? My heart just split wide open. I had a similar experience in 6th grade. The ringleader in my story built her army around her and blocked me from passing down the hall. There was just a small space I could get through that was between the row of lockers and Ringleader. I approached, and she shoved me into the metal lockers so hard I had a bruise for weeks. Her army laughed. I was so humiliated. I know the girl you were speaking about, Christie, and I am so happy for both of us that we made it through. So what if we’ll need to live our our days heavily medicated? :) xoxoxoxoxoxo

  36. I’m so sorry this happened and I am so glad you transferred to our school so I could have the privilege of being one of your friends!

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