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.
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.
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