Things happen for a reason, I believe. Not that I picture God is in His heaven moving us about like pawns on His cosmic chessboard (well, maybe sometimes I do), and I concede that we don’t always get to know the reason for the things that happen. Maybe I just need to find reason and order in chaos but, it’s a beautiful thing when we do get to see.
There they were, every day the three of them, every. single. day. of my plump, pimply, be-braced Freshman year of high school, the tall, willowy, beautiful Mean Girls who ran all social aspects of school. Theirs were the opinions that counted and every day they were standing outside my 4th period classroom door, lying in wait for me.
My campus in Southern California was a sprawling thing and every classroom door opened to the sunny outside. Thus, the sun shone on Lynn’s long, silky, well-behaved blonde hair and Angel’s glossy chestnut mane. While Michelle’s stringy, bleached-blonde could not compete, her pert round bottom and boobies held the attention of every boy in school. So there they were and here came I, in funky clothes my mother chose and with the silver braces on my teeth, my thick, blonde, Irish hair defying any and all attempts at style on the best of days, and I knew every day I’d have to run the gauntlet of their remarks. Every day I prayed to be allowed to pass into the classroom without commentary or better, to have pulled off an outfit that gained their approval. I craved their approval though now I shake my head it mattered so much, that I gave them such power over my self-esteem. Yet every day they found some new, improved insult to give me in the form of a raised eyebrow and derisive, perfectly aimed remark, “Nice skirt,” “Have you tried hydrogen peroxide for your complexion?” “You know if you kiss a boy with braces, you’ll get stuck together… but you’ll probably never have to worry about that….”
My braces came off around Spring break; I finally persuaded my mother it was acceptable to wear jeans to school, yes, even every day; I was allowed the use of mascara and lip gloss. A kind friend taught me how to blow dry my thick hair into some approximation of the Farrah Fawcett look and suddenly, boys took note, specifically a popular surfer three years older. The mean girls met my transformation with silence and it was enough, almost.
Flash forward nearly forty years, a young girl comes in tears through the door of my office saying, “I just can’t go in there; every day, it’s something. Every day. It’s my hair, my clothes, my nails…. and if I go in there today I’m going to explode!” As she wiped tears away I was able to say, oh sweetie, they’re just bitches. You’re beautiful, and you always will be, and they might always be bitches and I do know exactly how you feel.
My office was unusually and mercifully quiet. I mentally shelved the filing I had hoped to do that period and told her about my three high school mean girls. Eventually she perked up and growing restless, asked what she could do to help me. I sent her off on some task and when the bell rang, she went to 8th period.
She really is beautiful, a very fair, mixed girl with red hair and big, hazel eyes crowned with perfectly arched, symmetrical eyebrows, and a killer smile that lights her whole face. Are they jealous of her physical beauty? Do they despise her outspokenness? Do they get perverse pleasure in baiting her quick temper? Who knows? I couldn’t tell her why they do it anymore than I could tell her why my tormentors continually baited me, who had been taught to walk by without giving them the pleasure of my ire, though I’m certain they saw and enjoyed my hurt.
They are all of a breed, one I will never understand. Yet suddenly, instead of feeling the long, lingering hurt of them even still, I found myself grateful to my mean girls; I had needed them so I could be present for Nancy. I gave a grateful little prayer to God for letting me see, this time, what that crap was all about. The long-harbored hope I had carried that they all got their comeuppance in life lightened. From my vantage point of advancing adulthood, I know even mean girls suffer in life, as we all do and must, and if I had to suffer at their hands then in order to listen knowingly to a 16-year old in pain now, well, so be it.