Eighth Grade.

I had a totally weird thing happen on Friday. The restaurant I work at has a lot of people who went to my middle school come in. They all live in the neighborhood, they’re a tight little community. My family was on the periphery of their social circle while I was growing up. There’s this woman I went to middle school with who was kind of my middle school bully. I didn’t get bullied very badly in middle school, but I was still scared of her, and pretty much all the girls on my middle school basketball team. My middle school was very diverse on purpose- that was the whole mission statement of the school. How that broke down with the girls socially is that there was a white girl hierarchy, a puerto-rican girl hierarchy, and a black girl hierarchy. This girl was the top of the white girl hierarchy. Let’s call her Jen, that’s a good white girl name.

So I was scared of Jen in middle school. She was athletic and I was not. She dated three boys I had crushes on, in a row. She knew, and by the third boy even said to me something like, “Gosh I keep dating the boys you like!” She was at the center of this little neighborhood social circle- her mom and dad were at the center of the parent circle, and she was the center of the kid circle. In eighth grade her mom died. Everyone at my middle school scattered to different Catholic high schools around the city. Her neighborhood crew keeps being a very tight group of friends, through college, through their twenties. While I went off to college and had a college crew of friends, then a Chicago crew of friends, then a comedy crew of friends, the neighborhood crew stuck to each other. At points through my twenties I tried to wriggle into their thing. But someone would always find a way to say something mean about middle school. Jen likes to say stuff about me or my little brother being bad at sports. My brother has a PhD at this point, and it’s not like Jen went on to play basketball even in high school, but she still is very invested in who she was and who we were back then. Now she coaches the boys’ basketball team at my middle school.

About a month after I moved back home I got dressed up and went to a dance night at a bar. And who should walk in but Jen, for her birthday, with every person who was popular at my middle school. Talk about a nightmare- wanting to go out and dance and get into my body and instead to get back into the total disassociation from my body and low level terror from eighth grade. It wasn’t a big bar, so I had to go make small talk, which was absolutely the opposite of anything I wanted to do. But most of the women I grew up with are, you know, adults, and they knew I’d just had this transition fall apart, and I think everyone could also tell how totally freaked I was to see them. So I’m talking to one of them about what the plan is now that I’m back in town, and I tell her I’m trying to take it really easy and chill, and she says she’s all about chilling these days, and Jen comes over and listens to us say this. Then another girl comes over and asks what we’re talking about and Jen says, “They’re talking about who’s doing the least. Maria’s doing the least.” Then she walks away.

So that straight sucked. It sucked to see those people, it sucked to feel like a failure in life, it sucked. But it was also weird. Because it was so hostile and our  lives really don’t intersect. All the hostility had to be coming from an eighth grade place, because since eight grade we have both stayed in parallel but definitely not adjacent lanes.

Then a couple of months later I get this job I have now. And I’m really scared of being around all this neighborhood social crew so much, and I almost don’t interview for the job because of that. But then it felt like the universe was trying to make this job happen for me and making it really easy for me to get it, and after the clinic I just had no confidence I could get or keep a job ever again. So I take this job, it’s low level terrifying, but also it was great for me. This job got me out of the intense social anxiety the clinic gave me. It’s given me back my confidence in being able to have good relationships with my bosses and coworkers, it’s good money, it’s good food, this job has been such a huge, huge blessing.

But Jen’s a regular there. But she’s tried to be nice over the past year- like she invited me to a mutual friend’s bachelorette party, and she came to a comedy show of mine. I’ve been nice in return. I admire a lot about the life she lives- I think it’s nice she coaches a bunch of kids’ sports teams, she takes care of her friends and family in big ways, she does a lot of booster stuff for the neighborhood and city. Jen started messaging me on facebook to bitch about this ladies’ page we’re both on. I interpreted all of this as overtures of adult friendship.

Last week she invites me to an alumnae event for our middle school, and invites me to her birthday party. So then I post about the alumnae event on facebook to say I’m going, and she messages me on friday and she says, “I bet you feel comfortable coming to alumnae events now that you don’t live with your dad.”

It was so strange. What was even weirder is that in my hot yoga class thursday night I was thinking about when her mom died, and I was thinking about how hard that must have been. Me and my mom have gone through it, but also, I’ve gotten to go through it with my mom, and Jen doesn’t get to have that. I started crying about how unfair that is. Honestly I started crying now about it too. Like, losing your mom especially at that age, when you just got all your markers of being a woman, and you have to figure out men now? I can’t imagine figuring out life in the aftermath of that. Jen reacted to that by taking her mom’s place as a community caretaker and leader. She reacted by becoming this hub of support for all these people around her. She grew up really fast, but she did it, and she did this really good job of it.

So she says this to me and I play it off as a joke but I’m also like, this fucking bitch. This crazy bitch thinks I’m gonna sign on to play eighth grade with her forever but no hon that was twenty years back. But I’m also totally taken aback by how eighth grade I feel in reaction to her, especially after thinking about her in yoga class. The anger and SHAME I felt in response was absolutely like how I felt back then.

So then on Saturday my shift is wrapping up at the restaurant and her best friend comes in, who bullied my little brother and who I just generally really can’t deal with. And I’m so angry to see her. Then Jen comes in, and the people I work with who are in that neighborhood crew start celebrating her birthday, and I hide until my boss can tip me out. Then of course I skipped her birthday party, because why would I spend my Saturday night feeling that way? I went to a restaurant and smashed some chocolate cake. I did a comedy show and hung out with some of my lady comic friends and had a good time.

The thought keeps nagging at me that maybe back in eighth grade I did something hurtful to her that now I’m not remembering. I remember going to her mom’s funeral and I remember hanging outside the church hall with my friends after and I remember feeling a little guilty that the funeral was more of a social occasion for me than anything else. I wonder if there’s something more that the guilt is coming from that I’ve blocked out. I wasn’t an angel back then or since, and one thing I know about people is we like to forget when we acted badly.

There might be. The therapist part of me can make the logical connection between her mom’s death and wanting to keep eighth grade social dynamics going. Of course if you had such a hard loss happen you’d want to keep the good stuff from before the loss happened going. The social dynamics from eighth grade might remind her of being safe before her mom got taken away. And it’s so, so fucked up that her mom got taken away. It’s unfair on such a deep, nasty level.

Girl enemies are such a weird thing. There’s this real intimacy to it. They’re as much your twins as your friends are. Jen has been witness to such a huge chunk of my life. I don’t feel like I understand totally who I am in her story- there must be a hurt the aggression is coming from, but did I actually do something to cause the hurt or is it just comfortable to say bitchy stuff to me? In a big way that’s none of my business unless she offers to make it my business. It’s so weird to have this person who knows you, and saw what you were like as a kid, and can trace that to who you are now, and straight up doesn’t like you. Like, we weren’t friends in kindergarten, we weren’t friends in eighth grade, I feel pretty clear that whatever social arrangement she was seeking out this past year was not much like friendship, so what was the universe’s logic in putting us in each other’s lives?

There was a weird moment this year where she came into the restaurant and she was telling me how much she likes the Olympics. I have very few feelings about the Olympics- I guess I’ve heard they are a rip-off for the country that hosts them, I guess it’s exciting when there’s an athlete with a crazy story in them. The most I’ve ever felt about the Olympics was when I saw the movie “Munich,” which starts with the Israeli athletes being taken hostage at the Munich Olympics, and Eric Bana goes onto be the sexiest Israeli dreamboat for the rest of movie. Oooff, Eric Bana, damn. So Jen is telling me about why she likes the Olympics so much, and I got this vibe she thought I was judging her for being into the Olympics. It seemed like she was defending herself to me. I thought, wow I really don’t understand what she thinks the inside of my head looks like. Other people have told me I come off as condescending. Maybe she thinks I think she’s a jock and that’s dumb.

I guess it’s just a reminder how alike you can be with someone and yet how incomprehensible they can be to you. You’d think two white girls growing up a couple of miles away from each other, in the same tiny social circles, in the same kindergarten, liking the same boys, on the same basketball team, taking in the same city and coming into womanhood at the same time could figure each other out. I don’t know. I really don’t know.



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