The Lasting Memory of Exclusion


The sting is at once startling and searing.

At first, you think. this isn’t what’s happening. You’re misinterpreting what you see. And then it hits you. You’re being purposely excluded. Those girls  are crossing the street to avoid you. You think you’re imagining something but you know you’re not. It’s real.

It happened to me in high school. When I went to California for a two week visit, I had a best friend, the same best friend I’d had for years. When I came home, she had left me. She said I was ‘different’ but never explained what that meant. I puzzled over this and thought it might be true. The trip was the first time I’d flown anywhere and I went by myself, hunched in the window seat, face up against the glass the entire way. I’d never seen things from that high up. In L.A, my sister handed me the keys to her car and went to her job at the Gas Company. “Don’t get lost!” she laughed over her shoulder, assuming I could find my way on the web of L.A. freeways. She and I talked long into the night, about our lives, about our parents. We talked as equals, as kin. Adults. Coming home, I felt bigger, not small anymore, not as young. So maybe my best friend was right. I was different.

When I came back to school, I saw right away that she had been brought into the hive of the best girls. At first, I thought it was temporary, like something happening just today. But the next day was more of the hive and the hive started to travel – up and down the halls, to the lunchroom, then the parking lot and the stands at the football game. I waited for her to motion for me to join the hive, part walls so I could step in, tell the best girls I was one of them. But she didn’t do that. Instead, every now and then, she’d glance back at me, sometimes another girl would, too, and they’d both look like it was a delicious feeling to be in the hive and to see other girls’ yearning. I’ll never forget that look or the yearning.

It was two boys who rescued me. One had a car and the other was his sidekick. We rode around town after school telling jokes and arguing about politics.They didn’t know about the hive, they’d never seen it. It didn’t exist in their world and so I envied them.

Eventually, my former best friend and I became friends again. But it was a distant relationship, formal almost. She had taken part in excluding me, she’d looked back at me from the hive. That razor slit of insult and rejection; it was tiny like the old time smallpox vaccinations, a little X on my arm. It probably would have healed with time but I wouldn’t let it. It’s still there fifty years later.