Her name was Jamie too, but it was spelled differently than mine, like a boy’s. And though I had no control over the name my parents had chosen, feet water-swollen and both their bellies protruding from chocolate-malted-third-trimester cravings sitting in front of the Bionic Woman in 1976, I knew when I met her in Junior High School that mine was misspelled.
As the crisp air of the fall bit into my skinny eleven-year-old legs, I kept a watchful eye on the cool girls, who offered air kisses to each other by lockers, and wore stockings under their shorts with thick socks slouched down into bright white Keds. They shined with sophistication. Between the third week of June that had marked the end of elementary school and the beginning of September, breasts had sprouted. With them came a sense of knowledge, a closing of a circle that had once been open to include me, but was now irrevocably shut and not even stockings under my shorts could open it. Their mouths were lined and painted pink and outlined the cruelty under their smiles like punctuation.
Still, I tried. I copied them. I wore shiny pantyhose and slouchy socks. I teased my hair. I offered shy smiles, hoping one of them would notice the awesomeness of me still intact from my childhood. I was funny. I was smart. I was dressed the part.
And I was ready.
I was taken aback when Jamie, the one the girls clamored around the most, turned to me in Social Studies one day in September. My heart pounded as she looked me up and down, taking in everything I wore and was. Her lips curled into a smile when she asked me, “Why are you wearing that?” but it was a humorless smile, full of mean.
I had finally been seen, but now I wanted nothing but to erase myself out of the room. Her expression told me they had all noticed me, and that I was a joke they were all in on.
“I’m cold,” I answered, trying to stop the oncoming train of torment with a pinky finger.
“Well, don’t,” she replied and turned around, as if the case was now closed.
And I didn’t, but I’d painted myself into their cross-hairs and any hope of escaping without further notice was a child’s fairy tale, something I didn’t know we’d outgrown over the summer. But my teachers were waiting to school me in Junior High school, eleven years old and full of a knowledge I was late in learning.
The notes dropped into my locker foreshadowed the ambush on the front lawn of the school. Jamie, surrounded by lookalikes, pocketbooks hanging from their shoulders, confronted me. “Where do you live?” she asked me, that same cruel smile twisting her mauve lips.
“Surf Street,” I replied, adjusting my backpack. “Do you guys want to come over? My mom has snacks,” I lied. An empty house awaited me.
They laughed. Go to my house? Never.
I laughed with them. Playing dumb was the most difficult part of the bullying dance we were playing out.
The rest of the year, I’d be surrounded in gym class, asked if I wanted my ass kicked. Sometimes it was Jamie herself, but most often it was one of her vast network of friends and followers. They seemed to be everywhere - on the swim team, at lunch. My answer was always a definitive no, with a polite “Thanks for asking,” and the kicking never materialized. But it hung in the air like a heavy vapor, clouding every day, seizing my stomach into paralyzing cramps, with begs to my mother to “please let me stay home one more day.” Or to switch schools. Or to drop out. With each passing day, my awesome diminished.
There was a tap on my shoulder in science class. I turned to the girl next to me, who pointed three rows back. There Jamie sat, her middle finger pointed to the sky. Her lips mouthed “Fuck you.” The class watched for my reaction. They saw a shrug. A wave.
I hoped they didn’t see the tremble in my chin or feel the way my breath caught in my chest.
By the time the warm spring air came to warm our legs and shorts came back out of the attic bins and into our drawers again, I fell off their radar. I was never beaten. My locker was deliciously empty of threats. My exhales grew less jagged.
My awesome began to grow back.
An adult now, I haven’t thought of Jamie in a long while. I think she moved away when we were in high school, but thankfully she was off my radar by then. When my six-year-old son came to me tearfully a week ago, asking to stay home from first-grade because James made fun of his lunchbox, I was quick with an anecdote. I knelt down to his height and told him about a girl named Jamie who made fun of me for wearing stockings. I counseled him to hang on to his awesome, the part inside that knows how special he is, babyish lunchbox or no.
Then I went out and bought him a different lunch box.
As for Jamie, a picture of her posted by a mutual friend on Facebook shot nausea straight into my stomach when I saw her look at me through my 18 inch flat screen. The biggest shock? She looks okay. She likes dogs, from what I can see. Maybe she has children. Maybe she’s married. Maybe she’s a nice person, funny, smart. Maybe she would like me now.
The best part? I don’t need her to like me now.
This was inspired by this poem and picture:http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2011/08/waking-up-full-of-awesome/