I waited in the harsh glare of the overhead fluorescent lights for them. The scent of Lysol intertwined with the fragrance of flowery hand soap, creating a nauseating perfume.
Or was it just the anxiety flooding through me, causing my stomach to perform dangerous acrobatics?
The mirror reflected my pale and waxy skin in the unforgiving lights. My sky blue eyes hid behind the plastic frames and finger printed lenses of the glasses I despised.
Whoosh. Toilets flushed, drowning out the annoying buzz of the lights, as one by one, they exited the stalls behind me.
The first girl was pretty, still trapped in her awkward 12 year old body. Her skinny legs were too tall for her torso while her round face still transitioned between childhood and adulthood. Her chestnut brown hair was thin and straight, stopping just below her shoulders. The too short bangs were brushed crooked across her forehead.
The stomach somersaults picked up speed as she accidentally met my glance in the mirror.
“Damn,” her eyes said. “You’re still here.”
My trepidation skyrocketed while a part of me wanted to laugh. Did she really think I was dumb enough to fall for the same trick twice? Had she learned nothing from three years of friendship.
She paused, The Leader, as another girl appeared from different stall.
She was a few inches shorter than the Leader, but tall enough to look down at me. Her arms and legs were twigs, giving her a dainty, fragile appearance. Her skin was ghostlike, completely white except for the outbreak of freckles everywhere – the perfect match for her short red hair.
They exchanged a knowing look as they moved to the automatic faucets in unison.
A third stall sprung open as the last of “our group” was revealed. She studiously avoided my eyes in the mirror, hers covered with round coke bottle glasses that rivaled mine. Her hair was trapped between blond and brown, giving it a sandy color, as the permed curls dipped just past her shoulders.
“Look at me,” I pleaded silently. Of the three, she was the only one who still dared speak to me – as long as the other two weren’t around.
She sailed past me and merged into Them.
I readjusted my overstuffed backpack as the trio moved as one, crumpling their paper towels.
Hope tried to surge through the layers of trepidation that filled me. Maybe they would give up for today. Maybe they’ll forget.
The Leader took point, heading toward the school doors, sandwiched on each side by the other two.
I followed, my feet heavy. Silent. Head hung as I focused on their shoes in front of me.
They burst out into the unseasonably warm spring day. The blaring sun smacked into me, forcing me to block it with my hand until my eyes adjusted. It heated my skin as the echo of bus doors opening and closing enveloped us, the air scented with diesel. The still dormant brown grass crunched as we took our short cut across the school grounds.
The trio continued on, never peering back at me to see if I remained. They laughed and talked louder than normal, ensuring that I heard every word.
The small bud of hope withered again – as it had every day for the last week. Confusion and despair overwhelmed me.
I didn’t exist. Not anymore. Not in class. Not at our lunch table. Not anywhere.
Still, I persisted. This was my way home too. I had every right to walk this way.
They couldn’t stop me.
We left school grounds, the only sound our feet slapping the pavement and their high pitched chatter.
Until they paused. And huddled – a circle of secrecy as they whispered in inaudible tones as I halted a few paces away, still pretending I belonged.
Suddenly, they broke apart and sprinted away as one, peals of their laughter cutting through my heart like a dagger.
My eyes blurred as tears drowned out my vision. I collapsed, struck down by their cruelty.
A part inside of me died as a phoenix sprung forth from the ashes. A vow.
I will never do this to anyone. Ever.
This week, we want you to imagine that after you have died and your daughter/son will be given the gift of seeing a single five-minute period of your life through your eyes, feeling and experiencing those moments as you did when they occurred. What five minutes would you have him/her see? Tell us about them in the finest detail.
Author’s Note: I changed my mind many times about the five minutes of my life I could share – most of them moments of overwhelming joy. Yet this one kept coming back to haunt me -a moment filled with all of the negative emotions I want to protect my children from.
My biggest fear when I found out I was pregnant with my baby girl was, “Oh god, what if she experiences what I did in her tween years? What if she isn’t as strong as I was, living in a era of social media where there is no escaping from your peers?” I chose this to share, to show her that even when it feels like your world is ending – especially when you think it is – that is the time to find strength within yourself. Use it to grow. To not just survive, but thrive. On the flip-side, to make her conscious of how she treats others, and the lasting affect it can have on them.
This moment and the weeks and months surrounding it defined who I am now. It taught me the meaning of true friendship.
That nothing is black and white.
Epilogue: The first two girls I hardly spoke to again – even though we’d have overlapping classes until we graduated from high school.
The third girl was my maid of honor.
Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed.