Scenes from a Life: Dumping Maura Barnes

I’ve sworn that having survived seventh and eighth grades, possibly the cruelest ages for girls, nothing could compel me to hop in a time machine or taking a reverse aging drug and relive those years. In spite of that resolution, the events of those 700 odd days still play through my mind; the girls who seemed larger than life back then live on, unaging in memory.

Even in a class with only a dozen girls, there was the queen bee, her sidekick best friend, and a court of popular girls. Like many queen bees, she wasn’t especially beautiful or smart or talented, but she ruled through force of personality. Everyone on the inside matched her shoe choice, her nail polish color, her mannerisms, her slang. I was on the edge, acceptable but not embraced because I didn’t emulate any of these things. My shoes were knock off brands, my clothes standard and boring, and I didn’t wear nail polish on my short, bitten nails. But I wasn’t obviously offensive in any way—safely too small to be noticed much. In seventh grade, I’d become close friends with a new girl, let’s call her Maura Barnes, and we hung out mostly with each other on the fringes of this girl pack. What we had most in common was this indistinct social status.

The traditional highlight of eighth grade was a class ski trip to Squaw Valley. For cover, there was an outdoor education component thrown in—identifying pine trees, building thermal snow caves, and reading the history of the stranded Donner Party, some of whom survived only by eating each other. Cannibalism may be seen as an apt, foreshadowing metaphor for eighth grade girl social politics.

Rooming arrangements were all the buzz. I assumed I’d be rooming with Maura and others TBD until she told me, less than apologetically, that she was going to room with two of the popular girls instead of me because they were expert skiers and I was a novice. It’s true she was an excellent skier, but she was awkward and unfashionable and definitely not in the right company. I was left scrambling for roommates and ended up with two pleasant (but at that point undistinguished) new girls I didn’t know very well. Maura’s betrayal ached like a knife to the ribs; she didn’t make up for it by seeking me out at meals, instead sticking like glue to her roommates until she’d outworn her welcome.

I’m not proud of what happened next. Maura had broken the best friend bond by abandoning me in my moment of need, and I figured she had no further claim on my loyalty. When we got back to school, she continued misreading signals, following the populars around, refusing to notice their pointed looks and whispers until they weren’t whispers any more. Over their shoulders, they called her PTTA to her face—pony-tailed tag-along. While I didn’t chime in, neither did I defend as her ostracism intensified and the set of everyone’s shoulders hardened against her. I wasn’t going down in her sinking ship.

Fourteen-year-old girls can enact a shunning like nobody else. Come the end of the school year, no one saw Maura again. She’d been officially dumped, and she changed schools without a word.

I often wonder what went on behind the scenes, what she told herself, what she told her mom, whether she was happy again after she moved on, whether the experience of being collectively spurned by us had scarred her for life. You couldn’t pay me enough to negotiate the social minefield of eighth grade again. I imagine she feels the same way.