She stood at the front of the class, waiting to be introduced, though ‘thrown to the lions’ would have been more accurate.
She had shoulder-length hair which was thick and cut without care, dry at the ends and mousy brown. Her frame was thick also, and her gait awkward. In short, she didn’t stand a chance of fitting in.
Giggles from the boys as the teacher introduced her; some of them offered her a seat next to their mates who shrunk back in disgust. The teacher, who did not altogether lack humanity, told them sternly to be quiet and sat her next to me and my small group of misfits. I was no stranger to being ridiculed by boys, the difference was, I found them equally disgusting, so didn’t blush red when they made fun of my acne or my greasy hair. I had been blessed with a quick wit and a cutting tongue, one withering remark from which would cut them down to size so they would leave me in peace and move on to an easier target.
I took the new girl under my wing, as much as anybody did. It wasn’t that I was particularly kind, but rather that I didn’t engage in wanton acts of pack-cruelty like the majority of my classmates. I didn’t find her particularly interesting or fun, but neither did I want her to be an outcast, so I tolerated her, and she was at least tacitly accepted into my close-knit group of friends. I like to think this made her school days bearable, at least for that short time.
Once, I’d stayed the night at her house. That had been a strange experience. She had younger twin sisters who were bright and bonny with shining blonde hair. They were ‘normal’ and their sister wasn’t; that’s how their parents obviously felt about it. Her father especially (an ugly man who looked like an inbreed) was a big fan of normality. I got the impression he had tried to bully her into it, maybe worse (though the ‘worse’ part didn’t occur to me until much later). He’d spotted straight away I wasn’t normal (I got up at least twice through the night to use the toilet, and he’d made a big deal of it) and after this (to my relief) I hadn’t been invited back.
Soon after the time I’d visited her house, she was pulled out of our school. It turned out she’d had an eating disorder (though you wouldn’t have known it to look at her, I thought to myself, with burgeoning teenage bitchiness: I was just beginning to develop one myself, and had wondered what was the point, if it didn’t make you any thinner?) She’d taken some kind of an overdose and been sent to a mental institution. This had come as a surprise, even to me. I’d only thought that she’d been quiet and reserved; I’d been blind to her quiet desperation.
Some months later, we learned the second overdose had been successful. She’d killed herself at the age of fifteen. No-one who heard this news said very much about it then, nor have we since. I only thought back to a time she’d eaten copper sulphate crystals in Chemistry class, then showed us her blue tongue and laughed. I’d thought it an act of attention seeking silliness at the time, but looking back, I realise that even small acts such as this, though they’d seemed frivolous, had been a cry for help, and nobody had heard it.
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