The Summer She Saved Me

March 14, 2019



The summer between 7th and 8th grade, my group of friends decided that they hated me. That group of girls made Lord of the Flies look like hopscotch.

I spent my entire 7th grade year living in terror, wondering when it was going to be my turn to be “out.” Because I knew it was coming, and coming it did. Summer.

You know what’s weird about bullying? People talk about it all the time. The endless weeks of ass-kicking at recess, the lies they tell their mothers about the bruises and black eyes, because the backlash from the truth terrifies more than any fist. The extended legs that trip them in the crowded, nasty hallway next to the choir room. That kind of bullying? It’s front page news. For good reason. But.

There’s bullying of a different flavor, and that kind of flavor is feminine. Boys duke it out in the field after school and shake hands over bloody noses. Girls destroy each other. They do it in a manner that is indicative of their gender. Death by Exclusion. Girls don’t beat your ass; girls decide you don’t exist. And then proceed accordingly.

One day, you walk to school with a sack lunch, hang your coat on a hook, walk over to the same group of girls you sat with yesterday, and they look right through you. Turn their backs like they never even saw you.

But you know they saw you. Of course they did.

The Summer of Shunning was fuck-all terrible. Especially because those hyenas forgot to ignore me. They’d call and say, “You know what we did today? Remember all of the pictures we took the last day of school? Well, today, we went through them and every picture you were in, we burned in Shannon’s backyard.”

It was a summer I’d love to forget.  I wanted the world to swallow me whole.

The world didn’t answer, that bastard.

Instead, the universe brought me an unexpected guest. My sister. The older sister who pushed me down the stairs and snarled and hissed and demanded that I leave her alone when I was a child.  That sister.

That sister somehow understood. Maybe because she has a history of shitting in her own nest but I like to think that she softened. That she knew I had no bearings.

That summer, she was working for Daddy-o (didn’t we both, sir!) and had been issued a company car, which was horrid and awesome at the same time. Horrid: Silver Oldsmobile. Long as an anaconda. Awesome: Daddy owns the damn gas station and has the magic gas card–free gas all summer long.

She deemed the vehicle “The Serpent,” because it was long and thin and had a lazy way of navigating turns. It didn’t so much turn as glide.

It made me laugh, that she called it “The Serpent.”

She even made up her own little ditty to the Beach Boys–we were “Serpin’ USA.” And I laughed so hard I’d thought I’d break and loved her then. I loved her.

We Serped around that summer, radio blasting, angry and taking on the world, Journey screaming from the radio.

We Serped and Serped, slithering around town.

It was the summer my sister saved me.

That’s what I want to remember.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Pearl March 14, 2019 at 11:16 pm

She was there for you and you are here for us. Thank you both. xo

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Kel March 19, 2019 at 10:27 am

The difference between overt and covert aggression is heartbreaking, but also fascinating. I found it so because, as an adult studying it for an adolescent psych degree, I learned about the long acting effect and also the hidden origins of both. I also learned that I was an anomaly in school, as a girl who couldn’t understand the mechanics of girls. I couldn’t wrap my head around backstabbing or shunning. I didn’t comprehend the power struggle that existed within my tiny little school.

For me, my early history of abuse and utter lack of emotional guidance meant that I only knew overt aggression. So when someone came at me, I swung back. I got in fights constantly as a kid. It seemed a lot more efficient and definitive for me. Now obviously, I realize that it was NOT a good option. But even as I got older and learned how to control my temper, I never got good at the back-biting.

Wish I’d known you back then. I probably would’ve beat the shit out of the girl who called you about the photos, and then dragged you into the kitchen to bake brownies.

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Dana Talusani March 20, 2019 at 6:19 am

Kel, I kind of like that you always went down swinging. You are one brave chick.

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elizabeth March 19, 2019 at 6:49 pm

So, true story: in my 10th-grade high school English class when we read Lord of the Flies, I posited that girls at that age would have been much more savage than the boys. You should have SEEN the looks I got for saying that, especially from the other girls in the class. It’s such a mindfuck of an age for girls, though, and when combined with the internalized misogyny we’re taught at that delicate time, especially around puberty and menstruation and the like, no wonder we’re all fucked up. And people like you and me, we’re ripe to become random victims of this for no valid or rational reason.

I’m so glad your sister saved you that summer. And that’s what you need to remember as you’re processing all of this.

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Dana Talusani March 20, 2019 at 6:18 am

Elizabeth, you were spot-on with those observations. Kudos to you for even recognizing that at the time. Girls SUCK.

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