I hit puberty early, as well as the cognitive developments that went along with it.By the time I was in eighth grade, I had a maturity level that was not matched by many ofmy peers until I was a sophomore in college. From the end of fourth grade when myperiod started to about the end of seventh grade, I went through all the turmoil andredefinition that most people spend their high school years doing. I decided how much tobuck against my parents, and quickly got over that and moved on. I reconsidered the faithI had been brought up in, looked at it in different lights, asked the questions I needed to,and was reaffirmed in it before my peers even began to get beyond “Jesus loves me.” Itried different activities, found ones that fit me, and made commitments to them. All ofthe inner struggle was zip, bam, done with. But people are social beings, and the changes that I had done in isolation couldnot prepare me for the changes in my peers. I had a best friend from first grade on. I’m not sure why Jenny and I were bestfriends, but we had been since we were in the same class as first graders. The decisionwas there, absolute. You could have asked anyone in the elementary school and theanswer would be the same, Caitlin and Jenny were best friends. I’m not sure why – shewas into dogs and horse crazy besides. I liked stories and playing pretend in the mostfantastical ways possible. But being similar is not a requirement in being best friends atthat age. It was about having someone to sit with a lunch and whisper secrets to andalways be willing to be your partner when there was a group activity. And we were goodat that. We were stellar best friends. We entered middle school and were split up into different teams. The result wasdevastating. While we still had lunch together, that was it. It was impossible for her to bemy partner in anything to do with classes, ever. Of course we had other friends, but itwasn’t the same. That stalwart supporter was not immediately there. We seemed to clingeven closer together during lunch and recess because of the lack of contact at other times.One always knew where the other was at those times, and it was always close by. We made through the year and as seventh graders, we were placed in the sameteam, but again had no classes together. Starting in sixth grade, our school had abilitytracks for certain subjects. Upon entering the school, I had been placed in higher readingand language arts and was finally challenged in school. I blossomed academically. As Ihad always compared myself to my brother, I had never believed that I was smart. Ihadn’t been very interested in school in elementary – it wasn’t engaging, the activitieswere trivial and boring, and I would rather read. But now, in middle school, I had threeperiods of classes of people who thought the way I did, who didn’t need to hear thingsfour times to understand it, who could raise discussions, share thoughts. And the rest ofthe day I had classes full of people who were . . . not. And in those classes I was back toreading novels under the desk, and spouting off answers correctly even though I hadstopped listening a quarter hour ago. The taste of intellectual challenge I had through my advanced classes was madeall the more bitter when I began to realize that even they had capped expectations andthat the teachers did not feel the need to really get to know the level we were truly at andteach to that. I was excited to be part of good discussions in my advanced reading class,but even that class disappointed, as we often read the same books as the other classes,which were all much too simplistic compared to the challenging and engaging adult levelfantasy and science fiction novels I smuggled into classes to read when I got bored. But
for the first time, I was hungry for learning, and school might possibly have the ability toquench that curiosity. Maybe part of what happened was because now, in seventh grade, though wewere on the same team, I still had no classes with Jenny. It became apparent that all ofthose things I had affirmed myself as being, Jenny wasn’t. She didn’t really haveopinions. She didn’t know how to hold her own in a discussion. She didn’t like to readbooks. Now, as she had been horse crazy before, she was into pop stars, teen magazines,shopping, and boys. Don’t get me wrong – I liked boys, and they were an acutelyinteresting topic. But I liked also having conversations that included other things. But the differences didn’t matter, right? I went to go see Titanic with her, eventhough I didn’t have any interest in it, because she had a crush on Leonardo DeCaprio.And she valiantly sat through two whole games of Dungeons and Dragons with me, eventhough she had no idea what was going on. Why? Because we were best friends and wehad been since first grade. It was a fact, as solid as everything else I had spun my newwon identity around. While I struggled socially, I still had a best friend. I was picked onfor my nonexistent skills in sports, but Jenny was almost as bad and did not hold itagainst me. She was a likely as me to be the subject of ridicule on that count. A smallspace of solidarity. As sixth grade wore, and I was caught in my two sets of classes, more and moreoften I was the victim of bullies from the mixed level classes. They could see who wasgetting A’s while they struggled for C’s. They saw me succeeding even though I blatantlyignored the teacher while they could not make sense of some of the topics, no matter howmany times it was explained. They had no chance to do well while I was in their class,and they knew it, and they let me know it. But even though I was teased and harassed, Icould hold on because Jenny was my friend, because she had been my best friend foryears. I had a solid relationship that they could not take away from me. A relationshipbased on seven years of sitting together at the lunch table and whispering secrets. One day, in the middle of winter that seventh grade year, Jenny asked another girlto sit in between us. It was the end of the world. The relationship that no one could take away from us, we destroyed it ourselves. That was it, that was all that was left of our friendship. We had drifted so far apartthat our relationship at lunch and recess was our entire relationship, and she put someoneelse between her and me. I cried all through lunch and all through recess. My friendsfrom my classes, girls who never knew Jenny because they hadn’t been to our elementaryand were in the higher track, flocked to me, asked me what was wrong. And they got it,in a way that no adult would. It was one trivial action, but it was a deep symbol ofbetrayal. Did she mean to hurt me? Yes, she was picking a fight. Did she expect that Iwould react so severely and so permanently? Looking back, I think not. She knew that itwas my right, my place, as best friend to sit next to her. We had jealously guarded thatright for each other for a year and half, pushing others away with explanations, scatteredcoats, and sharp words about the spot for “my best friend.” It was the only time all daythat we could talk to each other. The only time we could speculate about our friends orthe boys at the other end of the table. The only time we could claim injustices at thehands of other students or of teachers. That space, that social security, that sacred right
that I had had as a best friend was gone, because she invited someone to sit next to herbetween us, instead of making room on her other side for the other girl. A girl who wasnot my friend, having come from Jenny’s classes, and not having any previous contactwith me. It could be that she knew it was a cut, but that it mattered less to her than it didto me. Or it could be that she’d thought I sit a take it, like I took the abuse hurled at meby everyone else. I had for nothing other than that anchor, that solid friendship. Perhapsthat she thought that I, usually so passive, would not make the effort to object. But as theone who asked for nothing but the friendship, the knowledge of one concrete relationship,it was clear that this could no longer be that. Most adults would look at the situation and be exasperated. Why make such a fussover sitting next to someone at lunch? Was it that big a deal? You were at the same table.Why not just sit together another day? But it was a big deal to me. It was a cut, a betrayalof trust. It struck the fundamental problems with our relationship. Few things could havemade a wound as deep. At some level I knew this; I never went to an adult with it. I hadbeen spurned from my lifeline, and the last thing I wanted to hear from an adult was that Iwas overreacting. It didn’t matter how sure I was of myself. It didn’t matter that I had grown into anew person. In fact, that was the problem. I had outgrown her. Intellectually, cognitively,I had left her in the dust. So socially, she did the same to me. I had redefined myself, andwhile I had kept “Jenny’s best friend” as part of the definition, everything else changed.So now that she was ready to begin her changes, her redefinition, that title had to go, orelse she would be trapped trying to follow me. And I had grown in dimensions and intoareas that she was not able to follow. It would be unfair to ask her to try. I look back now at it, and see that it was inevitable. Almost stupid. There was nobasis for friendship other than history. Nothing that we had in common other than our ageand grade. In growing up and starting to put on our new selves in the metamorphosis ofadolescence, the friendship had to fall behind. And it did. And suddenly, socialopportunities opened up for both of us. I had a number of very good friends that steppedup in the second half of that year once I stopped clinging to Jenny, and she settled in witha group that could be gush back to her about the latest boy band instead of smilingvaguely at her every time she brought it up. We did not fit anymore, our self discoverieshaving led us to far different places. Did the situation have to be as absolute as I made it out to be? No, probably not. Itwould have happened gradually without this incident as catalyst. But after it happened,we never did seek each other out. I moved tables to sit with the other girls in my languagearts class. We hung out in different places at recess, and had no more reason to keep incontact with each other. Either could have apologized, but she never even came to talk tome about it. Perhaps she had not intended it to cut quite as deep as it did, but the situationsuited her well enough not to seek to change it. In light of our class discussions, I wondered if the set up of the middle schoolaffected it at all. I’m not sure how much it did. We had a team set up, with three teamsper grade. I don’t know if I gathered the particular attention of any of the teachers beforethe incident. I think that science teacher we had, the only core teacher that had both of us(though not at once), noticed that we had a social issue going on. During the second halfof the year, she checked in several times with me and was watching close enough to beone of the only teachers that caught a bullying incident against me, and she intervened on
my behalf. But she never spoke to me about Jenny specifically, so I don’t know if sheknew there was a problem between us, or whether she had just realized that I was insocial trouble and felt badly for me. As I mentioned earlier, problems I was having withinschool and the set up of the teams fed the situation, but the fact would have remained thatour relationship was not a mature one, and it was one that was likely to not survivematuration. It hurt, at the time. It hurt abominably. But I can look back and see now, that wasalright. It was the cost of growing up. And we were likely both better off for it.