I was looking down the long hallway when something hit me in the head. The brown paper bag bounced to the floor and I bent down to pick it up careful to keep my skirt pulled down and my legs together. Behind me my friends were laughing. I gave them a confused smile and unrolled the top of the brown paper bag. It was filled with scraps of paper.
This was middle school. Friendship was the only way to survive.
I walked to social studies, my only classroom without windows. My desk was in the front of the class, close enough to see the spittle congeal into a white paste at the corner of the teacher’s mouth. It was difficult to find a way to read the notes from my friends this close to her. So slowly that you couldn’t hear the crinkle of the lunch bag I plucked out the first note and smoothed it on my lap.
“Anna picks her nose.”
The heat rushed through my body. I opened another one.
“You are uninvited to my birthday party.”
I was sure the whole class could hear my heartbeat.
“You are a know it all and everybody hates you.”
“You think you are funny but really we are laughing AT you.” This one was signed by every girl that I considered a friend.
There were at least 30 slips of paper.
Everything slowed. I could see the cycle of the fluorescent lights. I could feel the tilt of the earth as it spun on its axis. This was probably the end of the world.
I pushed my chair back and rushed out the door leaving behind my notebook but clutching the bag of notes in my sweaty hand.
Standing right outside the classroom the long hall that I had walked confidently just moments before seemed to go on into an unfathomable darkness. Through the small slice of window in the French room across from where I stood I met the eye of one of the six authors of the notes. Her blond hair shone, her blue eyes sparkled, and I noticed for the first time how many teeth she had when she smiled.
I kept the brown bag of notes in my desk drawer until I left home for college. I read through them every once in a while, slowly feeling the sharp pain dull as I moved on to new friends and new schools. When I finally recycled them it wasn’t because I had finished my exposure therapy. As I packed my t shirts and edgy black and white photos for my dorm room I imagined my mother missing me. I thought of her walking down our own long hallway past her books and my father’s sculpture and sitting on my mint green bedspread. I thought of her opening the desk drawer to find a bag marked Anna anna ANNA Anna ANna in 7 colors of markers and considering whether to open it. She would, not to intrude but because she missed me. She wanted a piece of Anna and here was a bagful. Then she would see the truth. That I was unlovable. That I was a know it all. That I would never have a friend again. And that I picked my nose.
So to spare her from this imaginary pain I got rid of the bag of notes leaving behind love letters and funny postcards and cartoons from people who became my friends. But not when I was thirteen. Not when I needed friends the most.
It was a lonely year of lunches in the bandroom and keeping my head down as I walked the hallway.
As it turns out it was not the end of the world, the earth still spins, hallways lead to possibilities rather than pain, and I am proud to say that I pick my nose.
I was inspired to write this post by my friend Sheryl Glubock who is making a short film about 13 year old girls and their changing friendships. In an industry that largely ignores the voice of girls Sheryl is carving out a place to tell a coming of age story that every woman can relate to. It is not just this project that is worthy of your support, it is also the new space that is being created in independent film. Joining the seed and spark community (which is free) allows filmmakers to break away from Hollywood and commercial driven screenplays. The seed and spark page for Lily and Rose is going live today. Would you please like this project and consider supporting this story.