I was one of nine girls in my 4th grade class. 9 girls and 21 boys. I remember all the girls: besides me, there was Jennifer, Tammy, Holly, Roshawnda, Yoon-sin, Tiffany, Stephanie and Lori. Holly was my best friend, Lori was my next door neighbor. Roshawnda and Yoon-sin were my favorite recess playmates, Tiffany and Stephanie were the popular rich girls who were mean to everyone else, and Jennifer and Tammy...well, I'll get to them in a minute.
Our teacher was the most popular teacher in the entire school: a tall, bucktoothed scarecrow of a woman with slight scoliosis and an affinity for folk music. She brought her guitar to class and often played it at the end of each day, having us sing along with songs like Marching To Pretoria and dorky shit like that. But hey, we were kids, it was the late 70s/early 80s - what the hell did we know about being cool?
We went on a lot of field trips, and on these occasions, many of the stay at home moms would volunteer to drive. The great thing about field trips was that, because Teacher had a boat sized station wagon, she would take all 9 girls in her car. The even greater thing was, on the way back from wherever we were field tripping, she would often take us to her home for a quick snack. She showed us her garden where she grew her own strawberries and rhubarb for her homemade pies and we were allowed to play with her dog Fred, an ugly little floor mop with a severe underbite.
We were made to feel special. We were the Teacher's Girls. We were a small, select group who received special treatment. But even within such a small group, there are ranks and castes. We may have been Teacher's Favorites, but her Favorite Favorite's were Jennifer and Tammy.
None of us knew why they were Teacher's Pets. Jennifer was a short, reasonably pretty girl with dark blonde hair cut in a feathery bob. Tammy was taller with long dark hair and a slight speech impediment. I liked them both, but I slowly learned to resent them their unique niche within our tiny group. They were always called upon by Teacher to choose the best dancer/singer/whatever. They were always the captains of the teams, whether it was volleyball or spelling bee. It was obvious to seven preteen girls that they were getting special treatment, but we never thought of it as something the Teacher was doing that was wrong. After all, she was an Adult. How could she be wrong? It must be that the rest of us were lacking something that made her not select us as her special girls. It made us more competitive amongst one another, more catty and underhanded. Except I wasn't very good at clawing my way up through the ranks to seize the coveted throne of Popularity. I didn't understand the Hows or the Whys. I just wanted to double dutch at recess.
So one fateful day, as we were readying for yet another field trip, Teacher made the grim announcement that she no longer had enough room in her car for all nine girls. Why, I don't know. She hadn't traded in her station wagon for a VW bug or anything. Nevertheless, she stood grim and unsmiling at the head of the class, and it was clear that whoever was removed from the car had done something to displease her, was not as acceptable or as treasured as the other girls and would forever after be branded an Outsider. All of the girls held their breath, silently praying that it wouldn't be their name that was announced in front of everyone.
And of course it wasn't. It was my name.
I heard eight relieved exhales, then eight pairs of eyes turn and look at me, all of them wondering what defect Teacher had seen in me to publicly shame me in such a manner, wondering what they'd missed all this time. Teacher did not look at me, or offer an explanation or an apology, just announced I was out, cut off, excluded.
I just googled my old Teacher's name. She's 78, retired and a registered Republican.
I wonder if she understands the damage she did, or just doesn't give a shit?