The Lasting Memory of Exclusion


The sting is at once startling and searing.

At first, you think. this isn’t what’s happening. You’re misinterpreting what you see. And then it hits you. You’re being purposely excluded. Those girls  are crossing the street to avoid you. You think you’re imagining something but you know you’re not. It’s real.

It happened to me in high school. When I went to California for a two week visit, I had a best friend, the same best friend I’d had for years. When I came home, she had left me. She said I was ‘different’ but never explained what that meant. I puzzled over this and thought it might be true. The trip was the first time I’d flown anywhere and I went by myself, hunched in the window seat, face up against the glass the entire way. I’d never seen things from that high up. In L.A, my sister handed me the keys to her car and went to her job at the Gas Company. “Don’t get lost!” she laughed over her shoulder, assuming I could find my way on the web of L.A. freeways. She and I talked long into the night, about our lives, about our parents. We talked as equals, as kin. Adults. Coming home, I felt bigger, not small anymore, not as young. So maybe my best friend was right. I was different.

When I came back to school, I saw right away that she had been brought into the hive of the best girls. At first, I thought it was temporary, like something happening just today. But the next day was more of the hive and the hive started to travel – up and down the halls, to the lunchroom, then the parking lot and the stands at the football game. I waited for her to motion for me to join the hive, part walls so I could step in, tell the best girls I was one of them. But she didn’t do that. Instead, every now and then, she’d glance back at me, sometimes another girl would, too, and they’d both look like it was a delicious feeling to be in the hive and to see other girls’ yearning. I’ll never forget that look or the yearning.

It was two boys who rescued me. One had a car and the other was his sidekick. We rode around town after school telling jokes and arguing about politics.They didn’t know about the hive, they’d never seen it. It didn’t exist in their world and so I envied them.

Eventually, my former best friend and I became friends again. But it was a distant relationship, formal almost. She had taken part in excluding me, she’d looked back at me from the hive. That razor slit of insult and rejection; it was tiny like the old time smallpox vaccinations, a little X on my arm. It probably would have healed with time but I wouldn’t let it. It’s still there fifty years later.


15 Comments on “The Lasting Memory of Exclusion

  1. Reblogged this on Red Said What? and commented:
    RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT?…The Lasting Memory of Exclusion

    If you’ve never been the Queen Bee or held court in the hive
    If you’ve ever ached alongside a child or grown friend who felt the sting of exclusion
    If you’re climbing a social ladder or building one for your children

    Then please read this post by Red’s Wrap.

  2. Great post, Jan. It reminded me of The Breakfast Club. I used that movie to illustrate group process when I was teaching, but we also talked about social class, adolescent development, belonging, etc.
    I always felt like I was on the edge of the in crowd – because that is where I wanted to be. I didn’t like what I saw on the inside but didn’t know what to do if I wasn’t there. I also spent time with the girls who were kind of loners – because I liked who they were as people. Even back then, I think integrity was more important to me than belonging. It might be easier for an introvert to navigate adolescence than it is for an extrovert. Those high school years are brutal and I would never want to go back.

  3. Oh yes. I can’t imagine how much worse it must be with social media expanding the hive poison to everyone, including the boys. They might still choose to be impervious: I don’t know.

  4. I haven’t been on wordpress in a
    over a year (life has been hectic). I’m so glad I stopped in and that you were one of the first blogs in my reader. Thank you for writing about your experiences. Thank you for writing about what is real <3

  5. Wow, how I remember that feeling..Like something inside you giving way and falling so deep that you could never find the bottom of it. Thirty years later, I still always had the feeling that my friends would all eventually desert me. Hasn’t happend but a little bit of that fear still clings. Excellent writing, Jan.

  6. Pingback: The Lasting Memory of Exclusion – Praying for Eyebrowz

  7. Isn’t it amazing that we can still feel those stings? I know I can. I never yearned for popularity, but my best friend did. When I moved away our senior year she abandoned our little group of misfits and was taken into the popular group. It really upset the other girls we’d been friends with since first grade, but didn’t bother me until she wrote me a letter. In it she said that my moving was the best thing that ever happened to her. I never quite got over that. I still can’t blog about it. That’s how much it hurt.

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