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  • Jenny

6. Over (and Into) the Frost Valley River

I think the first time I truly realized I was an outcast was during my 9th grade field trip. It was my first time away from home without my family, and the anxiety had already set in. You know how it feels to be picked last for the team? Well, that rarely bothered me, because I “knew” it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with my lack of athletic ability.

Until this trip. On the trip to Frost Valley, we got to stay in little houses in groups of four. Prior to the trip, we had the opportunity to sign up to stay with who we wanted. None of my so-called friends approached me to stay with them, and when I looked at the sign-up sheets, they were all in full houses. There was not one person, with an opening, who wanted me with them. I was heartbroken.

Do you know what house WAS open though? The one with the “outcasts”: a girl who was made fun of for never talking; a girl who got made fun of for smelling like pea soup; and a girl who was made fun of for being just plain weird. And then there was me. To this day, I am grateful not to know the actual words used to make fun of me, though I could just imagine between my weight, glasses and retainer, it was not flattering.

I was mortified. Now me, I had always been kind to these girls. Yet I will admit, to save myself from being the target, I would laugh along whenever they were made fun of. But to their faces, I always felt bad and just couldn’t find it in me to be cruel.

But I certainly could find it in me to be judgmental.

I was in a house with the school outcasts, and I just didn’t know how to show my face. I didn’t know how I was going to go on this trip and enjoy myself.

It wasn’t an easy trip, and it certainly wasn’t my best. I found some humor in it though along the way. When we got to the cabin, the bathrooms were filthy. Trained by a wonderfully clean mother, and my Virgo instincts, I had Lysol with me and made sure that our bathroom sparkled before we could even use it. My “friends” had made fun of me for bringing Lysol with me, but my roommates certainly were appreciative. I know it sounds odd, but it was my way of showing I cared about us all, and that I wanted to be a good roomie.

And I was—and so were they. I was surprised at how much fun I had with our late night chats, getting to know them and just laughing about the silliest things. And when it came time to merge with the rest of our class, they always allowed me to join them so I didn’t feel alone. It was kind of them, and it helped to be wanted by someone.

But this was 9th grade, and it was hard to live with the sting of being ignored and laughed at by people who you thought to be your friends, and watching them all have fun, and not inviting you.

I mean, sure, there was a limit of 4 people per cabin; but was there also a limit on how many people can hang out together? Clearly, there was. I just couldn’t understand why I was so ostracized.

So throughout the whole trip, I felt like a loner. I kept to myself, and listened to the all of the teacher presentations, appreciated the nature around me and looked for ways to have a little fun. I tried to

keep my pride in tact and not let anyone see me cry, or know how hurt I was on the inside. But that didn’t fare too well. You see, I also had another problem—wherever I went, accidents happened.

At birthday parties, I would accidentally break something; or get kicked in the face by a cartwheel

and have to go to the emergency room for stitches. You know, awesomely awkward stuff.

So my experience at Frost Valley was no different. We were hiking along a waterway, which I can’t recall the name of, but whose name I remember reflected its dangerousness. It was extremely rocky, with rapid water rushing through it, which led to a deadly drop.

We had stopped to take a look at the water, and I, like many other kids, stepped onto a rock nearby to get a better look. Now, I was on a completely dry rock, I wasn’t monkeying around like the others,

or peering too far over, but somehow I ended up in the water. I can remember the water rushing at me as I grabbed onto a large rock.

Luckily, a boy from my class was right by me and saw me fall in, and helped me out. He got me to calm down, reached out his hand and then pulled me out. Had it not been for this boy, and his quick actions, I do not know if I would be alive to talk about it today.

Oh, did I mention that this particular boy happened to be my longtime middle school crush?

So along with gratitude was an even deeper sense of mortification. Luckily, even in his teasing of me afterwards, he was never cruel about it, and kept checking in to see if I was okay. His kindness helped me get through the rest of the torment of others making fun of me. I have never been suicidal in my entire life, but I will admit that even then, in that moment, part of me wished he just let me be.

My friendships were never the same anymore after that trip. Pathetically, I tried and tried through the rest of my years to win over their approval. At times, I had it. At times, I was invisible again. I fit in much better with the students a year ahead of me, and they became the friends I hung out with. The others were just my classmates now—though I never understood what was so wrong with me that I was not good enough. Turns out, I may have been too good.

Who knows? I have long since lost touch with all of them, though for many of us, most high school friendships are just a part of the growing up process and don’t last much longer than graduation. They serve their purpose of shared childhoods, growing pains, hurts and cherished memories, all meant to help shape our social skills for forging stronger relationships in the future.

And we are always for the better because of them.

But this trip taught me something I believe my “friends” weren’t ready for: the ability to see beyond a person’s outside and treasure who they were on the inside. I opened my heart and mind to these “misfits”—these kindred spirits who knew the receiving end of mean laughter—and what beautiful people they were.

It bonded us for the rest of our years in high school, though we never did forge friendships where we hung out. But we did have an appreciation for each other, and an unspoken code of having each other’s backs. I always made time to smile, say hello and sit near them in class whenever I had the opportunity…and they reciprocated. After all, they got to know me—the fourth outcast—better as well. Because in the end, I realized I was no “better” nor “worse” than them (or my “friends”), and we were all in this together.

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