Circumstances lead to metamorphosis
The other day I was walking down an aisle in the grocery store when “Mimi’s” phone number popped into my head. It has been over 30 years since I dialed it. She and I were once friends, part of a posse of 13-year-old girls my parents dubbed the Rat Pack.
“Hello, rats!” they’d say, as I cringed.
I can’t know what watershed adolescent experience my own son, 14, will someday cite; my brother had one at that age that was mixed but vital. If I were to name such an experience, I know what it would have to be, and it was tough.
My brother Ted’s emergence was at a six-week wilderness summer camp. As my mother put him ” spindly and irascible, intimidated by bigger boys ” on the bus, and it pulled away, Ted turned and through the window gave her a long look that still haunts her.
Having been on Outward Bound myself, I had given him one piece of advice: not to complain. At that time Ted enjoyed fretting; but when he returned, it was with a new demeanor, a new voice, and this report from his counselor: “I never heard a serious complaint from or about him.” Ted says the tenet has served him ever since.
As for me, life got more complicated in fifth grade, when the girls started banding and expelling. I hung on, diligently, and was retained. I was sometimes passive when the group decided to be “mad” at someone, other times a participant, and that now makes me cringe.
At 13 we all had the same hair, jeans, and laugh. A “boyfriend,” such as they were at the time, once broke up with me, saying (through an emissary) that I had “no personality.” Really, I didn’t. I mostly emulated the assured Mimi and “Beth.” And we three, plus two other girls at different times, had fun: swimming, waterskiing, watching late-night monster movies, playing endless games of Spades, talking about everything.
Our junior high was overcrowded, resorting to “split sessions”: school from 7 to noon, or noon to 5. In what had seemed a catastrophe to me, the kids from our tiny elementary school were split up, with me on the opposite session from the only girls I knew. The situation was untenable. Over time Mimi and Beth got mad when I spent too much time with a new friend, “Darcy.” Darcy eventually grew bewildered that I was never free on weekends. And then as I hit ninth grade, my parents, fed up with my overcrowded school and my doing nothing in it, yanked me and put me in a private school.
Within two months, I was out of the pack, gone. Beth and I had been friends since third grade. Life was over. What would I ever do on Friday nights, Saturdays? When you are a teen, it is hard to think beyond the present, or consider that current peers might not be those who are important all your life.
But within a very short time I realized my liberation. I could make new friends at my new school. Pursue new interests. I could do whatever I wanted. I played field hockey, entered school plays; grew avidly interested in some (not all) school subjects.
Over the years I bumped, separately, into Beth and Mimi, who’d eventually fallen out; we had friendly conversations. In our early 20s, Mimi and I worked together at a job and became friends all over again. She was lovely, funny, full of panache. A few years later, I saw her name in the registry after the memorial service for my father.
Beth wrote me a note.
But before that, when I was 17, I saw Mimi at a party, and she said, “There’s something I want to say to you. That was really sh–ty what we did to you. I’m sorry.” I told her it didn’t matter at all, that it was fine. It was.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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