It started in Grade Three. When the leaves in the forest next to the school grounds exploded in degradations of red.
Somehow the simplicity of previous school years had changed, giving way to an ominous feeling deep in my stomach.
At recess, I would watch the head girls, a band of six, converge in the forest. These girls had a great influence over the rest of the girls in my class, presiding over their fiefdom. They wore Roots sweaters, Cotton Ginny sweatpants and had cottages in Muskoka. Their lunches filled with exotics such as McCain Pizza (pepperoni) cookies and stickers.
I gathered that over the first few weeks of school, that they must have been holding secret clubs and planning important things. I named them The Order. Their world was sealed off from mine, magical in its exclusive glamour.
As Halloween approached, I saw that my physical body was vanishing to The Order. At lunch, my palms would feel greasy and my eyes burned. No one appeared to see me. At first I was embarrassed by being selected to vanish. To submit to The Order's decree, I would hide in a bathroom stall to confirm that indeed I could be invisible.
Why had I been selected? Was it my curly hair that I tamed straight by not washing it? Was it because I was hopeless at spelling and math? Was it my lunch that offended the air, pungent with hard-boiled eggs, sprats and pickles, wrapped in a crumpled brown paper bag? Maybe it was my pencil case, a cast off adopted from one of my mother's high school classrooms? Or was it because three was an odd number?
Winter arrived with new snowsuits and the Order's talk of vacations in the Bahamas and Christmas trees. Their war had begun.
Walking into the classroom, the whole class slid their desks to the other side of the room. Birthday parties on store bought invitations included what appeared to be all but me.
Even the boys, who were once natural to the war. I became their battering ram, the recipient of punches in the stomach by the Head Boy at lunchtime, unseen by the teacher's eye. Thankfully.
Pebbles were thrown at my head and words like "ugly" " stupid" and "smelly" replaced my name. Or, were these my new names?
Deep winter with snow turning to frozen slush. The prank calls began. I could hear the girls giggle on the other end of the phone as I said "hello?" Over and over again. Sometimes, I would lie under my covers begging God to smother me in my bed, so I never had to emerge again.
When I was sick, I would save my gum in a glass jar. After I became well, I would chew it again in hopes of reinfection so that I could miss more school.
My mother began to call :
-the parents of the children
Her voice cracking with rage. They were now winning. Both my mother and I had lost control. She was repeatedly told that there was nothing that could be done, as it was not fair to insist that these children be friends with me.
A solution arrived with my first sophisticated purchase.
A red watch with plastic straps and a rainbow in the centre of the watch face. My watch was similar to some of the girls' in The Order. This could be my laurel leaf, ending all of this. I unveiled during math class, raising my wrist in the direction of the rest of them.
Words like "cheap" and "copycat" were whispered.
Maybe they were right. Maybe I was all they said to me and about me. Somehow I had missed this obvious truth. One evening, I took a dressmaking pin, dragging it across my face, watching multiple lines of blood form.
My mother threw a confused me in the car, taking me to Emergency where I was seen by the on-duty psychiatrist. He recommended that I see a therapist. Months passed with this therapist who asked strange and intrusive questions, my silence speaking more than my words ever could. Did he not understand this school was my universe, my past, my present my future?
Summer arrived with their talk of sleepover camp, cottages and bras. The war stopped suddenly; as quickly as it began. Did they win? I still remain unsure. What I do know is that I am permanently altered.