I may have learned more about life in sixth grade than any other age, stage or phase. It was an awkward time fueled by being in the same building with the same people since kindergarten. We were growing up and growing irritable, with each other and with our limited surroundings. It was easy to go from the most popular girl in class to the least. To say the least.
Toward the end of the school year, students were treated to a class bowling trip. On the day of the event, the class was rambunctious — goofing off and talking out of turn. Our teacher warned us to calm down or else. The class continued cutting up and as promised, our trip was canceled. Those of us who had parents slated to drive students were told to go to the office to tell them we weren’t going.
I was first in line to call my mother from the secretary’s desk. What happened? My mom inquired. “Oh, a couple of guys got us in trouble. Probably Mike and Steve.”
The kids behind me gasped. ”Awwwww!” one of them taunted. Little did I know, the culprits weren’t Mike and Steve. I had assumed the class clowns were responsible for ruining our day. I was wrong. I was so very wrong.
The kids beat me to the classroom to tell Mike and Steve what I had said. The two were furious. Everyone in the class looked shocked that I would do such a thing. There was a blend of “That’s cold, Kate!” and “You’re so stupid!” chants and rants. Girls in the class scowled in disappointment and disbelief. The teacher reclaimed control of the excitement.
“Enough!” she shouted. ”This is exactly why we’re not going. You can’t control your mouths.”
I became lunchroom poison within the hour. When I asked my friend to sit with me, assuming the flair up had died down, she turned her back. I moved on to another girlfriend. ”You just don’t get it,” this friend spat. “You had no right to blame them. It’s unfair.”
I sat by myself that day and the day after. For a week, the usual crowd ignored me. They whispered to each other, rolled their eyes, pointed fingers and laughed at jokes that couldn’t possibly have been that funny.
I apologized to Mike and Steve. They rejected my apology. I apologized to my closest friend. She rejected my apology. I called former friend after former friend on the telephone and asked them to forgive me. They hung up.
I was miserable.
When the field trip was rescheduled, our teacher asked whom we wanted to ride with us to the bowling alley. She called my name, and I looked around the classroom at boys and girls who wouldn’t make eye contact. They doodled in their notebooks, picked at their fingers, shook their heads to warn me in advance. I announced four familiar names. They protested.
I begged my friends not to be mad, but each time I tried to engage them in conversation to hear my side — to hear my regret — they told me off. I made a mistake and I’d have to suffer the consequences of being an outcast.
The teacher called my mother to fill her in on what was going on. That night, my mom asked why I would blame people for something they didn’t do. I explained that I simply guessed, in a private conversation, which was overheard and then spread throughout the class.
“Did you say you were sorry?” Mom asked.
“Yes. Many times.”
“And are you sorry?” she questioned.
“And they still won’t accept it?” she continued.
“Then that’s their burden,” she said. ”Staying mad is hard work.”
On the day of the field trip, three girls that I didn’t usually spend time with climbed into my mother’s Dodge Minivan. I asked if they wanted to ride with someone else. I was prepared for them to jump out the window.
“No. Why?” one girl asked.
Because of what I said about Mike and Steve…
“That’s between you, Mike and Steve,” the girl replied.
But everyone despises me, I told her.
“They’ll get over it.”
And they did. It was a long haul until June, but I was slowly accepted by my classmates once the sting wore off. I learned a valuable lesson, though: Adversity is allowed in our lives for a reason. We don’t grow from perfection. The damaging situation should be our discipline, not the power of other people. I don’t agree that we should break down and beg others to let us back in their lives or their good graces. I also don’t believe self-pity is an appropriate use of our time or tears, and I don’t think we should consider ourselves victims in situations that we created. But, I do believe that we should shut up and learn from the silence. There’s something to be said for keeping our mouths closed. Stop begging. Stop explaining. Stop arguing. Stop debating. Stop insisting. Stop proving. Stop campaigning. Stop trying.
Just stop. Let people distance themselves if that’s what they want to do, or feel they need or have to do. If friends bolt, then let them go. If they want to harbor resentment, whether the reason directly involves them or not, then accept that the relationship is over. Maybe it’s for the best.
We moved on to junior high, where I met kids from different elementary schools, and it launched what would become the best years of my young adult life. What happened in sixth grade would be forgotten. However, I still remember the feeling of being wrong, particularly when my own children apologize for something they’ve done. And I take their word for it.
Blogger’s note: Identities have been changed for privacy. Mike and Steve are my husband and brother-in-law. I hope they don’t mind me using their names.