We were to move back to the States after living in England for 5 years. I had come to England a little girl, still playing Addams Family and jacks, and now I was 14, rolling the waistband of my blue pleated school uniform skirt over and over so that my hem grazed the tops of my thighs instead of my knees.
I said good-bye to my school friends, the group of girls I had been with for the last two years. I had never merged with them the way I thought I should. School was different at this school than it had ever been before, much as I wished and tried to change it.
I had come here the year before, running from the sudden meanness of the girls who had, in the beginning, been the best, longest-term friends I had ever had.
In all the many schools I’d been to since nursery school things like friends had come easy, up until the night in boarding school, aged 12, when Jane and Sheila, 2 girls who were not part of my immediate and very intimate circle, invited me to move out from the row of cubicles into a dorm room with them.
Jane was stout with a round face, thin mousy hair and light freckles. She was kind and nice and middle-aged ahead of her time. Sheila, her best friend, was the opposite – kind, yes, but tall, slim, blonde and pretty.
They wanted me to fill the third bed in their small dorm room under the eaves and I said yes. We were standing in the huge hall that had once been a ballroom and was now used for daily assemblies and after-dinner playtime. Younger girls ran around playing tag the way we used to. Older girls were tucked away up in their private balcony sitting room where only they were allowed. And a few of our peers had a portable turntable going in a corner, playing 45s.
And Jane and Sheila suggested I move out of the cubicles in the middle of the year and go share their dorm. I had never heard of anyone switching beds mid-year, or asking for any kind of change. But their smiling faces were inviting me and what other answer was there but to say yes?
As I lay in bed that night I had a sense of dread, of wishing I could take it back, but in the morning there were Jane and Sheila, saying how excited they were.
The hissing began. Madeleine, Nicola, Lucy Ann – friends with whom I had written and staged plays, friends I wrote to and received fat letters from all through the school breaks when we were marooned at home, friends I had never questioned, now said that I was bad because I was moving in with Jane and Sheila, leaving Ann, my official best friend behind in her lonely bed across from me in our curtained-off cubicle village.
I hadn’t thought of it like that. Ann was not, in truth, most of the time my very favorite, but she was good. It was she who had picked me as a best friend and for 3 years it had stuck though sometimes I wished we weren’t so irrevocably married. Ann was a true true tomboy with not one feminine grace, sort straight lifeless brown hair and a pixie face. But she was smart and playful and most of the time we did just fine.
The other girls – Madeleine, Nicola and Lucy Ann – told me I was cruel and thoughtless and it was as if they exposed a truth. I had been found out. That’s what it felt like. They must be right. A brown spot, like a bruise on an apple, had been uncovered in me and it could no longer be hidden.
I moved to the dorm as promised and the last half of the school year played out, but I was not safe anymore. I asked my mother, casually so that she would not pry, if I could switch schools at the end of the year.
Boarding school for me had been my father’s dream and fantasy to which my mother had acquiesced since I too had wanted it so much. She grabbed me back as soon as I suggested it.
In the new school I thought I would pick up where I left off, but something had happened. The bruise on the apple stayed with me. It was as if in the new class everything was already in place. I could find no way to the center. I had to stay on the outside and be friends with the girls who didn’t have any friends.