Monday, October 17, 2011

The Conversations of Little Girls in Bathrooms

As Gabby walks through bathroom door, my heart sinks.

"Oh no. Not now." I mutter under my breath.

Gabby is not one of the popular girls in the third grade class. In fact, she's the exact opposite. With her hefty stance, abnormally curly short hair cut and weird outfits two sizes too small, Gabby is not well-liked. Something is just... different about Gabby. And pretty much any kid will tell you that being different in third grade isn't good. Really, everything about Gabby is just... too much. Her voice is much too high and much too loud. Her cheeks are much too pink, like the stale individually wrapped bubble gum they hand out at the barber shop. And when she raises her hand to give an answer in class she talks. too. much.

In fact, Gabby talks so much that our teacher, Mrs. Darling, has to tell her to be quiet. She talks so much that her desk has to be moved right next to Mrs. Darling's, and our entire class gets in trouble because Gabby talks during English class. And so we all miss recess and we all hate Gabby. But worst of all, grossest of all, she picks her nose and eats it when she thinks no one else is looking.

But I am.

While the other kids in class discuss pizza parties and Garbage Pail Kids, Gabby pries a bright green booger from her nostril, positioning it directly on the tip of her thumb. She then folds her hands in her lap and waits. She looks around the room, trying to seem all casual so no one will suspect what she's about to do. And then, just when the timing is right, she pops her thumb into her mouth, as if it's only a harmless little suck. But I know better. I've seen it all.

I see a lot of things the other kids don't see. I notice stuff. I notice how Scott, the coolest kid in the whole grade, smells like cigarette smoke and tries to quickly stuff his jacket in his cubby to hide the smell. And how Kim, who is well-liked, has greasy hair every Monday. And I even notice how Beth, who all the boys want to hold hands with, wears the same jeans three days in a row. I notice these things because you have to notice if you want to fit in, to blend. You have to see what everyone else is doing to fly under the radar, to be invisible. Because I observe everyone else, I know exactly what to wear so no one will notice me--nothing too loud and nothing too bold. I know just how to hide the fact that Dad started drinking again and Mom locks herself in the basement, crying soft softly and popping pills, dreaming of the day she'll get a divorce. You see, you can't let that stuff show at school. Teachers might get curious and that's never good. Kids might find your weak spots and pounce, and then it's all over.

I want to tell all of this to Gabby, to teach her how to get it right, to blend in like I do. I want to tell her to stop wearing those tight sweatshirts making her stomach rolls hang out, and to take off that chipped pink nail polish, the exact shade of un-cool. And, most of all, I want to tell her to stop being so friendly--too friendly--even when people are mean. I want to tell her to stop snorting when she laughs and to stop talking when the teacher tells her to. If she could just learn the rules, she'd be ok. But I can't say all of this to her. And besides, she annoys me anyway and if I talk to her people might start to think we're friends and then it's the end of it for me. And I've got my own problems. So I keep this all to myself and silently scold her for her ignorance.

The kids don't want to sit near Gabby. They pass "Gabby germs" around the classroom. Cross your fingers, no givebacks. And don't even think about refusing to pass them because if you don't, they'll pass your germs around next. Third grade is pretty brutal that way. So I pass Gabby germs along like everyone else. I blend. But I at least pass them quietly when Gabby isn't looking so I won't hurt her feelings. It's not so bad to pass germs along when the person can't even see you, right? I mean, what choice do I have?

When Gabby walks into the bathroom I groan because I've just flushed the toilet so now I have to leave the stall which means I will have to talk to Gabby (or, rather, Gabby will talk to me because she's always talking.) The stall door creaks open as I push through, making my way to the sink. Sure enough, Gabby is there waiting, round fat dimpled cheeks grinning at the sight of me.

"Oh Hi! I didn't know you were in here!" She squeals.

If only you didn't know now.

"Oh, er, hi Gabby." I say, keeping my head down and trying to look busy.

With lightning speed I wash my hands trying to get back to class before too much conversation can happen. But I guess I'm not fast enough because then she drops the bomb:

"Erin, can I ask you something?"

"Mmm...sure Gabby."

"Do you like me?

I freeze. Through the mirror I quickly look at bathroom stalls behind me. I find exactly what I was hoping to avoid--feet. Feet of witnesses to this conversation.

What do I do?! What do I say? If I tell her I don't like her It'll be so mean but how can I tell her I like her when there are feet in the other stalls?! What do I do? What do I do???

"'re ok." I mutter.

Lame. So lame and wimpy and mean. Did I really just say 'you're ok?!' I'm the worst. Why do I have to be such a wimp? But then again I don't want Gabby to think we're actually friends because then she'll want to start hanging out at recess time and that'll be the kiss of death!

But what I said appears to have been enough, for her pink cheeks flush even more red like splotches of spilled fruit punch as a wide grin spreads across her face.

"So, you're my... friend, then?"

Gabby needs this. For some reason she picked me out of everyone in the entire 3rd grade class to talk to. Maybe just a tiny part of her senses that, underneath it all--beneath the clothing choices and haircuts--we're not quite so different after all. We're just two girls trying to get through.

"Uh, sort of, I guess. Ok?"

It's not the the nicest thing I could've said and I'm sure I'm going to regret it later but it's the best I can do under the pressure of the school bathroom with feet in the stalls.

"Great!" she chirps.

She waddles clumsily back to class, cheeks still splotchy red, a grin on her face.

I sigh. I made her happy. Sort of. In my own wimpy way. I feel all twisted and funny inside and wish I could do it all over again. I wish I could tell her what I really think and what I really feel. I wish I could be more brave. But who can do that in the bathroom in the third grade? Not me. Not today. I look in the mirror feeling slightly successful at my half-victory and shuffle back to class to face whatever fall-out comes my way.


  1. You, my dear, are a writer. Not just a blogger, but a *writer.* It's in your soul. An account of an encounter that superficially appears so mundane and could be taking place right now in any elementary school bathroom... but screams of truth and humanity.

  2. @AprilThank you SO much for these encouraging wonderful words. You have made my week! :) I truly do love to write--it's always been an outlet for me. This really means so much to me-thank you.

  3. I just saw this! I love, love, love it! Wonderful!

  4. But worst of all, grossest of all, she picks her nose and eats it when she thinks no one else is looking.

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