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Odd girl out

Whenever I tell people now that I didn’t have the best time at high school, they make a weird sort of face and say, ‘What was so bad about it?’ They dismiss my painful memories as melodrama; they don’t believe for a second that life was really as bad as I say.

Someone even said to me once, ‘You’re too normal to have been an outcast.’ Which maybe, on the surface, is true. I can’t quite agree with the assessment that I’m ‘normal’, but if I’m doing a good enough job of coming across as if I am, then maybe it is hard to see why I never fit in at school. It’s hard to explain to anyone why I genuinely hated my life there for all those years.

I can’t even really claim that I was bullied; that’s not exactly how girls hurt each other. Or at least, that’s not how the girls at my small, private, Catholic school hurt each other. No, nothing quite so obvious as that. Clearly you couldn’t get away with it. Girls learn pretty early on to develop a very specific, very dexterous, very carefully refined craft. The art of being a bitch is in a lot of ways a necessary survival skill. But it’s also a lot more potent and destructive than you’d realise at first.

It’s a subtle cruelty, so subtle you can never really call anyone out on it. They would deny it, and nobody else would believe you. ‘You’re just being overly sensitive,’ anyone outside the situation would say. ‘You’re getting upset over nothing.’ Sometimes, you can’t even really put into words what’s happening to you, so people start to treat you like you’re crazy. Then you start to wonder if you are going crazy. And that’s why the whole thing works so damn well.

Everyone would have experienced some form of girl-bullying at some point throughout their school years. Some more than others. Some a lot more than me. So why did it affect me so strongly?

Somehow, I was just different to everyone else at school. To look at me, I was only a little off-beat. I wasn’t gay, or obese, or of a different race or religion to everyone else, or any of the usual things that might cause someone to be judged or excluded. I was just miserable; I felt different to everyone, and I couldn’t relate to them. I was just the odd girl out.

The trouble is, my feeling of not belonging didn’t just come from the other girls; the school itself reinforced it. Mostly because I think they just didn’t know what to do about me. My personality just wasn’t quite right; I didn’t fit the cookie-cutter image their reputation depended on. I was too quiet, too intense, too sad all the time. My depression was interpreted as moodiness, and that didn’t fit in well with a school that only wanted bouncy blonde girls who played netball on Saturday mornings. For all their rhetoric about embracing individuality, they wanted nothing to do with the pale, sulky girl who studied in the library at lunchtime. Except, of course, when I got top VCE marks and they wanted to brag about it in all their promotional material.

In a way, I try to use this as an ‘it gets better’ sort of story. There are a thousand reasons why you might be the odd girl out at school. But high school is a weird little world of its own, and although six years feels like forever, it ends eventually. And now, well, I’m still the same person. I’m still prone to episodes of intense misery; I still read too much and spend too much time alone. But there are people now who think my nerdiness is kind of cool. And if they don’t, well, I’ve learned the art of (almost) genuinely not caring.

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