Here are some highly exclusive groups I’ve been a member of:
Mr. Freifeld’s 1st Grade All-Star Readers
Bunk 7, Camp Blue Ridge, 1987
Cool Girl Lunch Table, middle school
Upper Grads, Camp Wayne, 1991
Select/Jazz Chorus, high school
Varsity Tennis Team, high school
5th Floor, Onondaga Hall Dorm, college
Guidance and Counseling Department, various middle schools
Bridal Party, various weddings
The street I grew up on
Watching the Mad Men finale the night that it aired
The 10-manicure punch card completion club at my local nail place
Being white in a mostly white neighborhood
Growing up Jewish in a fairly Jewish neighborhood
People who’d read Gone Girl and The Help before there was talk of a movie
I could go on, and so could you.
God, it feels good to be part of a group, doesn’t it? Belonging. Membership. And doesn’t it feel just a little shamefully good to belong to something? It gives us value, recognition, a sense of worth through the eyes of others, or so we believe.
Ever made someone feel shitty for not quite belonging? I have.
New girl in 6th grade wore some sort of full-body-teddy-bear jumper-overalls outfit. Very uncool for 6th grade. Especially my 6th grade. Her locker was near mine. Did I make her feel welcome in a scary new school? Nah, I decided a more socially advantageous use of my time and energy was to draw unkind attention to her ensemble. (Are you reading this now, new 6th grade girl? Do you remember this moment? Do you still carry it around?)
I was a teenager who was older and wiser than my 6th grade self mentioned above, and yet I still took pleasure in excluding and laughing about a peer on a summer trip who was a bit of an outsider. Wanna know why? Because I could. I had quick wit and came up with (what I thought was) a clever code name that was well-received by my audience of fellow teenage travelers, and we both actively and passively ostracized this poor girl.
Here’s the shittiest part: I was on the RECEIVING end of similar behaviors at times in my life, and yet still took it upon myself to revel in my sense of belonging, at the expense of others. Because feeling like you’re IN instead of OUT is some powerful elixir. These targets mentioned above did absolutely nothing wrong to deserve this treatment, except exist.
Sleep-away camp in the early 90s, a “requirement” for a teen growing up in my world. It was Big Trip to Toronto or Montreal or somewhere Canadian. Who can remember where, when there were more important things to focus on, like am I bringing enough pairs of Z-Cavaricci’s with me.
Hotel. 14-15-year-olds. Boys + girls. Hormones. A recipe for kindness and compassion. I had a crush on a kid named Jared. Not-nice girl (who, incidentally, also went to my high school) prank-called my hotel room from her hotel room repeatedly, saying she was Jared (in a poorly disguised voice), while fellow not-nice girls giggled and snorted audibly in the background. After five or six rounds of this game, I answered the phone with, “I KNOW THIS ISN’T JARED!”… to which un-Jared replied, “You’re right. No boy would ever call you (evil-laugh-evil-laugh-evil-laugh-CLICK)” and hung up. I can hear her on the other end of the phone right now, like it happened yesterday. And there I sat, overcome with tears and shame for what seemed like a week. My other “loser” friends in my hotel room trying to console me.
Speaking of the other losers, our first names each started with the letters L, A, M, and B. This spells LAMB! Isn’t that fun? For the last two or three weeks of that glorious summer, not-so-nice-girls came up with this crafty code name when they wanted to refer to us behind our backs (in front of our faces). They even had a handshake! A LAMB handshake! I think there may have been a song or a dance too, who can remember. But holy hell, it musta felt good to be on the other side of LAMB in 1991 in the Upper Grad bunk. They thought we had no idea. They even wrote about it in our end of summer Last Will and Testament. Damn that felt good to read and reminisce over repeatedly when camp ended.
Don’t worry, I turned out fine. I made life-long friends (not at camp), and even had boys calling me – real ones – throughout my teens and 20s. But fuuuuuuck, those memories still sting like acid at this ripe age of 41. They’d get regurgitated and come up again for air when coworkers would act cliquey. Such a fine line between people who are friends, and people who live to make others feel unwelcome.
I’ve also seen adult parents pass these mentalities on to their children. Teaching their sons and daughters how to treat people who “aren’t like us”. And blind following of behaviors and traditions, because we don’t take a minute to stop and have an original thought. Or we’re so afraid we’ll alienate some by welcoming others.
Luckily, adolescence didn’t follow me into adulthood, which is more than I can say for too many so-called adults. Some I’ve known personally over the years, and others I see running our finally-great-again-country (vomit). But that’s a separate blog post for another time.