Mean girls
MIDLIFERY - Twink Macaraig (The Philippine Star) - August 23, 2016 - 12:00am

So many people reached out to me after my first column, “When The Big C Sneaks Back,” came out. One, from someone I hadn’t heard from in over 30 years, was especially gratifying. “I just wanted to check in and see how you were feeling. Many years have passed since our tennis days but nevertheless, whether at SSC or the sports club, I always considered you a good friend… a great friend as a matter of fact, SSC was not the easiest for me growing up and you were one of the girls that was nice to me.”

She’s apparently called Trish now, but her real name is Patricia.  We’d gone to St. Scho Manila together from kinder until the seventh grade.  She transferred schools and we saw each other only occasionally thru high school; summers mainly because we played tennis at the same club. We completely lost touch in college.  Pre-Internet, Diliman, and Taft may have just as well been divided by the Berlin Wall.  I was vaguely aware that the half-American Patricia had migrated back to the States.

Her email brought fond reminiscences flooding back:  puppet shows by her mom’s expat women’s club; goofy, made-up songs with jerk, butt, and fart as the key lyrics; lunches of canned cream of mushroom soup with torn-up toasted bread floated on top that I thought were the bomb (I never had that at my place).

I fondly remember Patricia and I playing garden-variety badminton in my yard when a wasp appeared. The ruckus brought my Lolo — who was visiting from Mambusao to have his warts removed — to check what was going on.  He went at the offending creature with one of our wooden rackets, Patty’s peals of glee accompanying each furious, ineffectual swat. “Your Lolo is so bre-he-he-ave!” her bright pink face managed to get out, as she calmed down from her laughter-induced asthma attack. I fondly remember how she admired my provincial Lolo. I fondly remember that she didn’t ask why he had all these black spots covering his body.

Patricia’s nickname then was Patty. So easily turned by kids into Fatty, when she wasn’t fat. Broad-shouldered and large-framed, sure (like Toni Tenille, we’d once discussed) but never fat. Nevertheless, Fatty, she was teased in grade school. Probably, because people discovered that the golden-haired girl, so quick to laughter, was even quicker to cry.

In 2nd grade we had a Star Scout investiture. Each of us recited a three-sentence Star Scout Pledge, after which a star-shaped pin was pinned on our collar.  As luck would have it, the pins ran out just when it was Patty’s turn. Within seconds, the senior scout who was holding the empty tray, unpinned her own pin from her scarf to put on Patty, but it was too late.  Patty’s face turned pink, then beet-red from her sobbing, sending her bi-racial parents onto the field, looking for a den mother to scalp.  In keeping with the Star Scout oath, I’d just sworn I should have seen the opportunity to do a good turn and comforted Patty afterwards. I didn’t, probably because I was just so glad that it wasn’t me at the end of that line.

Stories circulated that Patty once laughed so hard that she peed. As recounted by the over-developed girl who got her period way before any of us, “squish-squish-squish” went Patty’s socks as she trudged to the clinic.  Patty’s coughing fits, the ones that followed her laughter, were also rife for mocking mimicry; this word phlegmatic was being tossed around like nobody’s business, scornfully (and maladroitly) by the big-chested girl and her posse.

Physically, Patricia could have fit right in among the brash, bossy mestizas who comprised the core of the popular girls except her skeleton lacked the prerequisite mean bone. And her tendency to dissolve into tears at even the slightest slight, made her an easy target for derision. In an all-girls Catholic school, more advantageous than skin being fair is for it to be thick.

Worse, Patty couldn’t shrug off the insults. She’d carry around the hurt when it could have been dissipated in the latest issue of Tiger Beat, discussing the deeper meaning behind Hope for the Flowers, or even sublimated in a game of mini-volleyball.  Her once-sunny face took on this perpetual look of oppression.

Then, there was this episode in 7th grade when girls from the cool crowd sent Patty fake love letters, to which she, unfortunately, responded. It was the equivalent of today’s TNX! WHO U? : ) but written on pastel scratch-and-smell stationery. It wasn’t funny, but Patricia’s falling for the ruse was enough of a punchline for snickers to follow her around for weeks.

Did I stand up for Patricia? Did I denounce it for the witless stunt that it was?  What??? At the risk of earning the ire of the popular group when I was already handicapped by being the untidy jock who sweated to excess? Duhh!

As we re-established contact, Trish told me that leaving SSC Grade School was the best move of her life. Where she transferred to “the biggest thing was breaking out into a dance (to the Carpenters’ Mr. Postman) or bringing their guitars to school and playing during breaks.” She never had to agonize about getting out of bed again. Presumably, that was all the impetus she needed to get her groove going because today, she’s a certified equine therapist who’s developed her own line of massage oils for horses. She’s single, childless, and thus, can scuba dive with sharks whenever she wants. She’s jumped out of planes and trekked the entire 800 kilometers of El Camino de Santiago, becoming fluent in Spanish in the process. For her 50th birthday, while we celebrated ours with grand parties or exotic vacations, Trish’s present to herself was to learn to do a proper butterfly stroke. For her next birthday, she plans to do a “roundup” i.e. move mustangs from one Montana ranch to another on horseback.

I would have loved to tell Trish that the girls who tormented her got their comeuppance — not quite like being gutted by telekinetic flames during prom, but maybe having the whole class see their undies as their skirts billowed upwards courtesy of the whirring blades of a helicopter owned by one of their former-victims-turned-tech-billionaire.

But truth is, most of the mean girls were just young and boisterous, but not really spiteful. Compared to the horror stories about the bullying that takes place in cyberspace today, or even the viciousness that often results after girls hit their mid-teens and real boys — rather than made-up ones — are involved, what went down in SSC Grade School was, yes, mean, but, literally child’s play.

I had a small reunion with former classmates recently. As we thumbed through our old yearbooks, I asked those I knew to be involved in the Patty love letters thing if they remembered it.  One woman — a radiologist and doting grandmother who makes cheese and kare-kare from scratch — confessed that it was her idea (she also readily admits to enough Botox injections so that nobody in the last decade — including her second husband — has ever seen her once-famous dimples). Another woman, an Opus Dei associate whose stories about all the thwarted chances to lose her virginity are hilarious staples in our get-togethers, said that she stuck the letters in Patty’s locker. My BFF from when we were blockmates as freshmen in UP, the most honorable judge on the planet, conceded she may have written at least one letter, but she didn’t provide the ballpen.  Then, we flipped to Paticia’s photo in the yearbook. In the accompanying write-up (a compilation of phrases submitted by friends), a cruel snark of unquestionable authorship: “wears a perpetual look of oppression.”  (Good thing I didn’t wish for a Carrie scenario, otherwise I would have been charred along with everyone else in the gym.)

Mean girls usually don’t get around to asking forgiveness for their transgressions because they were committed way before a sense of self-awareness would have had a chance to develop. Then when it does, they figure, that that was so long ago, we can all just grow up and get old and forget them. Or if still not old enough to forget,  remember them as these harmless pranks pulled by crazy kids in grade school, that don’t diminish all the other experiences to feel genuinely nostalgic over.

Unfortunately, Patricia left St. Scho too soon for the good experiences to outweigh the bad. But maybe she can exact some measure of satisfaction from the certainty that there isn’t a single one of us who’s ever done anything mean to Patty, who doesn’t look at her life now without a twinge of envy. There’s not one of us who can picture Patty in the saddle, driving wild horses cross-country, who doesn’t say WOW.

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