Little girl. Big teeth. Eyes magnified by purple-rimmed glasses, one lens of which her mother has wrapped in kitchen paper to correct her newly diagnosed astigmatism… and yet the playground doesn’t taunt her. Nobody laughs at her. Or calls her four-eyes.
She plays with girls, with boys, her shy, chunky legs awkwardly trying to escape in a game of catch and kiss. Butterflies. A game of Witches (or hide and seek with a pointed hat).
Two years pass. Two years swinging from monkey bars, or bringing barbie dolls to school in a Grace Bros bag that had once carried those denim shorts she wore every weekend.
Sleepovers and secrets, giggles hidden behind hands as the divide began to emerge between boys and girls.
Filled up – that’s how she felt, all full of sun and smiling and the love of friends. Confidence, you’d probably call it, if you weren’t 8 years old with no real concept of what that meant.
Then a new face appeared - one with more confidence than everyone else combined. You didn’t need to know the word for it, you just knew she had it.
By association, so did we.
Until that day that the little girl with the big teeth and magnified eyes showed up to play with all her friends, and was met with silence, and a wall of shoulders covered in winter.
Her eyes locked with the girls she’d known since that first day she stepped into that giant kindergarten room. They couldn’t hold it. They stared at their feet, but she saw their own confusion, and .. something else she didn’t recognise.
Her heart beat faster.
“What have I done?” she asked them, confused.
“What have I done? Why won’t you talk to me?”
That silence, that cold fucking silence that stole the power from within her and lay doubt and self-blame at her own tiny feet. Her little brain tried to understand – logically, there was no explanation – the only reason someone would suddenly stop speaking to you was if you had done something bad.
So what had she done? Why wouldn’t they tell her?
The bell rang. Class started.
She couldn’t concentrate. She had to know. Nothing came to mind. She hadn’t said anything mean, or left anyone out. She’d brought dolls for everyone the day before. Her Grace Bros bag sat next to her chair, little plastic faces peering up at her.
Recess. She tried to speak to them. They walked away, no answers. Eyes began to watch, to whisper. The playground buzzed with the news. An empty metal seat beneath a tree held her nervous, confused, body as she cried for the first time. Alone. She had never been alone, before.
The bell rang for class. Nobody tried to speak to her. Nobody volunteered to sit with her. Nobody seemed to understand what had happened, but instincts kicked in – the Alpha had chosen an Omega.
The rest of the day was spent in a fog. She doesn’t remember walking to the bus stop, waiting silently in the bus line, or even the trip home. There was too much incomprehension to process.
She didn’t want to go to school the next day. Her body had never known depression or fear like this. It didn’t know what to do with it. She didn’t say a word to her parents, to any teachers. She climbed off the bus and walked into the playground.
To her friends, smiling at her. And to the Alpha, who put her arm around her and asked her why she didn’t sit with them yesterday. Had they done something wrong?
She remembers her heart filling with relief. Gratitude. Safety. And she remembers how easy it was to put aside the questions she had in case those questions saw her put out in the cold again.
She remembers how quickly the role of victim became hers. How quickly self-preservation crept into her makeup. How alert she became to warning signs that she was going to be picked again and how normal it felt for your stomach to boil, your heart to pound and for a part of your brain to start being told to be quiet when it whispered that this wasn’t normal.
“What is your biggest fear?”, asked a stupid Buzzfeed quiz.
I couldn’t answer.
“The silence of a person you love” wasn’t one of their multiple choices.