‘I was the invisible teen girl. Until an encounter on the bus saved me’

We’re sorry, this feature is currently unavailable. We’re working to restore it. Please try again later.

Advertisement

‘I was the invisible teen girl. Until an encounter on the bus saved me’

By Kath Lockett
This story is part of the July 17 edition of Sunday Life. See all 13 stories.

Felix and I have our lunchtime walking route and we often see high school students sitting on park benches, perched on walls or generally goofing around near the soccer fields.

There is one girl who is always alone. She is about 14 years old and has a cobalt-blue streak in her dark brown hair. She is usually staring at her phone, or the ground, so the blue acts as a downward arrow.

No kid stands or sits alone by choice. 

No kid stands or sits alone by choice.  Credit:Stocksy

My heart always hurts for her when I see her walk down our street. No kid, no matter how cool their hair, wants to be alone. Not during school hours at least. Today she is perched on a rock set by the walking track as a landscaping feature. I recognise the blue streak of hair.

I recognise the posture, too. The deliberate scrunching down to feel smaller and less visible and the relief of being able to escape the gaze of others in the school yard, however briefly.

Felix notices something different – her lunch – and rushes over for a sniff. “Sorry if he scared you,” I say. “He’s always interested in food.” I give her my biggest and friendliest smile as Felix wags his tail.

I want to tell this girl that high school will just be a blip in her life, with bodies, minds and opportunities moving so rapidly that some of her classmates will return after summer holidays almost unrecognisable.

That the coolest and loudest kids will be forgotten and she’ll get to choose her own adventures and experiences after graduation. That a teacher or a subject will somehow click within her and offer a path and passion she will remember forever. That she’ll find a place to belong and feel comfortable in without this gnawing anxiety about the opinions of people she has no respect for.

I don’t of course. My stupid smile is supposed to impart to the girl that I understand her loneliness, her need to escape from school for a while, and the comfort that finding a temporary haven from the disinterested stares of her classmates can bring.

She does not smile back but returns to her phone, emanating “get the hell away from me” vibes.

Advertisement

Of course. A lonely kid does not want sympathy from an adult. It is only the acceptance of peers that matters during teenage years.

Interference or cheery platitudes from adults just make things worse. Time flies frighteningly fast for us but drags along lethally slowly during the agonies of adolescence. Whether we want to reminisce or not, those years were genuinely painful for most of us, no matter how long ago.

Loading

In 1980, my father was a teacher in a small country town. I was about to start high school with my friends, had oodles of confidence and knew that I belonged. It would just be another stepping stone for me.

Then Dad was offered an exchange place in a scheme enabling teachers to swap jobs and homes for 12 months, in order to experience life in another country. Aberdeen, Scotland, in our case. We’d never even been on an aeroplane before!

Leaving straight after our summery Christmas into the snowy Scottish mid-winter, we’d be living in a 250-year-old cottage with upstairs attic bedrooms. And yes, we would travel around the UK and Europe every single chance we got.

We posed for passport photos in front of a wrinkled bed sheet thrown over the clothesline and crammed our suitcases full of winter woollies while sweating in our bathers.

A fortnight later, this confident kid with sun-bleached hair from swimming every spare moment in the neighbour’s pool was stared at by her class when she stood in front of them, introduced by the frazzled French teacher. Her blazer was too big, skirt too long and the desert boots and white socks underneath looked ridiculous. For the first time ever, she felt out of place.

Her blazer was too big, skirt too long and the desert boots and white socks underneath looked ridiculous. For the first time ever, she felt out of place.

No one showed a flicker of interest. Already she knew that no one would be asking her about Australia.

At recess she trooped slowly out of maths class, blushing from answering “88” and hearing them laugh at what she now realised was a stupid accent. She followed them to the cloakroom and pretended to be waiting for the toilet to be vacant. Little did she know that this was to be her main activity for the next six months.

Lunchtime involved a mandatory school dinner. Holding her ticket, she’d patiently line up for a plate of mealies, soggy chips and wrinkled peas because it was a relief from standing alone. She’d sidle up to a spare chair and mumble, “CanISitHerePleaseThanks”, then plonk herself down, trying to eat while hiding behind her fringe.

No one ever said, “No, piss off you loser.” She was so beneath their interest and attention that acknowledging her with an insult required effort. The girl felt invisible. No, worse, because she didn’t have the freedom to go when she wanted, but had to stay there and be ignored.

Kids would run out to play football, badminton or flirt, leaving her behind. After three weeks of sitting alone in the cloakroom pretending to write in her English journal, the sad girl discovered the library.

This wondrously warm, quiet and anonymous place was open all lunch time. The relief was tremendous as she dawdled her way up and down every bookshelf. She loved to read, and it was an escape from idle stares because sitting on her own would not appear awkward.

The Wombles books caught her eye. She thought the TV show was cute and knew these books would be simple to read. They were also too babyish to be borrowed by anyone else and could therefore be resumed the next lunch time.

The librarian knew. She would always say “hello” as I wandered in, silent and pale, groping for the book in its usual place and sitting down at the laminated table farthest from the entrance, shoulders hunched.

I never dared speak to her. I knew she felt sorry for me, but to see or hear that pity would be too much to bear and I must never, ever cry at school.

On the bus home, I sat by myself, supposedly entranced by the grey view of the outskirts of Aberdeen. At the cottage, I’d call out “I’m home” to my mother in the most cheerful voice I could manage, hang up my coat and head upstairs.

ABBA’s Super Trouper album would be played as the tears rolled down, hoping that the thud-thud of the bass would drown out any sobbing. I’d stare out of my window to the train track winding further up north and dream I was back home again with friends and certainty and comfort and not this awful, relentless feeling of shame and pain and invisibility.

Loading

The weekends were wonderful. My family would cram into the campervan and explore villages, craggy castles, manor houses, battle grounds, museums and wilderness. We’d laugh together and on Sunday night I would try too hard to keep the hilarity going, to wring a few more happy drops out of the weekend before school and pain and fear and doom set in again.

One morning, as I sat near the front seat of the bus with several spare seats around me, a beautiful young girl tapped me on the shoulder.

“Hiyeh.”

“Er, hi,” I replied, voice croaking.

“Are ye an Aussie, is that right?”

“Aye,” I muttered, having learnt months ago to tone down my accent.

“Can ye swim?”

“Aye,” I replied, lifting my head and noticing her lovely brown eyes and hair that Kate Bush would have envied.

“I’m Pamela and I’m captain of the Kincorth Swimming Club and we need some more swimmers in year 8. Do ye want tae come?”

She saved me.

Pamela saved me. She took the time to wander over to a lonely, broken little soul and speak to her.

All I can do for the girl with the blue streak in her hair is hope that she finds her Pamela soon. No kid stands or sits alone by choice.

Make the most of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. Get it in your inbox every Monday.

Most Viewed in Lifestyle

Loading