marilyn
The Invitation
by Marilyn Terhune-Young

I walked into the classroom
on the first day
of the middle of seventh grade.
in a new school
In a new town,
uncomfortably aware
that the hem of my skirt
fell unevenly
from my too-wide hips,
and my hair stuck out
stubbornly
behind my head.

I shrunk into my desk,
hopelessly wishing
I could disappear.

When the groups formed at lunchtime
the popular girls
with their perfectly teased hair
and pale lipstick
circled around me,
chanting
“I love your hair!
Nice outfit!
Come hang around with us!”

The ritual continued for several days.
Every morning I would walk
from schoolbus to classroom,
dumbstruck, stoic
eyes fixed straight ahead,
trying to shut out
their taunts and jeers.

Then one lunchtime
as I braved
the cafeteria line

a girl approached me
wearing no makeup,
her hair as unruly as mine.

“Do you want to come have lunch with us?”

She had a fearless smile
and a face unabashedly
welcoming.

That invitation
shook me out of my
Outsider paralysis,

reminding me
for the rest of my life
that people can be kind.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My seventh-grade class picture, taken in 1961.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My family’s move in the middle of my seventh-grade year marked a difficult beginning to my adolescence. I experienced relentless bullying that year. I also learned during that time about courage and friendship. The girl who approached me in the cafeteria that day became a lifelong friend. We have stayed in touch for five decades, despite divergent lives and living thousands of miles apart.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marilyn Terhune-Young worked for 20 years as a psychotherapist for adolescents and their families. She currently lives in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills, where she writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Some of her nonfiction work has appeared in the magazines Shaman’s Drum and ReVision.