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Of Replacements and Hopscotch
“Oh, you don’t matter to me, I just found a new best friend who’s a lot better than you.” My little, kindergartener mind wasn’t able to fully comprehend what had just been uttered. My so-called ‘best friend’ was kicking me to the curb and rubbing salt in my wounds about how I wasn’t good enough for her.
It was a beautiful day, all bright and sunny, full of puffy white clouds and promise that we were going to be whatever we wanted to be that recess. The birds were chirping, the girls were picking dandelions in a field and making wishes that they’d be a princess or have a unicorn, and the boys were climbing trees and pulling pigtails. It was rather stereotypical, now that I reminisce. I was sitting on an uncomfortable and red bench, waiting for my best friend, Lola. We had made plans to play hopscotch that morning after snack time, and I was bouncing up and down in excitement.
Then, all of a sudden, I saw her walking across the playground with another girl, the one who had been famous for kissing a boy behind the slide, with pieces of chalk in their hands. I’d been so naive, for I thought that we were all going to play hopscotch together. I skipped happily over, my headband almost falling off my head. I approached them, prepared to dazzle them with my insane hopping, and then - ”Maitri, what are you doing here, I don’t want to play with you anymore.”
I remember my face dropping, my little eyes filling with tears that refused to fall, asking “Why,” in a shaky voice, “why don’t you want to play with me anymore?” That’s when I heard the words I still remember to this day, the words that haunt my nightmares, the words I hear as I cry myself to sleep, the words that I hear echo around in my head while I’m clawing my hair out, sobbing in my bathroom by myself.
“Oh, you don’t matter to me, I just found a new best friend who’s a lot better than you.”
I ran. I ran as fast as my short legs could take me, and I sat in the field that other girls were picking dandelions in. I hid in the corner, far away from anyone. They didn’t deserve to see me and all my misery on display. Not Lola, not that harlot she was now hanging out with, not my teachers, nobody except the weeds and the grass, for my young mind had decided that they were just as disconsolate as I was. I swiped at tears furiously, sniffling softly, as I thought, “She’s just dumb, she doesn’t know what she’s missing out on. I never wanted to be her friend in the first place.” I sat there, wallowing in my despondence, looking up at the clouds, brooding, “Clouds probably have friends, so why don’t I?” I waited until my eyes were a little less puffy, till my cheeks were a little less red, till my hair was a little less mussed, till I looked like I had been crying a little less.
When we were all called inside to start learning the days of the week, or the first ten numbers, or the alphabet, or whatever useless thing I already knew, I held my head up high, pretending I hadn’t just been bawling in a field all by myself. I moved my feet ahead, one after another, with no fake friend beside me to giggle with. I isolated myself for the rest of the day, and I waited for my mother to pick me up, give me a snack and a hug, and somehow make everything better without knowing what happened, because I certainly wasn’t about to tell her. She arrived in the carpool lane like usual and I rushed into her car and immediately relaxed. I wasn’t at school anymore, no more people to hurt me, no more people to leave me alone.Now, it was just my mom who was never leaving, and soon my dad, who gave me the world.
When we got home, I took off my shoes, changed into pajamas, ate a snack, and watched some cartoons. I did nothing out of the ordinary to show that I was fine. I refused to show how not fine I was. I was my parents’ strong girl, their brilliant girl, their powerful girl, their girl who was doing big things. I was fine, or at least as fine as I could’ve been at that time. By the time I went to bed, I thought back on what Lola had said to me.
Why was I so easy to replace? She said I was her best friend, didn’t it mean anything to her like it did to me? Was I expendable, a mere tchotchke that she could replace when she grew bored? Would she do the same to her new best friend when the time came? I had so many questions, my artless brain grasping at straws in the dark, as I tossed and turned, the light from my nightlight a stark contrast to the black of my bedroom. Suddenly, I found an answer.
People are replaceable as long as you can find someone to fill the hole they left. Lola thought that girl was better than me, so she cut me out of her story like a parasite, and she filled the space with someone who was ‘better’ for her. Then I started to apply this to more of my experiences. My teacher shifted her attention to her new favorite student after she found out that they had started The Lord of the Rings. My family friend’s father said to my face that he liked another little boy in our friend group more now, simply because he was a boy and I wasn’t.
I’d been substituted, just because I wasn’t good enough. It was because I wasn’t enough for them, but other people were enough and more. Then it dawned on me. It wasn’t just me who was replaceable, anybody could be. I was not the special outlier in the science experiment of life, I was a constant with others like me. Anybody was replaceable, and nobody was the exception. The quicker I got used to it, the sooner I’d be able to resume my life.
It was then that I put up my defenses. I put up shields that wouldn’t let anyone in, fortresses around me; no one would ever hurt me again. That’s the way they stayed, and that’s the way they’ll stay, for as long as there are still people around me. No one was going to replace me again, for I would not get close enough for them to be able to. I would be strong and steady and unhurt, and if giving up my social skills was the price to pay, then so be it. What did social anxiety matter in the grand scheme of things. My heart would be unscathed forever. No one will ever replace me again.