By Lynn Marler
It was a wealthy junior high (middle) school in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1960’s. The popular kids all had the right clothes and straight teeth. Even most of the unpopular kids had the right clothes and good teeth since this was a wealthy area; most of the kids’ dads worked in the Cold War defense contracting industry or were orthodontists or plastic surgeons.
I was not in the popular kids group; once in a while that group of kids who are “almost popular” would lower themselves to speak to me, but the real popular kids at the top, never.
(Oh, the popular guys would hang around outside the cafeteria after lunch every day and “bark” at the least-pretty of us unpopular girls that they considered to be “dogs”, but talk to us? Naw.)
I existed in that shadowy area between unpopular and almost unpopular. My dad made as much money as the other dads who worked for defense contractors, but since dad had too many mistresses in addition to whomever he was married to at the time, there was never money for new school clothes, cars were repossessed, our house was full of broken-down furniture, and so on. So I didn’t have the money to fit in and my oddball personality didn’t help either.
But there was a girl who had it worse than I and the other non-popular kids did. Everybody called her Dinosaur Girl since she carried a toy dinosaur around with her at all times; she absolutely loved dinosaurs.
She’d talk and whisper to it while riding the school bus. Sure, it sounds odd for a 12- or 13-year old to be carrying a toy around and talking to it. But if no one else will talk to a girl because they think she’s weird, because she gets good grades and “girls aren’t supposed to be too smart” and because she doesn’t wear the “right” clothes or have the “right” hair and, most horrific of all, doesn’t seem to care much about her appearance, her dinosaur buddies may be all she has to talk to.
(I don’t remember what kind of dinosaur she usually carried around, but too bad it wasn’t a Tyrannosaurus Rex that came alive and attacked Charlene Cheerleader and Johnny Jock when they picked on her. Because pick on her they did, constantly.)
Looking back on it, it occurs to me that she may have been on the high-functioning end of the Aspergers/Autism Spectrum. Or maybe she wasn’t on that spectrum at all; maybe she was just different from the rest of us.
I do remember that she was completely verbal and got very good grades. I lost track of her after graduating from junior high and she didn’t attend the high school I did.
Maybe she ended up running a section of the Smithsonian or the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. (I wouldn’t be surprised: those good grades she got.)
Or maybe she ended up with a non-career type job but was happy enough spending her time off in the science section of her local library. Or maybe she married a nice guy and had some nice kids that thought it was cool that Mom loved dinosaurs too.
Whatever happened, I hope she’s had a happy adulthood. I hope the hell that the other kids put her through in school is a memory that she’s been able to rise above.
You see, although I never actively picked on her, I’m as guilty as those who did because I never stood up for her either. Being in that shadowy purgatory between “in” and “out” groups, I was afraid to draw any attention to myself. To say that I was *terrified* of the popular kids is only putting it slightly too strong. But that’s only a reason, not an excuse.
So, Dinosaur Girl (and I now say that with all respect - heck, I bet at least those schoolboy jocks enjoyed the Jurassic Park movies), if you should happen to read this, I am sorry ‘till the end of my days that I didn’t stick up for you, so sorry.
And I hope you would approve of the stuffed dolphin I have, even though it’s a mammal.
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