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A TGB READER STORY: Dinosaur Girl

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.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

Comments

This was a good & kind read, thanks for sharing Lynn. It's a sad reminder of how cruel some kids can be at that age, boys barking at girls they considered dogs... awful! But I saw much of the same when I was in junior high a few years later.

Anyway, it's nice that some of these 'fringe kids' like Dinosaur Girl are still remembered, and weren't so invisible after all.

Lovely, true, and kind, thank you. My happy ending for her is that she got a job at a natural history museum and launched their first dinosaur exhibit, married well and had two great kids named Dino and Rex.

I was in a popular group through grammar school and I remember deciding as a group whether or not someone was cool enough to be included in different activities. In fact, we dropped a couple of friends for stupid reasons. Many years later I was in touch with two of those dropped and we talked about it, me apologizing. It was horrible to realize the impact our thoughtless cruelty had, but gratifying to find that they survived, even thrived, despite us.

What a beautiful story. It touches on memories of my own childhood. I thank-you for it.

Luci

Wouldn’t it be cool if she somehow saw this and it made her feel so good. Sometimes being caught in that in between world is as hard as being bullied.

I’ll never understand why people admire and look up to bullies...like our president. Maybe some have the same feelings as you had and will one day feel the regret..

You are a good person.

Lynn - this piece could have been written by many of us because we, most of us, are guilty of the same thing. Peer pressure keeps many from being what some call "brave". So thank you. If I ever go to another class reunion (only been to 2), I will purposely greet those who were singled out for whatever reason - but not for accolades - and apologize. Thank you.

For some reason (maybe because I'm weird myself?) I have a lot of friends who are on the good end of the spectrum As one puts it, it's not a disability, is a different operating system.

As for Jill Cheerleader and Jack Jock, I thought they were boring in highschool and when I went back for my 40th reunion, just out of curiosity, guess what? They are boring adults!

It’s a very well written piece, and should be required reading for kids in school.

Lynn-
I can't tell you how touched I was by your true story. I was raised in a convent school (only females) and though I think there was less social pressure because of the lack of males, there still was a very definite social hierarchy. I was no where near the top! When I didn't become a nun or get married right out of school, I felt there was a real reason for me to leave town. University in Los Angeles was somewhat better, but it wasn't until I took a position in Wisconsin that I was finally able to find a way to relate in a real way to either females or males. Reading your story helped me put some jumbled thoughts together. Thank you so very much.

What a great and touching story and the comments. We moved so much, three times in the first grade, because of Dad's profession that I never was anything but the new kid, clear through high school, not in, not out, friends with other recent arrivals. Looking back I think it was a lot easier than being picked on etc.

Thank you for writing this, being so honest with yourself and us, the readers. With what sounds like so little support at home, no wonder you were "terrified" of the popular kids, and the social order! I think we, especially at that age, want desperately to fit in somewhere. And I feel deeply touched that you carried it all these years!
I tried to fit with the popular kids the first year of high school, didn't make the cut, and now realize why. I didn't like them, I hated "cheer leading," football, and their boring topside talk. I was faking it. After they dumped me and I was a free bird, I joined singing groups and dramatics and began to be myself and have a good time. With a few good friends.

I enjoyed your story but I think it’s sad. You know when I had children here in the US and they went to school I thought that I missed a lot by having been brought up in Paris and gone to school there – no football, no proms, nothing like that in France, just study. The school program was heavy with long hours.

But during all the years I went to school I can’t remember a single bully or the term “popular.” We did not have that, so maybe that is a plus. Of course during our breaks we would gather with those we liked. Because my father was Armenian and I had a strange name, I did not have that many French friends. My best friends were also kids who were peculiar: a Jewish orphan (from the camps) a “blackfoot” girl from Algeria (when it was a colony,) an American boy whose father worked for the US embassy and a Scottish guy who had problems speaking French. We did not care, we laughed all the time but did not feel ostracized, we could have been with others, it’s just that we preferred to be together. The other difference, maybe, is that guys in my school liked smart girls and looked up at them. We discussed many subjects and got deep into literature or philosophy – it was (and is) a very different type of schooling.

Thank you for your story, Lynn. You have an engaging narrative style that held my attention, hoping for that happy ending I always look for when reading. So many of our vintage will be able to relate to it and understand.

In my view, you are being too hard on yourself, dear lady.  I was a "Dinosaur Girl".  Different name, different place, yet same story. I'll explain....I was "That Brainy Girl" from the other side of the tracts, literally!  I lived about 200 yards from the railroad, across the street from a Chevron bulk station (filling trucks to deliver heating oil) with my mother and the current stepfather.

I wasn't pretty or blessed by the "chest fairy" yet I had a good brain and loved school. My teachers became my best friends and I remember their faces even now at 83 y/o. Your story made me wonder why I barely noticed the other stuff. I think it gave me an invisible shield of protection.  I would now call my "Smartitude". 

Please don't allow guilt to color your life now. To paraphrase Hallmark, it is "the gift that keeps on giving." We all do the best we know how and "Dinosaur Girl" with her intelligence is no different.  Perhaps those same kids ended up calling her "Boss!"

Thank you all so much for the kind words; I think this piece means the most to me of anything I've written (or tried to! ;-). And @Charlene: "blessed by the chest fairy"; I'd never heard it expressed like that before; so funny! :-) (Although, in another one of my "just my luck" entries: I was somewhat "blessed by the chest fairy" just about the time that the ultra-thin, Twiggy--remember her?--all legs became the "ideal." Story of my life... :-)

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