On her ninth birthday, Elizabeth abruptly chose a different path. She turned her back on the Mean Girls and set about making herself invisible. In truth, she wasn't so much invisible as invulnerable. While bullying via social media became the game of choice, her FaceBook page became a curated diorama. She accepted friend requests, posted a few photographs, and locked it down. Her wall was sterile, innocuous, and conspicuously devoid of anything remotely personal. She would not be tagged, and for many years pre-approval was required before posting any media that involved her face or name. One by one, she located vulnerabilities, shored up exposures and closed doors.
There is a difference between invisible and impenetrable. Elizabeth was not invisible. Bright, shiny pennies stand out in a mountain of loose change, and there's nothing to be done about it short of kicking the penny under a locker. In terms of exposure, the worst thing Elizabeth thinks she did was stand up for a friend. She went nose to nose with the Queen of the Mean Girls. Eventually, the Queen blinked and walked away. Elizabeth snarled, returned to the lunch table and that was the end of it.
The worst thing Elizabeth ever did was date Tyler Hansen.
She met Tyler at the end of the Ailey summer; a chance encounter in a restaurant with their respective mothers. Elizabeth is seven months older than Tyler, which wouldn't have been noticeable had he remained at Fairfield Prep or, if she hadn't started school just a little bit early. When they were junior and sophomore, only her friends knew. When they were senior and junior all hell broke loose. He was a goofy, lovable guy, and walking target. Fresh meat is one thing, fresh meat that happens to be chiseled like a Greek god (not my words) lands face down on the communal examining table. He becomes 'property' of the elite until he assimilates, is rejected, or just walks away. No one 'just walks away', do they?
Tyler was casually oblivious. Elizabeth was summarily executed.
As a culture, mostly Cancel Culture, we believe men are the root of all problems as problems relate to women. That may very well be, but a pack of women will tear the throat out of another woman without a second thought. We identify this behavior as juvenile, laugh it off, and say, they will outgrow it. We do not, we just get better at it. That Elizabeth would be publicly slut shamed for robbing the cradle seems inconceivable, or at the very least, preposterous. That it went on for weeks should be astonishing, but is not. You have to break before the pack unlocks that unrelenting jaw. You are required to submit.
In the parking lot after school, Elizabeth's best friend called Elizabeth's mom in Basking Ridge. It took a few minutes before Elizabeth was coherent enough to speak. Bri had to do most of the talking. Mom got in the car and drove north.
This doesn't sound like so much, does it? Do you remember high school? Do you remember living alone through your senior year of high school? The answers are probably, sort of, and no. The bills had to be paid and the kid's head had to be kept above water. Mom was an inch from the edge of the sidewalk, and it is true that we taste the salt of our children's tears. It is true that we can lift one metaphorical car after another right off their backs. It is also true that as they get older, the cars get bigger.
Elizabeth recovered herself, dusted off her dignity, and marched back into the fray. Her mother drove back to New Jersey. Things were beginning to unravel on both ends of the cable.