Everyone has their own unique place or environment where the best version of themselves suddenly shines through. As a kid, mine was always the farm.
By 6 years old, I could stand up to an ornery goat without getting charged. At 8 years old I could take a blow from the spurs of the meanest rooster and cuddle the aggression out of him. At the farm, I felt like the Steve Erwin of goats and chickens: able to handle anything. At the farm, I felt like me.
Unfortunately this feeling had a way of fizzling out the second I walked through the doors of my eighth grade. That specific year, every girl in my class decided that I would be the one they chose to bully.
In school it didn’t matter how comfortable I was staring down an aggressive goat because in the face of a mean 13-year-old girl I cowered like a chicken at the bottom of the pecking order. The meanest of roosters has nothing on the viciousness of eighth-grade girls.
It began halfway through September. Brittany Johnson was the ringleader and I rarely spotted her without a group of girls hovering around her. On the bus she would snicker to her friends about me, calling me ugly, stupid and, most commonly, “dumb blonde.” These comments traveled to the classroom where the rest of the girls soon joined in.
In gym class, they began arguing over which team would be stuck with me. On the way to school, my closest friends no longer sat near me. The hurt I felt, stung more than any chicken scratch I had ever experienced in the coop. All I wanted was for my friends to tell me what I had done wrong and to like me again. Later that would change.
When April rolled around, the end-of-the-year awards—designed by the students, for the students—were given out. These awards were presented at a special ceremony in the cafeteria in front of all the middle-school grades. When it came time for my name to be announced, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Brittany Johnson and the other girls snicker. A voice over the microphone said, “And The Blonde Award goes to Laura Field.”
My face turned hot. The teachers had no idea the negative connotation meant behind this award, or who had given it, but I and the other classmates did. I blinked back tears and forced myself to walk up in front of everyone to receive my certificate. As I stood there, my eyes passed over Brittany and the other girls, clustered at their table like a flock of hens. They looked so much alike. Was it the angle I was standing? In that moment I couldn’t tell one girl apart from the other. Then something occurred to me. Even if I was stupid, or ugly, or a dumb blonde, at least I wasn’t like them.
Chickens are a lot like eighth-grade girls. A group of hens will bully the one they sense is a little different from the rest. When one hen initiates the pecking, the rest join in. A pecked hen rarely regains her place in the flock, but why would she want to?
Like chickens, we are social creatures. Our instinct is to form groups. For me, that instinct fizzled out on that April day and, truth be told, it has never returned. Some chickens, I’ve come to learn, are better off on their own.
Nicknamed “The Chicken Lady,” Laura Field is a writer and agriculture enthusiast who grew up on a small farm in Cheshire, Massachusetts. Since she was young, she has worked on several farms, including Hancock Shaker Village. She currently works as director of public relations for Woodstock Sustainable Farms in Woodstock, Connecticut, and can be found giving chicken-keeping workshops in the Berkshires. To read her blog, visit ChickenLadyLaura.wordpress.com