The air outside was warm, which meant every single window on the bus was lowered as far as it could go. I sat in the very back, making sure I caught as much of the breeze as possible. There were few eighth graders on my bus to begin with, but I was always the last 13-year-old to be dropped off.
As we approached my bus stop, I noticed a crowd. Not the kind of group that would fill a stadium, but there were enough kids gathered that I could not count them all in a single glance. They spilled over the sidewalks and into people’s plush, green lawns. I looked around trying to figure out their reason for gathering. It wasn’t until I stepped off of the bus and saw her face that I realized why they were all there.
They were there to watch what was to be the horrific and bloody end to my life. She stood almost an entire foot taller than me. With frizzy hair, freckles, and angry eyes, my childhood foe, Melanie, stood waiting. She had gathered quite a following for her endeavor. I wished that she had clued me in on our little meeting, so I could have drawn up my own fan club. Instead she did things her way and it was an ambush.
“Hey,” she said, flatly. “Remember me?”
“Yeah! I do, actually.” My hands shook uncontrollably. “Melanie, right? You look great.” I smiled widely, and there was no doubt she could tell I was severely uncomfortable. I tried to be friendly. Like we had been besties in our youth. I really needed that kill-them-with-kindness theory to be a real thing at that point. But when my words fell out sarcastically, I decided to start walking home.
“Where you going? I’m not done talking to you!” Melanie and her posse followed me across the road, as I walked with my head held high, pretending there wasn’t a small thug-like army behind me.
“Ya know, I think I left my curling iron on. I should really get home and check on that.” My feet started moving faster and faster. Her long legs kept up incredibly well. I mentally cursed my short, stubby legs.
“I thought I came here for a fight!” One kid yelled.
“Yeah, kick her ass!” Another one screamed.
By this point, I could see my driveway. Trying not to look scared, I sped up to a fairly subtle speed-walk. It was more the walk/jog you do when you hold your urine for too long and you are unsure whether you will make it to the bathroom without your bladder failing.
When I finally reached my driveway, I turned around. I figured I was on safe ground. Would someone actually hit me on my own property? That has to be illegal, right?
“Do you know why I’m here?” She asked.
“Not really. No, I don’t.” The lies spilled out and my palms began to sweat.
“You called me a bitch.”
“Me? No way. I wouldn’t have done that.” I turned around and pointed to my dog barking behind the conveniently closed gate. “That dog is a bitch. You…you, Melanie, are a young lady.” Words of desperation.
She said nothing. At first, I assumed I had charmed her out of smashing my face in. When I noticed she was staring at something over my shoulder, I turned to follow her gaze. There in the living room window stood my dad, waving and smiling, completely unaware of the danger that was present in his very own driveway. I tried to plead with my eyes. Help me! He just waved some more.
Eventually, by the grace of God, Melanie walked away. The crowd was upset, but I was overjoyed. I escaped my first beat down. As I walked up the driveway, I waited for a sense of relief. I expected a weight to be lifted from my shoulders, but I only felt heavier. See, I knew that Melanie was telling the truth.
In third grade, I called Melanie a foul name. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I assumed that because she was an entire year younger than me, I could say whatever I wanted to her without consequence. I don’t really have an excuse. I can’t even say that I knew the actual meaning of that word when I muttered it. The word left my lips over a swing. Melanie was on the swing I wanted. I called her a name and went about my day. I was a child. I never got to say sorry to Melanie. Mainly because when I did encounter her again, in high school, she was still significantly taller than me and I was more than slightly terrified of her.
I think about what I would do if someone were to call my son a name. My first instinct would be to flip a table and call a bunch of people that same name. (Can’t you see me in the cafeteria, throwing chairs and screaming, “You call my kid a *%$#@, I will call all of you *&%$##@!!”)
I would like to think that I have grown up quite a bit since my playground days, and in some ways I have, but I know my flesh. I know that yucky side of me that carries a sense of entitlement. That side of me that thinks I deserve more. I deserve better. I deserve to swing more than that other little girl.
One day, I hope to tell my daughter this story. I hope that she sees the blatant error in my ways. I pray she learns to build up other girls instead of tearing them down. I must teach her to use her words to encourage those around her. Being forceful and mean will get her nothing. It might have worked in The Devil Wears Prada, but the real world never operates that way.
We aren’t always afforded the opportunity to apologize. Let’s be kind the first time around.