Adriana Wilcox. She was sturdy, strong, and had curly, light brown hair. In seventh grade, we had P.E., second period. We were required to wear little, white shorts, which I abhorred. Those shorts seemed designed to humiliate adolescent girls. I usually got into my awful shorts, and into the gym, without a problem, but changing out of them, after class, was another matter.
None of the girls in my middle school P.E. class showered. Every last one of us would rather be sweaty all day than get naked in front of other adolescent girls, who are known to be demons of the worst sort. My locker was on the far side of the locker room. There were several rows of lockers between my area and the large, glass window of Ms. Sherman’s office. Everyone said she was a dyke. I argued adamantly against it. “You can’t assume that by looking.”
She was totally a dyke.
On good days, Adriana just threatened me. I was pretty good with threats, because I’m big, and aggressive. I like fighting, and I don’t mind pain. In a fight, most people can spot my particular sort of crazy, and it backs most of them off pretty quickly. Not Adriana.
On bad days, she’d slam me repeatedly into the lockers or shut my hand in the door of the locker room. My mom didn’t allow me to fight back. I think she’d figured that out.
In P.E. class, we had to sit in rows and do calisthenics, and stretches, and other weird gym stuff. Our places were assigned. Sean sat in the next row, beside me. In seventh grade, he was one of those short, thin, muscly, soccer boys. His athleticism seemed effortless, and I desperately envied it. He was popular. One day, while stretching, he leaned over, and spoke to me for the first time, softly: “You should shave your legs.”
He said it very quietly, so that no one else could hear. It wasn’t harassment, or criticism. He was warning me that danger lay ahead, and that I should arm myself, as best possible.
I started shaving that afternoon, and continued for two years. In retrospect, while to me, he seemed popular, confident, athletic, and possessing that easy comfort in his body that I so wanted, we had something in common. He was short. He was strong, but thin. He was a small boy. I think he was probably a nice boy. I think that in a certain, awkward, adolescent way, he tried to have my back.
Lunch was a nightmare. My first couple of weeks, I ventured into the lunchroom. It was enormous. Against one wall, there were bleachers, overlooking rows of tables. It always smelled like hot dogs.
They threw food at me. It’s weird now, to think about that. Now, we have anti-bullying laws. They’re not perfect, by any means, but I don’t think they’d allow repetitive food pelting.
In movies, I see that there is some sort of issue about which table a student uses in the lunchroom. Evidently, it has to do with popularity? I didn’t have that issue.
Two weeks into my seventh grade year, I gave up, and started going to the library during the lunch period. The library was peaceful, safe. The fascist librarian didn’t allow food in the library, but at the time, I was into starving myself, so it worked out.
Seventh period, I had Art. I hated art, because I’m no artist. I don’t like wasting effort on things at which I’m unlikely to improve. I particularly don’t like being graded on those things.
We sat at sturdy, brown, rectangular tables for four. You know, art tables. They were thick, and we had metal stools. Our seats were assigned.
Monica had long, dark, wavy hair. She smelled like cigarettes, rebellion, and adventure. She wore a leather jacket. I wanted to touch it, to bury my face in it, to breathe it in. Most days, Monica got up in my face and told me that she was going to beat the shit out of me. Every time, I stepped up against her, grinned my craziest grin, and said, “Bring it.”
Monica never actually kicked my ass, but it wasn’t because of my awesome fronting techniques (which were absolutely awesome). It was because Laura wouldn’t allow it.
Laura was assigned to our table. Monica and I sat at the ends. Throughout my years of schooling, I have always sat at the head of the table, usually with my feet up, on it. How teachers/professors react to that is a source of amusement for me, and provides vital information.
Laura had thin, cracking, red hair. She also had Down Syndrome. She struggled, diligently, to stay out of ‘special education’ classes. She got straight Ds. She was absolutely fearless, and resolutely kind. She was the first person who ever stood up for me.
Every day, in seventh period, Monica threatened me, and Laura intervened. She moved her body between us. She suggested, gently, over and over again, that Monica work on the assigned art project.
This is why I get angry when people call someone ‘retarded,’ or ‘fucktard,’ or whatever variation of ’not normal’ you’ve thought up today. When you say that, I think of her. I think of Laura. I think of her kindness, and her courage. I think of my own cowardice. I think of how, for absolutely no reason, she protected me, day after day.
In high school, in the ‘smoking cage,’ a fenced in area where we were allowed to smoke, because back then it somehow seemed like a good idea to create smoking cages in high schools, Monica and I became friends. She dated guys who were much, much older. I hated them, and wished that I could save her from whatever made her do that. In a silent sort of way, we acknowledged that we were on the same team. Different. A little too close to violence. Perhaps a bit broken.
We shared our knowing of Laura, our understanding that she wasn’t to be crossed, wasn’t to be hurt. We trusted her. I trusted Laura because she protected me. I think that Monica trusted Laura because she wanted a protector. I suppose we shared that too.
Laura didn’t follow us to high school. I’m not sure where she went. I still keep a wallet sized photo of her. She is the brave girl. The bravest girl. The kind girl. She is the girl who, for no reason that I’ve ever discerned, stood up for me, and made me feel safe.