Monday, January 16, 2017

Meet Me at the Flagpole

She wanted to meet me at the flagpole after school. The flagpole was the spot where second graders at Parkview Elementary went to have it out while the circle of children gathered around them yelled, “Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!!” I had a sick feeling in my stomach all day. If I told the teacher, Felicia and her buddies would come after me anyway, a lunch tray knocked out of my hands, an inconspicuous trip in the hall, taunting on the playground. I don’t even remember what I did. I didn’t know this girl, yet somehow she had chosen me as her target for the day.

Do you know how difficult it is to focus on things like reading and math when you know at the end of the day you are going to have the living daylights beaten out of you just because you exist? Even if I wanted, there was nothing I could do to appease this girl. She hated me. She hated me because I was there. I was an easy target. I was quiet, minded my own business, and did not have the confidence or chutzpah to think her a ridiculous bully who needed to be put in her place. I was a lover, not a fighter.

This is what it’s like to live in the shadow of a bully. I encountered Felicia and her flagpole order first thing in the morning as we walked into school. There were no buses at Parkview. You either walked or, if you lived farther away, your parents drove you. After being accosted, I stepped faster into school to get away from Felicia and closer to the safety of my teacher and my class. Felicia was older, bigger, in a different grade. I felt like I needed to throw up. I tried to listen to the teacher but I couldn’t. I thought about what would happen later. I thought about the ways I might be hurt. I thought about how people hated me when I was just a regular little girl going about my day. I thought about Felicia’s buddies who would support her and cheer her on. I couldn’t eat my lunch. I couldn’t tell anyone for fear of people calling me silly or telling me to fight her back. I didn’t want to fight. I just wanted to go home and tell my mother about my day and play school with my sisters.

The flagpole was at the front of the school. You had to pass it to leave at the end of the day. You had to. It was right there. There was no other way. Most days, that is, there was no other way. Most days you didn’t think about the other ways. The flagpole was in charge. It said this is the way, this is how you have to do it. But there were other ways. There were side doors and back doors and doors that people usually didn’t even notice. And even though your mother parked on the street and you had to end your walk out front did not mean you couldn’t leave through one of those side doors and wind yourself back to her parked car.

Looking back, I am not proud I didn’t stand up to this sad girl. I am glad, however, that I didn’t allow her efforts to prove herself powerful to destroy even further what little esteem I carried at that point in my life. I thank her, now, for teaching me that it is far more important I stand tall and think for myself than to mindlessly follow orders of someone just because she is in charge. I thank her, too, for teaching me to look for all those little side doors, those ways of doing things no one else thinks can be done.

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