There was a girl in my Junior High School English class that most of my classmates ridiculed. They never ridiculed her verbally; they simply did it with their rolling eyes, smirks, and stifled giggles. To them, she was almost an alien being. She was an enigma among the students, and not due to her appearance - she was actually very pretty - but she carried herself in a closed-in manner and avoided eye contact of even a millisecond with her classmates. When she entered the classroom she hurried, books clutched protectively to her bosom, her chin tucked as close to her chest as possible, and eyes fixed upon the faded floor, to her desk at the rear of the room.
Her clothing, like mine, were ill-fitting and years out of fashion. Her shoes, like mine, were almost worn-out. She was, like me, from a family just barely scraping by. Perhaps, like me, she feared her life would never get better - that she was doomed to be the butt of jokes and the perpetual outsider that would never fit in with the rest of the world.
I wanted to be her friend.
One day our English teacher drew up an exercise on the blackboard and had a few students come up one-by-one to correct the grammar or punctuation in the sentences she deliberately mangled. She called the shy girl up from the back of the room. The girl emphatically shook her head, her eyes round with terror, her bottom lip quivering, the tip of her nose reddening in contrast to her pale face. The teacher insisted, and the girl slowly rose from her desk and approached the blackboard, her entire body shaking. She lifted the chalk with trembling fingers, yet managed to keep hold of it. The teacher told her to correct the next sentence in the row of sentences. The girl cast her a begging expression, shivering so violently at this point that I wondered how she managed to stay on her feet. And then, a boy up front huffed and said to her, "Just do it, man!"
The girl ducked her head and began to cry, the chalk still in her shaking hand.
The teacher said something to the effect the girl would not leave that spot until she did as told. Of course, this made the girl dissolve into sobs.
I implored the teacher, "Just leave her alone. Let her sit down. Can't you see she's terrified?"
To which the teacher replied that I should mind my own business, and then she proceeded to goad the girl into action. This only made the girl cry harder. Our classmates sighed and drummed their fingers on their desks, made subtle noises to indicate their growing impatience with the whole thing. Finally, the teacher ordered the girl to return to her seat. The poor thing spent the rest of the period with her head cradled in her hands, crying silently.
I spent the rest of that period seething at the teacher and my fellow students.
Walking home at the end of the day, I chanced upon the girl walking ahead of me. She had no idea anyone was following. I couldn't get the memory of what happened in class out of my head, and the longer I stared at her long light-brown hair swaying from side to side as she stepped hurriedly onward, the more I wanted to express my sympathy to her. I quickened my own steps to catch up to her. I called her name (which I no longer remember). She stopped abruptly. I saw her shoulders rise in a strange and rigid manner as if she was prepping for battle. At the same moment she pivoted around and stared at me with panic in her eyes and her mouth agape with a silent scream. And then, as quickly as she turned and saw me, she turned away and fled. She ran as if the devil himself was on her heels. I called after her, pleading with her to stop and telling her I understood what happened to her in class, telling her I wanted to be friends with her. Well, that devil at her heels only sped her up more, widening the distance between us. I gave up. I just stopped and watched her fly away.
She never returned to school after that day.
I find it strange that I have been thinking about her lately. Maybe she has been thinking of me, that girl who was just as frightened but hid it better, that girl that wanted to be her friend. Or maybe... maybe she recently passed away. I get weird vibes about people before I find out they have died; it's just one of those things that happens with me. But, whatever it was that made me think of her, I hope she somehow found happiness in her life. I hope somewhere along the line she found a good therapist to guide her. But then, maybe she grew up to be a drug addict living on the streets, or maybe she got some kind of job where she didn't have to deal with people. Maybe she came home to a house full of cats every night, and she let them love her because they weren't as frightening as human beings, and she loved them back because they loved her just as she was. Oh, God, no. No. I pray she found better than that.
I pray she found peace.