Little girls with names like Amity and Hailey and Reagan are sinners. And they don’t know that their names, which afford them instant popularity so long as they’re not fat, add to a level of inherent evilness. How can a name like Bunny not flip a little girl’s evil switch?
I don’t have one of these names. I have a name like Sarah or Lisa or Lenora. And I also didn’t have Guess jeans with a zipper running down the ankle or a ten-speed bicycle. I had a banana-seat bicycle with pictures of bananas on it—bananas and apples and oranges. It was blue. The bike had shiny silver handles that started at seat level and rose up about a foot before curving out into very wide grippers. “Here I come on my nerdy bicycle!” they proclaimed. Only I’d gone one step further and attached streamers to the handles, which made me even more of a target to the Peppers of the elementary school social sphere.
At the time, I’d already had my shoes removed from my feet and thrown into the muddy sinkhole on the playground. I’d already been embarrassed to tears by Jenny, who took my arm and strutted me past Jason, my heartthrob, while batting her eyes at him and then me and chanting, “Guess who has a crush on you?” I’d already been called out for cheating on a test that I wasn’t cheating on—Cherry was. So should I have known better when two of the most popular girls in my class came up to me one day and said they wanted to ride bikes home with me after school? Maybe. Instead, my heart pounded and I said excitedly, “Sure!”
I was finally going to fit in.
“Great! We’ll meet you at the bike rack after school,” they said.
It was all I could do not to run to the bike rack after school. And there they were, their bouncing curls bouncier than ever, their smiling faces smiling at me sinisterly, and maybe part of me knew it. But more likely than not, that’s just hindsight bias. We only made it halfway down the fence that bordered the school play yard before they looked at each other and took off, leaving me alone on my banana seat. At first I pedaled as fast I could to catch up. I thought it was a game. Then I knew. It wasn’t a game. I was a loser. A chubby, nerdy loser, who was never going to fit in and was never going to have the things the other girls had so that she could fit in. I road home crying.
Mom wasn’t yet working in those days, and so when I got home, she was in the backyard in the strawberry patch picking strawberries. I remember wanting to make sure I was crying when I got to her. I was going to make myself cry if I had to; I needed someone’s affection that badly. But it wasn’t difficult. I bawled before I got one word out. And Mom was sad for me, I think. I don’t remember what she said. But I do remember her wondering why I wanted to play with those girls days after they’d done that to me. She let me go but didn’t understand.
The thing is: I always come back to this story. Every time I sit down to write about my past, this is the story I start with. It’s like I can’t get past it. Every time I think about being hurt as a girl, this is the story I remember first. I’m realizing how utterly heartbreaking this was for me. I wonder what it means, if anything. I wonder where those girls are now. I wonder if they have little girls. I bet they’re sinners. That’s a joke. I know they are, because I am too, and so is my daughter. But I pray that she never treats another peer that way. I pray that she loves her neighbor as well as her enemy, and that she talks to me when she’s hurting. I don’t look forward to her crying. I don’t like it now. But crying is good…