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The Bully

February 19, 2013
It probably looked about as ungainly when I was eight too.

Me doing a cartwheel as an adult, in Cape Town, South Africa.

Her name was Amelia, and I was terrified by her.  When we were eight, Amelia was barely four feet tall, a slip of a girl, with slender light brown limbs, feathery brown hair and a smile missing a tooth.  Hardly the stuff of nightmares, but she also was a tyrannical presence in my childhood.  I would duck into bathrooms to try to avoid meeting her in the open expanse of the hallways.  It was that bad.  She was in afterschool gymnastics with me.  Sometimes she would sidle over to me, like when I was about to do a cartwheel and, and say:

Amelia: “Why don’t you ever smile?  I have never seen you smile.”

 Me:  Freeze like startled rabbit.  Silence.

Amelia: “You never smile.  Are you depressed?  Are you going to wear black and kill yourself?”

Me:  Silence. Frown deepens.  I think, ‘I never smile when you are around because you scare me! I smile normally!’  But I am too frightened to say it.

Amelia: “God!  You are soooo weird.  No wonder you have, like, no friends.”

Me:  Throws self into cartwheel.  It is wobbly and badly formed and I almost fall.  I want to cry.  Amelia giggles.

And then she would leave me alone again.  Alone, later, in my bedroom I would come up with clever retorts, like “Oh yeah?  Well, your face is so ugly it is hard to smile when I see you!” but it was always far too late, and I wasn’t the kind of person who would say those things in real life anyway.  Third grade ended, and somehow I managed to not have Amelia in my gymnastics or classroom again for years.  I buried thoughts and memories of her pretty deep.

Fast forward seven years.

Though this is not from Whitman High School, and is completely taken from a random school newspaper.

Our Candyland hallyway looked a bit like this.

I was in tenth grade.  I had abandoned my overalls and light up Velcro shoes in favor of blue jeans and brown sandals, and my bowl hair cut in favor of a professionally styled longer cut.  I had purple paint on my nose, sure, but that’s because I was decorating the sophomore hallway for spirit week.  The theme was Candyland, and I was adding lollipops with artistic acrylic abandon.  Other girls glued JollyRanchers to the walls and ceilings; still other classmates posted images of the Candyland characters at strategic intervals.  It was a bit stupid; I was always a bit suspicious of peers with too much school spirit- they had drunk the Kool-Aid, and I prided myself on having not.  But… it was fun.  And that year, I decided to participate.

11pm.  We were finishing up.  Paint that had been spilled on the floor had now been wiped up; half finished landscapes had been hastily contoured into presentability; glitter was on everything.  I began to rummage in my backpack for my cell-phone.  I felt a tap on my shoulder.   ‘Hey ya, need a ride home?’  I looked up.

And there was Amelia.  She was still slight, though her hair was longer and in a sloppy ponytail.  She was a bit taller, of course, and she now had all her adult teeth, flashing at me in a smile.  She wore our high school’s sweatshirt over designer jeans and uggs.  Her fingernails had a French manicure.  She was jiggling her car keys in her hand.

I looked around the hallway; everyone was packing up to go.  I looked at Amelia again.  I fought the instinctive ‘Fight or Flee!’ primitive urge that was warring within me.  She seemed friendly enough.  Maybe she had forgotten her reign of terror back in elementary school.  And I didn’t really want to call my mom to come pick me up at school.  At age fifteen, that act was already old for both of us.

One of the late King Hussein's cars, from the Royal Automobile Museum in Amman.

Okay, so this isn’t Amelia’s car. But hers was almost this awesome…

“Okay,” I heard myself say.  “Thanks!”  We headed out to her car.  She pressed a button on her keys and I heard a ‘beep beep’ of a car unlocking, even as the flashing headlights revealed that she drove… a bright red convertible.  She watched my reaction, and her smile grew bigger.

“It’s my dad’s,” she confessed as she slid into the driver’s seat.  I tentatively sat down beside her.  Was she merely waiting for me to be trapped with her, in the car, before she started to insult and tease me?  The locks slid down, and my stomach jumped.  Amelia smoothly pulled away from the school’s parking lot.

In that fifteen minute ride home, I learned several things about the teenaged Amelia: she liked to drive fast.  Very fast.  A yellow traffic light simply meant that Amelia had to drive faster, to beat it.  She talked a mile a minute, and liked using elaborate hand gestures, steering the wheel at times with her knees.  And she was kind.

Yes, in the few years since I had last interacted with her, she had become genuinely a nice, lovely person.  Maybe she had always been this way, and I had just brought out something petty in her when we were children.  Maybe this was truly a newer personality development of hers, maturity growing into generosity.  But, during that lurching car ride, goodness oozed out of her.  She was giving me a ride for no reason beyond I was clearly without one and she could help.  She could tell I was ill at ease, and asked easy questions, made self-deprecating jokes, and congratulated my artistic skill in depicting hard candy on my school’s walls.

I felt almost shamed.  In my mind, she was unchanging: aged eight Amelia could never grow beyond herself, at age 16 she had to have the same limitations, just polished up by the veneer of adulthood.  There was no allowance for change.  Amelia had to remain the stuff of scholastic nightmare in order to validate my own sense of self and experience. She was bad and strong, I was good and weak.  To have her here, now, much like any other girl, someone I could see as a friend (if not mine, then someone else’s) undermined that pleasing, easy dichotomy of the bully and the bullied.  If she could change so much in such a short time, what sort of butterfly could I become?

In that car ride, Amelia more than made up for years of fear, whether she knew it or not.

We reached my house in record time.  She gave me a cheery wave goodbye and shouted “I’ll see you at school!” as she sped away.  I watched the cherry red car, driven my childhood bully, turn the corner and disappear.

I am pretty sure that's what I took out of this whole malarkey.  Given the goofy grin and tiedye shirt that is.

And that’s when I realized the world was a magical sparkly place with goodness and light, and that I could be as nerdy and strange as I wanted and everyone would treat me so well…. no?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2013 11:39 AM

    Hi, Luca. I wrote a long response to your discussion, and when I was almost finished, It seems to have disappeared. I hope it will reach you; it is something I think you would find interesting. In any case, one thing I will say now is that I like your name, Lauren, and I also very much like your writing and expression of memories and experiences. I read “the Bully”, and enjoyed the whole of it. I hope you are enjoying the LSE. You know I respect George Soros for his accomplishments after he fled from Nazi occupied Vienna. He’s a very giving person. I am happy to have an active email relationship wih you.

    Papa Bert.

  2. February 19, 2013 6:01 PM

    The thought of 15-year-olds driving cars, let alone fast red sports cars, scares me.

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