Memories are funny. Funny how they seemly appear out of nowhere. Allowing us to tell a hilarious story at a dinner party…garnering big laughs from friends….but just beyond the laughter lies a quiet message. The trick is to figure out what it is.
The other night I had friends over for my birthday and I ended up sharing a story from my childhood that I had been hanging around in my thoughts. On the surface the story is really quite entertaining, but at the heart of it is a tragic tale of a little girl lost.
I think I was in the 6th grade. Actually, I know I was because recess was still on the playground behind the elementary school. You didn’t move to the high school building until 7th grade. So I was about…11 or 12, depending on the time of year. I remember it was warm enough that recess was outside and we weren’t wearing jackets.
At lunch my three friends approached me, smiling. I naturally assumed they had something fun to share…little did I know. Gale (or was it Gayle…anyway) with Buffy and Teresa by her side led the way in making her pitch.
The three of them…my friends…had gotten together prior to lunch and decided that I had to pick one of them to fight at recess.
In telling the story at my dinner party, I of course inserted all sorts of side comments and humor to keep the story light…but the feeling the overcame my body that day in the 6th grade was anything but light.
As my stomach sank to the floor and I felt beads of cold sweat pop up on the back of my neck, I couldn’t speak. These girls were supposed to be my friends…my best friends. They were supposed to have my back, and I theirs. Why on earth would we be fighting each other??? We hadn’t gotten into an argument or anything. In fact, I HAD JUST SPENT THE NIGHT AT GALE’S HOUSE THE WEEKEND PRIOR. What the hell was going on???
To make matters worse, these weren’t your ordinary 6th grade girls. They were bad asses. Truth be told, I think I actually ended up falling into their group because I was terrified of them. They took a liking to me (or so I thought) and as I got to know them, I genuinely liked them.
Doesn’t hurt to have three of the toughest girls in school as your best friends, right? It does when they turn on you. It hurts in so very many ways….
So there I stood…staring at the three of them…no words coming from my mouth. Gale took a step forward…just mere inches from my nose…and asked if she needed to repeat herself. Holy shit…they were serious. I had no choice but to pick one.
As I mentally sized up my options, there didn’t seem to be a good choice.
Gale was skinny but solid. I’d seen her kick boys’ asses before. She was tough as nails and would destroy me.
Teresa was built almost identical to Gale. I hadn’t seen her fight a boy but I had seen her kick plenty of girls’ asses. She fought dirty…she fought to win. Um, no thanks.
Then there was Buffy. Like the other two, Buffy was tough and no stranger to fights…but she was a little softer than the other girls. When she smiled, you saw it in her eyes. She had a heart. I think deep down she wanted something different than this rough and tumble existence. So I picked Buffy.
That’s right…after lunch, Buffy and Candy would fight.
Word spread through the lunchroom like wildfire. It was the longest lunch of my life. There was no escaping what was about to happen. Sure I could have gone to the Principal’s office and told, but that wouldn’t have made it go away. That would have made it worse.
So I resolved myself that I was going to have to fight. I wasn’t exactly a weakling. I had had my fair share of fights…but unlike the other girls, I relied on my words to do battle not my fists. There had been fights with my sister…and the boy that said mean things to my gay friend…but those weren’t like this. This was about to be a real fight.
I guess I was taking too long with my lunch (even though I wasn’t eating) because Gale came over and said everyone was waiting. It was time to go.
As I walked across the parking lot to the playground toward the trees, I saw what felt like every kid in school standing and waiting. In the center of the circle was Buffy. She looked confident…she looked ready to kick my ass.
I walked into the circle and the pushing started. Why do fights start that way? I guess it was because I refused to engage that Buffy had no choice but to push me around. Finally, I started pushing back.
As the crowd began to taunt us, Buffy took a swing and missed (thank, gawd). This was it, though. I had a decision to make. Clearly in a matter of minutes, these girls…these “friends”…had made a life changing decision for me. They had gotten together and decided to attack me. Emotionally. Mentally. And now physically. So now I had to decide what I was going to do about it.
Clearly, they were no longer my friends. I couldn’t count on them to have my back anymore. I could only count on myself. I was popular…popular enough that I knew this day…this fight…was a game changer. If I didn’t win this fight, I would forever be battling against anyone and everyone. That’s how the rules of the schoolyard worked.
Buffy didn’t have this same challenge. She was from the side of the tracks that other kids didn’t mess with. I was from the side that kids wanted to make an example of. I couldn’t…I wouldn’t…be made an example of.
I can’t tell you what happened next. I don’t know who hit who first or how we ended up on the ground. When I came out of the darkness, I had Buffy on the ground. I was kneeling and she was bent backwards over my thighs. I was punching in the stomach.
I guess the bell had rung because someone pulled me off her and said we had to get in line to head back into class. As I walked back toward the building, I knew I’d changed.
Officially gone were the days of trusting friendships…of letting down my guard. But also gone were the days of tough kids thinking they could push me around. I had held my own. I had won the fight.
But winning the fight, meant losing the battle. Trust was something that didn’t come easy to me. As a result, friendships were hard. People can feel when you don’t trust them and in turn, they don’t trust you. Even though I didn’t inherently trust, I wanted nothing more than to be able to. I wanted those types of honest friendships that come from giving your heart and trusting the other person will protect it.
That day at recess…I won the fight but I lost any hope of trusting.
It wasn’t until I got to college and met a bubbly blond named Tina that I finally learned to trust. She wore her heart on her sleeve and didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She couldn’t have been more my opposite but she was exactly what I needed. She melted my ice cold heart and taught me what real friendship was.
For years we were inseparable…sharing apartments and even bedrooms. We lived like sisters. I loved her with all my heart…and I know she loved me right back.
It’s no accident the memory of that fight came to me last week. I was feeling betrayed…shut out…closed off from someone that I loved deeply. Likewise, though, it’s no surprise that Tina popped into my head yesterday after my visit with the Shamans. Her memory was to remind me that my heart will heal. That I am deserving of having amazing women in my life. That I do have amazing women in my life…and one of them is still Tina.
We may live thousands of miles apart but are hearts reside in much closer proximity. She left me the most beautiful comment to my post yesterday. I don’t know if she knows how much I needed those words. If she didn’t, I hope she does now.
It’s women like Tina…Princess Grace…Moon Pie…Kilo…Yinny…and Man of the Year ;). that are teaching me how to finally win this battle. I may have suffered a minor set back recently, but I think it was to remind me how far I’ve come…and how far I can go if I stay open to it. If I continue to open my heart and trust. One friendship does not define me. My reaction to that friendship does.
Tina, thank you (again), for warming my heart. xoxo