The redheaded girl was always there. The school wasn’t that big which helped her cause. Yet it wasn’t small either. A rectangle shaped building with halls forming a smaller rectangle inside, classrooms lining both sides. I don’t know why she chose me. What was special about me? Nothing. Not my clothes which were all purchased at garage sales, except for the new pair of shoes my grandmother took me shopping for every August. I wasn’t one of those kids with good hair or cool makeup. I wasn’t wealthy. I don’t know why I stood out to her, how I gained her attention, but somehow I had.
I don’t actually remember the first moment it began, only the way it felt months in.
It was a sunny day as I stood outside the school willing the bus doors to open. Mercifully the redheaded girl wasn’t on my bus. If I could just get on the bus before she spied me, I would be in the clear. I sensed her too late. I felt the swift kick from behind before I could move. The tears instant in my eyes. I told myself not to turn around but instinctively I did anyway. There she stood, a gleam in her eye, a group of girls around her laughing. The bus doors opened and I turned and walked onto the bus wiping my tears and wondering, why me.
A few days later as I waited in line with my ill-fiitting garage sale jeans to get my lunch she reappeared. “Those jeans couldn’t have cost more than a dollar,” she shouted making sure everyone in the cafeteria could hear her over the loud conversations taking place. They did. My face turned bright red as most greeted her hatefulness with laughter. A few kids had the decency to look down uncomfortably. No one came to my defense. I lowered my head, fought back tears and proceeded through the line.
The next day as I turned the lock left, then right or right then left, I felt the weight of her slam into my back. As my body crashed into my locker something inside of me snapped. I turned around to face her, fists clenched at my side and said loudly, but calmly, “If you touch me one more time, you are going to pay.”
People stopped and turned.
I saw the shock wash over face but as quickly as it came, it went. “Are you really?” she taunted. “What are YOU going to do?”
I had no idea and I was quaking inside but I had a small taste of what it felt like to stand up for myself and I wasn’t backing down.
“Try me and you will find out,” I said in a much more confident voice then I felt. I could hear the crowd of kids around us inhale and felt the area around us shrink as they leaned in.
She and I stood about a foot apart. Staring at each other. “This is it,” I thought. “She is going to kill me.”
*DIIIIIIIIINGGGGGG* The class bell rang.
“You’re lucky,” she said.
And I believed her.
The following day, three days before eighth grade graduation, and nearly an entire year of being tracked down and taunted by the red-headed girl I was heading to fourth period when I spotted her. We were walking in opposite directions towards each other and were about five steps from passing eachother. In months past I would have squeezed towards the wall in hopes of disappearing from her site and her torment. Today I stood my ground. I forced myself to stay straight. As I got close, she didn’t even look over at me. Instead she kept talking to the girl next to her. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then, as she passed me, without even looking over, she reached her arm out, knocked the books out of my hand and kept walking.
“That is it,” I said to no one. I turned around and walked after her.
“HEY,” I yelled.
She stopped and turned towards me smiling.
“I told you yesterday to lay off me,” I said as I closed the gap between us.
She laughed, “What are you going to do about it?”
The words weren’t out of her mouth more than a second when my clenched up fist landed right square on her nose. Blood came flooding out.
“FIGHT, FIGHT,” I remember hearing someone yell as she lifted her fist to return the favor. She missed because I went low to try and push her down. The weight of me carried both of us to the ground fists flying. Within seconds, teachers were pulling us apart.
“I kicked your ass,” she yelled pathetically as blood streamed down her face.
“You are the one bleeding,” someone behind me said to her. Then there was laughter. Only this time it wasn’t directed at me, it was directed at the redhead.
We were both taken to the Principal’s office and promptly suspended for the last three days of school. My father came to pick me up. There was a long winded speech and a severe summer grounding given, but I didn’t care. That day, as we drove along with the windows down, the wind flying through my hair and my dad droning on, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.