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I knew after one glance that she was the kind of person my mother had always told me to be extra nice to. She had that aura around her. Her clothes didn’t quite fit and were faded and torn. Her hair was greasy, and it looked like she’d thrown it into a ponytail without brushing it first. She slouched in her chair, as if the weight of the world were on her shoulders. Her face was blank--guarded. And she was completely alone.

Whatever idiot said that cliques don’t form in small, country school must’ve grown up in a cave a long way from any country schools. Even in fifth grade, there were the popular girls that thought they were the school’s monarchy just because they hung out with sixth graders, the jocks that played little league and wore their Phillies jerseys all the time, and the geeks who were sitting around reading or writing the finishing touches in their summer journals. And then there was everyone in between. The “normal” people, the ones just content to be in the crowd of followers.

I walked into the classroom on the first day at a new school. Everyone knows the first day routine. You hug your friends. You ooh and ahh over their haircuts, even if you absolutely hate the style. You ask what they did over the summer, and you just pick up life where it left off when the bell sounded two and a half months ago on the last day of school. But I didn’t have any friends to hug. I didn’t know anyone’s name to join in anyone’s conversation. I didn’t have any status yet, not in this classroom, to join any particular group.

So I found my desk, and I observed. I had fifteen minutes before we started class, something called home room. That was something we hadn’t had at my old school, at least, not in fourth grade. So I reveled in the time to observe and did one of the things I do best: I listened.

Ever since I was little, I had very sensitive hearing. I spoiled a surprise trip to Florida because I overheard my parents whispering, I couldn’t go see movies in theaters, and I couldn’t watch the fireworks on the fourth of July. Some people were shocked when I butted into their whispered conversations from all the way across the room. But when I had something to contribute to a conversation, I couldn’t help but blurt it out, whether I was supposed to have heard what they were saying or not. Some people called it eavesdropping. I called it being very attentive.

So I sat at my desk as individual vacations and birthday parties and gossip was spoken about around me, and I soaked it all in. That’s when I placed them on their rightful thrones in the middle school hierarchy.

The three girls sitting on top of the desks were obviously the popular ones--or at least the ones that thought they were. One of the girls was brown haired and freckled, one was blond haired with a square jaw, and one had hair the color of honey and a cheesy smile the size of China. Not that I’m one to judge. Those were just the first things that popped out at me when I focused on them.

I kept hearing my name in their conversation, and for a moment, I couldn’t figure out why they were talking about me when I was pretty sure they didn’t even know my name yet. Then I realized that the freckled girl and I had the same name. And my name wasn’t exactly common. Just my luck. For all the years until we graduated, I was always to responding to a name that was my own but at the same time, wasn’t.

The jocks weren’t hard to find either. The tall boy with the buzz cut, the short one with blond hair, the really tan one, and the short and fat one. They didn’t all look athletic, but they were all wearing sports jerseys, and that was the dead giveaway. The buzz-cut boy was talking to the tan boy about some sport or other, and they soon got really animated about scores or plays or something. The buzz-cut boy got really red in the face and sort of started shaking silently where he was standing. I thought he must be having a seizure or something, but then I realized that he was laughing at something the short, fat one had said. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard in my life.

Then I found the geeks--only two, both sitting at their desks. A boy with an abnormally round head, and a girl who was tall and had a big nose. Both wore glasses. I saw them, and realized that they would probably be my “crowd” throughout my middle school career. Neither of them looked too fashion conscious, and, of course, neither was I. I wore glasses, and I loved the book that was peeking out of the corner of the girl’s desk. Neither of them spoke. They were both scribbling in their summer journals. I had added the finishing touches to mine that morning.

I took a look at the in betweens, the floaters, the ones who didn’t really stay anywhere. There was a heavy girl standing a little behind the square-jawed popular one. She just stood there, soaking up every word the popular girls said. She was a wanna-be. She would never be a part of the group, but either tag along like a lost puppy, or, later, try to form a popular group of her own. I pitied her. She would never get a chance to live if she stood there, just content to sit back and watch them. There was another one, a short girl with hair so red, I wondered if it came out of a bottle. I later learned that, no, it was her natural color. She was bouncy, and so filled with energy, it was as if she’d had four cups of coffee that morning. I didn’t know a person could survive with that much energy. There was a smiling boy who watched the nerdy boy for a second, then tried to talk to him. The nerd ignored him, but the smile stayed on that kid’s face. It almost seemed like it was glued on.

Then I spotted her, the type of girl that my mother had given me advice about. “Be nice to them. Give them kindness and love. Chances are, you’ll be one of the first people who ever has.” So I got up, and I approached her. And I opened my mouth to say hi--and the teacher called for attention. I stumbled back to my seat, upset about my foiled attempt at kindness. The lunch count was called, and I learned that her name was Bree. I attempted to learn everyone’s name that day, and I did pretty well with it. Along with my sensitive hearing, I also have a keen memory.

At recess that day, I sat on the swing next to her. I tried to talk to her, to follow my mother’s advice. Bree seemed far from appreciative. She gave me an evil look as if to ask why I was even bothering to talk to her. I stopped abruptly, but I didn’t walk away. I stayed on the swing until the bell rang. Even then, I didn’t hop right up and join the crowd of kids that ran up the hill to the door, talking and laughing. I waited until she swung to a halt. She pulled herself up off the swing, straining as if she would rather do anything but go back inside that building. Nonetheless, she started walking toward the door, slowly, dragging her feet and kicking up clouds of shoes that looked ratty and worn. I got off the swing then, jogging to catch up with her. I walked beside her for a few seconds, staring straight ahead, not even attempting to make conversation. I glanced over at her, and she had disappeared. I looked over my shoulder, and I saw that she had dropped back to be a few behind me. She was purposefully not walking with me. I tried not to let it effect me. I slowed my pace, as well. Then she sped up. So I sped up. And it went on like this until we reached the door for reentry of echoey halls of knowledge.

I talked to my mother about Bree’s resistance to my reaching out. She sat me down, and she looked me straight in the eye. “Just keep trying. She’ll come around, as long as you’re kind to her.”

I kept trying. I tried in fifth grade when the boys picked on her because she smelled. I don’t think she owned deodorant, but I’d never said anything. Why would I? It wasn’t something that you were supposed to just say out loud, for every bully in the entire school to hear. I stood up for her. Later that day, we had free time. I went to sit next to her. She gave me a blank look, got up, and sat in a seat with no available seats around it. I didn’t let myself get discouraged. I told my mother, and she said, “Just keep trying. She’ll come around soon, as long as you’re kind to her.”

I kept trying. I tried in sixth grade, when she was the only person without a group for our field trip. I ask the other people in my group if she could join. They didn’t have a problem with it. Well, not really. They didn’t want her, but they didn’t mind her, either. They knew that she would stay out of our conversations and just keep to herself. So they agreed. I told the teacher, and she thanked my profusely. Her group already had five people in it, and she was glad that I had offered. When the teacher told her, however, Bree looked far from glad. She refused, right to the teacher’s face, and said that she would rather be with the group of boys than with my group. I could feel my smile wilt, but I kept up the “I don’t mind,” image, for her sake. I told my mother, and she said, “Just keep trying. She’ll come around soon, as long as you’re kind to her.”

I kept trying. I tried in seventh grade, when the girls were making fun of her because she was fat. I had always figured it wasn’t her fault. Both her parents were on the heavy side, so it must be genetic. She had no control over that. But when I told the girls to leave her alone, she glared at me and told me to leave her alone. I told my mother, and she repeated what she had said countless times. “Just keep trying. She’ll come around soon, as long as you’re kind to her.”

I kept trying. I tried in eighth grade, when she needed a partner to sing a song with for graduation. Even though I didn’t know how good her voice was, I offered. I went to the music teacher after class one day and volunteered to do a duet. The music teacher called Bree up to her desk. I told Bree that I would sing the song with her. I even went so far as to say that I loved the song and would love to sing it, even though I’d only heard it once or twice. I was sure that she would finally give in, finally cave in after four years of refuse. But she didn’t. She turned at me with hatred in her eyes and said, “You sing it by yourself, then.”

I told my mother, tears threatening to spill over. All I’d done for years was try to be kind to her. My mother began to speak, and I was sure I knew what she was going to say. But she surprised me. “Maybe you should stop trying. Maybe she doesn’t want to come around, no matter how kind you are to her. Maybe she just can’t be loved.”

No one came to see Bree at graduation, where my parents and family filled up two rows of seats. I felt bad for her--really, I did. No matter how mean she’d been to me. When Bree went up to get her diploma, there was no cheering as there had been for everyone else. She just got the polite claps of everyone else’s parents. I clapped politely along with them. I really did pity her. Why wouldn’t I? She was the girl no one could love.




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redz14 said...
May 30, 2011 at 10:10 pm:
This was amaizing! I am pratically speechless. I love the description you put into everything. My favorite character was the energized red head. I have no idea but she just stands out to me. Beautiful, keep writing :)
 
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Stpaulian said...
May 30, 2011 at 9:20 pm:
Wow that was amazing. 
 
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