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Her brown eyes remind me of a fawns, big and brown; but they are too big for her face which is pale and coated in hastily applied makeup that she is not supposed to wear. She has honey colored hair, pulled back sometimes. I am a sophomore, but I have a higher social status than her, a year above me in school, and two in age. In fact, most of the freshmen seem to have some sort of social superiority over her.
It is sad, how awkward a person can be. I have two classes with Lilly this year, and somehow her different-ness stands out to everyone.
When I first entered high school as a freshmen, I obviously didn’t demand a huge amount of respect from upperclassmen, I was just another freshman. But she looked up to me. I guess it was because I didn’t ridicule her. I still don’t, and I am a minority. Through the eye of the crowd, this is the girl who posts videos of herself singing when she can’t sing. This is the girl who can’t apply makeup. This is the girl who thinks she is dating one of the popular juniors, even though he claims no part in any such relationship. This is the girl who is just barely there.
Through my eyes, this is the girl who is picked on. She is the one who sits in two of my classes with barely passing grades. She is the one who came to me.
I am not proud of what I said when she asked point blank if she could be my friend.
I felt pressed between a rock and a hard place. There were social stigmas attached to this girl, and some of my friends couldn’t understand my sympathies for her. Likewise I had no understanding for it, but also could not comprehend their cruel words whispered behind her back.
When she asked me, my response was something along the lines of “I’ll be here if you need help at school.” I did not directly accept her plea for help. Not making that commitment has certainly saved me some grief, but it has caused her some pain. Somehow, this girl demands no respect - from teachers or students alike - and she can’t seem to stand up for herself. It pains me when I see her pitiful face, but having not made that connection fully, it couldn’t be my fault, could it? As a bystander who did nothing, it was as much my fault as it was anyone elses.
Everyday, I sit in two classes with her. I try to explain things to her, but step aside when people put her down. I sit in Spanish, and hear stories of her life again and again. I sit in the front row and feel some remorse when the teacher yells at her to do her work. I feel remorse again when she brags about the 63 she just barely managed. I glance at the 90-something on my paper, and am sorry. But I do nothing.
I say nothing.
I am trying to change that.
* * * *
Each month my school has a service learning day.
As my advisor reads off names for our group - those of us going to the Children’s Museum - my heart sinks at the combination of students who will have to deal with one another all day; I cringe as the bickering starts before we are even on the bus. All day, Sterling, Lilly’s would-be boyfriend, seems to grit his teeth. He seems to reach the boiling point midway through the day. Their interaction degrades in quality to that of kindergarteners. Holly yells at everyone, only aggravating the issue. The rest of us, are bystanders.
By the time we leave - early due to the “overall poor behavior of the group” - tensions have elevated. Dirt has been thrown, paint has been splattered on Kelly’s white pants, and those of us who have yet to speak are frustrated and embarrassed for the school. We are sick of the fighting. But not one of us has said a thing to stand up for her.
I have had enough. I am tired of not talking. It makes me sad that I waited until their behavior messed up my day to say anything, but I hope I’m not too late.
“Lilly, do you want to study for Spanish on the way back?” I run the water in the sink and don’t look at her face as I wash my hands.
She seems to visibly brighten and quietly accepts my invitation. We go our separate ways until we arrive at the bus. I gather my lunchbox from the seat I had occupied and move up next to her. I don’t know if people notice, and honestly, I don’t care. I hope she knows what I am doing for her, but again, I don’t really care. I don’t know if she senses that I really do want to help her. I don’t know what she thinks, I do know that as I quiz her on vocabulary and irregular preterite verb forms, I see more to her than I have ever seen in a classroom. She puts herself out there, opening up.
As the school bus pulls into the school parking lot, I turn to Lilly. Speaking to her as the human being that she is, I ask her to study tonight for the quiz tomorrow. Just fifteen minutes I say. “Lilly, you know these, just do this tonight, and you will do well tomorrow.”
I want to give her hope. Hope for success.
After the quiz the next day, she comes over and shows me the grade in red ink on the top of her paper. 87. Good job Lilly. You can do it!
You can do it, and I am here.