March 13, 2009
I walk alone during recess, the pain of loneliness burning inside me, colder than the March wind that blows across the playground. I want to cry but that would only fuel them, encourage them. I don't know what first singled me out for such treatment. Kindergarten had been warm, and happy, and full of friends. Why things changed this year is as mystery to me. No one will talk to me unless it is to insult me. No one notices me unless it is to mock me.
I am alone now. I am shunned and teased wherever I go. As I approach the red brick wall of my elementary school, hoping to get out of the wind, I hear the words that bring tears to my eyes, the words that will haunt me for the rest of my life:
'Erin Alert! Erin Alert!' The girls drop what they are doing to point at me, chanting and laughing. I turn and run away from them, away from the blacktop where the teachers stand without hearing the cruel words, away from the jungle gym where friends play together, out onto the soccer field.
'Erin,' says a new voice. I turn to look at my best friend. My only friend. Her chocolate brown hair is long, the way I wish mine could be, but my mom insists on having my hair cut short. Stephanie opens her arms to me and I gladly accept her embrace, needing the comfort of another human being. I shake with tears that will not fall.
Too late, I realize the danger. Her arms tighten and she calls over her shoulder, 'I got her!' The other girls start to run over. I fight to get free, but she holds me tight. Fueled by fear and betrayal, I elbow, knee, and kick at her, trying to escape. It is pointless. The other girls grab me. My arms, my legs, my waist, my hair. I fight like a wounded animal in a trap, which I am. I feel my foot make contact with something as I writhe. I twist myself free and run as fast as I can.
The teacher finds me huddled next to the fence. Bamboo planted on the other side blocks the view across it and forms a secondary boundary to keep children from running away. The teacher is followed by one of the girls'a blond who has clearly been crying. She holds her stomach as she sniffles. The teacher looks down on me where I am, curled in a ball. 'Erin,' the teacher says. 'Why did you kick Kelsey?'
I know better than to try to explain that the girls had attacked me. It is my word against the other girls', and it isn't a mystery who would win. Who always won. 'I'm sorry,' I say quietly. I still can't cry. Not now. I stare up at the teacher with dry eyes.
She leads me back to the school, where I will have to have a time out. Again. The other girls watch me as they surround Kelsey. They smirk at me, snickering. Standing apart from them is Stephanie. 'I'm sorry,' she mouths to me, her eyes flickering to the other girls. I nod to show that I forgive her. It means so much to me that she is my friend, even if only part of the time. She is the only friend I have. I can't afford to lose her, especially not over something as normal as this. I give her a weak smile and she smiles back sheepishly. She is forgiven.

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