Coming of Age Friendship High School

Pale embers and a scattering of ashes… That was all that remained of the bright burning fire my soul had been at birth. The daughter of a Heavenly King should never feel so weak. I fell to earth only fourteen years ago to experience mortality, entrusted to earthly parents by my father. My soul-fire shone bright in childhood. My dimpled smile attracted many a cheek pinching from my older earth relatives. It was a gloriously free time, cocooned in the love of my live-in maternal grandmother. I was a bright child, full of sunlight and joy. Some of the adults around me said they saw an otherworldly Old Soul whenever they gazed into my green eyes. My grandma used to braid my hair in a vain attempt to keep my curly chestnut hair somewhat tamed.

    My grandma gathered healing herbs and my parents were both at work. I roamed the fields and woods near my home, always withing her sight and earshot. My parents both worked in the same business. They woke before I did and went to work. By the time my grandmother had fed and bathed me in the evening, they would walk in an eat a late dinner, talking shop, worrying about this and that client’s inability to pay them. A quick peck on the cheek and off to bed I went.

    Reading came early too, as did writing. My kindergarten teacher told my parents I was too far along in my learning to fit in with the other kids. She said I needed more of a challenge than she could provide. She advised moving me up a grade, maybe even two. We would try first grade and see if the teacher could keep me challenged enough. I did not really understand why I kept changing classes, first kindergarten, then first grade, and finally second grade, or why my new classmates instantly hated me. They called me “The Baby” because I was almost a head shorter than any of them. They teased me about my belief in Santa Claus and in Fairies. Whenever we played dodgeball during recess, I was a favorite target. When the teacher was not carefully watching our class, which was often, the classroom bully loved to aim spit wads at me, using an empty Bic pen to blow them my way. When I complained, my nickname changed to “Crybaby!”

    My grandma was my only comfort. The teachers did not believe me when I complained. My parents said I needed to have a thicker skin. My mom, who was the most popular girl in class all through her school years, went so far as to paying one of the girls in my class to become my friend. HA! Yeah… That sure worked, Mom! In front of the adults, Livie made an effort and pretended to be my friend. In private though, she made sure to tell me that if it weren’t for my mom’s weekly allowance, she would have nothing to do with me. I was too odd! I did not fit in! Too book-smart and people-clueless! My eyesight dimmed at age 7 after measles affected my eyesight. Quarantine would have been bliss, sheltered from bullies at home and in the care of my grandmother, but I was short-tempered from all the itching and from the burning in my eyes. My ever-patient grandmother, my biggest childhood confidant, threw up her hands and declared me the most impatient patient she had ever treated.

    My eyesight was damaged by measles. You should have heard those classmates of mine when I came in with eyeglasses a longer than usual pink-eye quarantine. It had taken several courses of antibiotics to kill the infection in my eyes. “Four-Eyes!” became my new nickname. Friendless, except for my grandmother, and the rabbits she raised in hutches in our backyard, I continued on, my soul-fire dimming more and more as time went on. My parents were still oblivious. I still excelled at school. I was still the model child they introduced to their clients as a sign of their success in life. I might even grow up to be a doctor, they said.

    Middle school brought no relief. I thought maybe, since I would have a different set of classmates each class period, my pariah days were over. I did make a few friends at first, but soon, my old elementary school classmates warned that it was social suicide to be seen associating with “the Nerd”. I turned to food as a source of emotional comfort, put on a bit more than the usual pre-pubescent pudge, and the bullying increased. Arriving on the pool deck during our PE swimming lessons, I would hear a merciless, “Whale on the deck!” or “Watch out! The Walrus is about to dive!” If I fell while playing basketball, I would invariably hear, “Did you dent to gym floor?” My soul-fire was dying a slow death. I could tell from the way I no longer enjoyed long roams in the woods or in the fields near my home.

    Pale embers and a scattering of ashes are all that remain now. Last summer, I went to Spain on vacation with my parents. My grandmother stayed behind to housesit. I was flattered when the eighteen-year-old DJ paid more attention to me than to the pretty girls on the dance floor. When he told me I looked mature for my age, my soul-fire rekindled. When he offered to buy me a coke and invited me for a walk on the beach during his lunch break, I thought the coke tasted kind of funny. Pale embers and a scattering of ashes, powerlessness to shove him off me, pain, blood and darkness engulfing me.

    Now, I am back home. I never told my parents about the rape. I bottled it all up. I told my grandma about it once I came back from vacation, and she tried to comfort me, to tell me she too had gone through the same trauma with a German soldier during the War. She concocted one of her herbal teas and dosed me on a regular basis with it. She said at least, she could prevent a pregnancy that way. Either it was not the right time of the month when that monster took me, or Grandma's herb tea worked. When I started high school this morning, my period also started. It is a relief not to be bearing the child of that butcher who stole so much from me! My parents don't need to know yet. I have sworn my grandma to secrecy, telling her that I will tell my parents when the time is right, and that I want the news to come from me.

    I take my seat in history class. Ummm… Who is that tall boy at the classroom door? He looks like a crow! Beady eyes of coal, a slight hunch as he comes into the classroom because he is so tall, and hair so black it reflects a blue light. A little wave of his hand and a smile! I turn around, thinking he must be waving at someone behind me, but there are only empty desks behind me. Oh ho! Here comes Miss Popular! She notices the new boy and prances over, blond ponytail bouncing. She places her hand on his shoulder as he is lowering himself into the seat next to mine. Here it comes! The Social Suicide bit… The bullies no longer even bother to warn other students privately about me. They do so right in front of me.

    Wait! How unusual… The new student is holding out his hand towards me and is ignoring the warning. “My name is Ollie. I just moved here from London. Mind if I sit with you?” “It’s a free country!” I reply, kicking myself mentally for the tone of voice and lack of originality of my retort. Ugh! Instead of taking my comment as a rebuff, he chuckles and asks what my name is. “Laurel”, I whisper as our teacher walks in and introduces herself. The class period drags on. I am so unused to having anyone next to me in class, unless it is by teacher assignment, that I keep bumping my arm into Ollie’s elbow. He does not seem to mind, but my brain is frying itself with comments such as “Awkward much?” It is not enough that bullies and a rapist have dulled my fire to just a whisp of smoke. I have become an expert at this self-deprecating internal dialog. I have forgotten that I am the daughter of a King.

    Apparently, I have three other classes with Ollie. In each, he chooses to sit next to me. It makes me uncomfortable! What if he is like the Spanish butcher, trying to lure me into a sense of security only to lay a trap. Mistrust is tying my tongue into complete silence. At the end of our final class of the day, I shove all of my stuff into my backpack and head out as quickly as I can. The sharks are already circling around Ollie’s desk, no doubt telling him it is social suicide to associate with Fatso, Four-Eyes, or whatever Fill in the Blank insulting nickname they are bound to come up with this year!

    Day Seven in high school. Ollie has stuck around and still sits with me in every class we have in common. He seems oblivious to the bullies’ influence. It is pouring outside as I make my way to the bus stop after school. I hear Ollie yell, “Hold up, Princess!” and I continue walking. I figure he must be talking to one of the popular girls. All of a sudden, there is a giant umbrella above my head and Ollie asks, “Didn’t you hear me call out to you?” Without waiting for an answer, he adds, “May I shelter you under my bumbershoot, Milady?” I burst into a half-laugh-half-snort that ends up in a coughing fit. “Princess? Are you for real?” He just smiles and says, “Just calling it like I see it!” My bus arrives at the same time we do. I thank Ollie for sparing me from a soaking. “See you tomorrow, Princess!” he says. Is he for real?

    Day 30 in high school. Smoke to ashes to embers, my soul-fire is rekindling. Ollie has branched out and made friends with a great number of other students. He is on a quick track to becoming Mister Popular at our high school. For whatever reason, in spite of his rising popularity, he still chooses to associate with me on a regular basis. I am sure he sees how my former bullies shake their head in disbelief. I say “former” because for the past week, no one has shoved me in the hallway or even called me names. Ollie and I have discovered we share a love of Offenbach and Operettas. Whenever we happen to cross paths in the hallways, or when we go from History Class on the ground floor all the way to Philosophy class on the fourth floor, we run stairs while singing operettas to see who will run out of breath the fastest. Our philosophy teacher rolls his eyes as I slap the classroom door and turn to Ollie to mock his slowpoke stair climbing ways. “OK, Lovebirds! Settle down!” Ollie rolls his eyes back at him and says, “We’re not lovebirds, just best friends! I’ve got a girlfriend back in London! She’d shoot me if I cheated on her!” Well OK, then, that explains why Ollie has resisted all the obvious flirting from the cheerleaders. Did he just call me his best friend? How are you doing, Soul-Fire? Yeah… thought so! Coals instead of embers!

   Day 76 in high school. I am dreading this shopping trip with my mom. She says I have slimmed down so much that nothing in my wardrobe fits right, and she does not have time to take the seams in for me. Haha! My stair racing every day with Ollie is working wonders! That and I no longer binge eat whenever someone pays me a compliment. I finally understood last month that there was a connection between men paying me a compliment and my rushing home to eat everything in sight. It was a rape avoidance subconscious reaction! I had heard all my life that Fat equated Ugly! If I overate and ballooned up, no man would ever choose me as their target! I’d be too repulsive! Since then, my binge eating has been under control. I love the taste of food and no longer eat mindlessly or emotionally. I appreciate everything I eat and actually taste the food! Ughhhhh! My mom’s taste in clothing reflects who she was as a popular teen. I tend to choose classics that will endure the test of time, and she reads teen magazines and is well informed on what is trendy. “Who wears skirts to school? I gave those up for pants as soon as that was allowed!” she exclaims on the way down the metal spiral staircase. I sigh and follow and hear, “Hey, Princess!” just as I trip on my own two feet. I nearly take out my mom in my tumble down that metal staircase and land in a heap, skirt over my head, and make a grand entrance into the teen section of the store. Ollie – who else would have called me Princess – rushes down the stairs behind me. “You OK? That was quite the tumble!” I pick myself up and start laughing, “Just my pride! And maybe a bruise on my right elbow!” Mom insists on introductions, “Who is this charming young man?” Oy! Ollie can’t wait to get away and into the men’s section. I brush myself off and dutifully follow my mom, then groan as she holds up a white bra and exclaims, “Look, this one has a little pink rosebud pattern! It matches your underwear!” I hear a snort coming from the men’s section. Yes, Mother… the underwear everyone in the teen section saw when I made my grand entrance down the stairs… I am NEVER going to hear the end of this from Ollie on Monday, when we go back to school!

    Day 78 in high school, I have more bruises than I thought from my tumble. I lose the race up the stairs to Ollie. “Hey Rosebud, why are you such as slowpoke today?” teases Ollie. I wag my index finger at him and exclaim, “If you tell ANYONE at school why you’ve been calling me Rosebud all day, you are dead-meat, Mister!” Ollie winks at our long-suffering philosophy teacher and says, “She sure is cute when she gets angry!” Ugh! He is just the most exasperating friend I have ever had! The thought startles me. At the beginning of the school year, I would have said, “The ONLY friend”, but that is no longer true. While we are not what I would call “bosom” friends, the bullying has stopped. I don’t get picked last as lab partner. I no longer fear dodgeball like the plague! I have watched Ollie work his magic on the entire student body. Mr. Friendly has stepped in to defend kids that were getting picked on by the usual posse. He has helped me find my soul-fire flame again.

    Day 100 in high school… Ollie is moving back to London tomorrow. His grandmother is dying of cancer. As I shelter under his umbrella one last time on the way to the bus, I thank him for the miracle he orchestrated in my life during his too brief stint at our high school. He shakes his head, hugs me and kisses the top of my forehead. “Princess Rosebud, I am going to Miss you… with a capital M! And don’t you go thanking me for this! You did most of the work! It was just a question of me seeing the truth of who you were. You had forgotten who you really were… how incredibly resilient and brave you were!” As I burst into tears, Ollie grabs me in a bear hug and whispers, “You are a powerful beautiful woman who has gone through way too much in just fourteen years! I always saw you as a being of power. But you had forgotten and buried that truth under too much hurt for one so young. I only spoke truth to your power and woke the flame that was always there inside you! I have a feeling you are going to be unstoppable from now on!” I laugh through tears, hug him one last time as I see my bus pull closer to my stop. Healed! Hurting from the goodbye! Flames of soul-fire burning bright! I have worth! I am Princess Rosebud! Watch out, world! 

April 05, 2021 22:21

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