I was recently visited by someone I haven’t seen in forty years. She came to me wearing blue and white striped overalls, her shiny, fine hair was cut in a kickass shag, as she silently followed me through my day. I could tell she was surprised, and not in a good way, about what she witnessed. She had that impish, but somehow judgmental smirk glued to her face as tried to understand what she was seeing, why she was brought forth to see it, and what might help her get back to the business of climbing trees and writing parody songs about things that she found ridiculous.
It didn’t take her long to figure out that she was supposed to kick my ass back into the game. Once she saw the way I was walking around in a fugue state, which she called moping when she called me out in it, she got to work. There were no spirit advisers with her, so she and I had to deal with one another face to face. Instead of taking her hand and gently flying back somewhere, she instantly transported me, rather abruptly, to a few moments we had shared a long time ago.
The first place we visited was the old Highland Elementary School in my hometown. A beautiful, yellow brick building where the town library now lives. We went into a second floor classroom filled with fourth graders getting ready to leave school on their Christmas break. The male teacher was passing out lifesaver candies, a rare treat to celebrate the holiday. To each boy, he would simply dole out a candy and receive a proper thank you. To each girl he would hold a small sprig of mistletoe overhead and demand a kiss on his cheek in order to receive tha candy. My little friend in overalls refused to comply with the required kiss and was skipped over, which suited her just fine. Until the dismissal bell rang, when the teacher would not allow her to leave with the others. He told her she could go home only after giving him a kiss. So she sat there. He graded papers. She sat there. He cleaned off his desk. She sat there. He walked around the room, straightening things up. She sat there. The neighboring teacher, a kind, gentle man, came into the room ready to have a friendly chat with his coworker but found himself witnessing this standoff of sorts and excused himself saying, “Ponch, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes.” She sat there. The sky outside grew dark. Still, she sat there. The teacher put on his coat, turned off the light, and walked out the door without speaking. She sat there until she heard cars driving away, then she got up, went to the window and watched the two men drive off. She walked alone through the darkened school, and went home, where she faced a mother who was angry at her for being so late without a good reason.
Later, she brought me back into the same building and took me to a spot on the bench in the makeshift basement gym. She wordlessly reminded me of how she was made to sit repeatedly for arguing or fighting. We looked out the windows through latticed iron and saw the tar-covered play area outside where she went toe-to-toe with anyone, male or female, ten year old or forty year old, who was being unfair about rules or equipment. I stared intently as I saw her tear one of the “good” kickball bases out of a boy’s hand and send him spinning because it was Thursday, and the girls were allowed to use those bases on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each time she went toe-to-toe with someone out there, she had to sit. On the sideline, in the principal’s office, on the bench.
When the teacher decided to allow the class to hold class elections, she ran for president. It was a futile endeavor because the teacher didn’t allow the students to do anything, but she didn’t know that, she only knew that she wanted to be the president. She was going to make sure the girls could use the good side of the playground and the decent equipment on the two recess days each week that they were allotted. So she and and her friend made posters for the election, she wrote a speech, and she won the pointless election. Weeks later, when the teacher was handing back school pictures, she sat in her seat as he held hers up in front of the class and ridiculed it because she had worn her overalls instead of a dress on picture day. When he said it would, “make a great Wanted Poster someday,” she sat and listened to her classmates laugh along with the teacher. Even the kind, gentle teacher from the classroom next door joined in, because, what little girl wouldn’t want to look pretty in their school picture?
She decided it was time for me to head back to present day. She wasn’t certain her magic had worked, but she knew she had some rollerskates and penny candy to get back to, she couldn’t waste any more of her time trying to fire me up. All she could do was hope that I would stand up.