Junior high should have been the best time of my life. We had just moved into a new house my mom and dad built – brand spanking new to her specifications. It was on a double lot right across the street from the church and Catholic school we attended. Instead of it winning friends, it gained me every enemy in my class. The Catholic values that were supposed to be so important instead gave way to envy and meanness one could never imagine. My mother was so embarrassed by my father’s leaving, we weren’t allowed to tell anyone. Not even the one friend I had. I learned how to keep secrets. It’s a trait that has served me well in life.
I was always a little overweight in grammar school but the guys would make fun of me like I was obese. I had dark circles under my eyes. I was constantly called “Raccoon.” They would call me other names and would make fun of my dad because he was a celebrity of sorts. While their dads did things I didn’t know, my dad was in the paper and on the radio. He would interview Hollywood stars who came through Chicago. He was a big shot by some people’s standards. There was a comedian named Jackie Vernon who appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. With a deadpan face, he would talk about sad things that would happen to him in his life and the audience would howl with the guy’s hang-dog look and approach to life. He would talk about this guy who had a dog – he would mention my dad by name and people would laugh at the name, thinking it was made up. It was real. It was my dad.
The kids at school would pick up on that and make fun of everything I did. They even played a game called “cobbing” girls. I always seemed to be the butt of them taking their spit and throwing it at you – on your clothes, your hair, your face. Where were the nuns? On the playground, there was little supervision. I hated the lunch hour because it meant everyone hung out with their friends. I had none. The one person I had, Mary Beth, would later betray me and really wasn’t a friend at all. I drew deeper into my dark hole. I would try to volunteer watching little ones so I could stay inside. Sometimes I inevitably had to be outside.
One day a player on the eighth grade basketball team was cobbing people. I told him if he threw it at me one more time, I would beat him up. He laughed at the challenge, thinking that a five-foot-two girl couldn’t take him on. Instead, he took the biggest piece of spit ever and threw it at me. Before he knew what happened, I lunged at him and had him on the ground. I was on my knees bouncing up and down on his chest while pinning his arms to the ground. People were around us in a circle not knowing what to do, then suddenly someone came up to us and said that Sister Michelle wanted me. It must have been God intervening because I really don’t know what I would have done next. The big baby was crying for everyone to get me off of him but no one would touch me for fear they would be embarrassed next. I got off of him and went inside to find out what the nun wanted. I think everyone must have thought that she saw the fight from inside and discipline was next. She instead asked me about some inane thing she needed for class. Looking back, maybe she did witness it and never said anything about it.
Needless to say, the basketball player – and for that matter no guy – ever threw spit on me again. A sadder note was 25 years later at our grammar school reunion, three guys – not the basketball player – came up to me separately and apologized for making fun of me through junior high and high school. Looking back they said they felt so guilty over the years for being so insensitive. They didn’t know that to make matters worse that my dad had left and every cruel joke about him only stabbed me further, being the only one who knew he wasn’t there to protect me or even care about me. Every stab wound only serves to make your skin that much thicker. And your heart that much darker. While other girls rolled their Catholic school girl skirts up and giggled over boyfriends, I stood alone, never invited to anyone’s house. I even took four of them to a Beatles’ concert – tickets my dad got for free. I couldn’t even buy girlfriends, so soon I stopped trying.
No the guys in school, they weren’t the ones.