On Rollerskates

Every day, it seems, I read some “newsish” article online about something horrible some kids did to another kid, or something wonderful some kids did for another kid.

On the bad stuff end of the spectrum, there was an eleven year old who recently killed himself when he was pranked by some kids who told him that his 13 year old girlfriend had died.  They rigged up their Facebook pages to corroborate the story.

On the good end of the spectrum, there’s a kid in Atlanta who saves up his money all year, and then on Christmas Eve he puts on his best suit,  and heads to the Childrens’ Hospital.  There, he buys dinner for any families coming to the cafeteria.  Why?   What he said was, “This place saved my brother’s life.  I’m here to say thanks".  He has done this for four years.

Both of these incidents bring tears to my eyes.  But you know, I cry easily and often.  I was just telling someone the other day about the birth announcement some friends had sent me, and I teared up.  Hormones,  I guess.

Anyway.  I never did anything as bad as pranking someone with a fake death, or as good as saving money to feed stressed out families of sick kids.

I never had anyone do anything to me as bad as telling me a friend was dead.  I’ve had so many nice things done for me over the years, it’s hard to keep track.  I once complimented a woman who came through my checkout line on her armadillo earrings.  The next week, she brought me a pair.   On my 18th birthday, my History Class threw me a surprise party. Some Senior girls took me under their wing my Freshman year and made me feel welcome. I have received some truly kind letters from people thanking me for things that I didn’t even think twice about.

But.  In 7th grade, I did something pretty awful that I regret.

One day, before class (I think English with Mrs. Stanford), we were all sitting around shooting the shit about whatever.  And someone mentioned heaven.  And I, very quickly said, “Ah, there’s no such thing as heaven!”  And this girl burst into tears.   Because her father had died the year before, and she most certainly did believe in heaven. 

And I remember everyone in the room looking at me like I was a monster.   Which, let’s face it- I was.  Now, it wasn’t a calculated move, made to specifically hurt her, but it did.  And to this day, I feel terrible about it.  I think that I assumed that, since we were in a gifted class, everyone was onboard that heaven, like Santa and the Tooth Fairy was an innocuous fantasy that our parents told us as kids, but we’d all figured out by now.  

Did I mention I grew up in Georgia?  With a lot of Church-goers?  Did I mention that in 7th Grade I was baptized and confirmed into the Presbyterian Church, wherein I made a pact stating that I accepted Christ as my Savior – and that part of that package was entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven?  Look, I joined so that I could go to Wednesday and Sunday youth group, and more importantly, CHOIR.   

I gave up on the church right before I entered High School.  At a Church Camp – where a sixteen year old boy who was walking with me leaned over and whispered, “I’d like to fuck your brains out”.  On that same trip, while I slept – my roommates, who were “friends”, by the way, dumped ice water on my face, and I woke up gasping and furious. Some of the older boys from my Church were fairly mean and dismissive of me.   

I finally melted down.  I remember one very kind Senior boy who took me aside and suggested I just be myself.  Well – I was being myself.  If you wake my ass up with ice water, I’m going to flip way the hell out.  I stopped going to Church soon after that.  And I joined the womens’ choral group at my school and it was fine.

I will say, I still don’t believe in heaven.  This makes some people in my life sad, but I just don’t.  I’m not saying that it’s not possible.  On the upside, I don’t believe in hell, either.  Well, you know what – that’s not entirely true.  I think you are responsible for creating your own heaven or hell here on earth.    And I’m not saying I know I’m right.  There’s a chance that when I die I’ll end up in one of the two and say, “Huh, well – I was wrong about that!”

OK – so that is, without a doubt, the worst, “meanest” thing I ever did in school.  I’m not saying I was angelic, but in terms of hurting someone, that’s really it.    OK – once in high school, I was involved in some light hazing that involved covering Freshman with condiments at a chorus retreat.  I regret that one, too.  And I think there are pictures on Facebook.   Yep, I just checked.

That would be me in the camo hat. With an overbite. I am clearly enjoying the shit out of this.

In the interest of balance, I’ll tell you one nice thing I did.  I had a friend.  We’ll call him Chet.  Anyway, Chet was a nice guy.  He was a little nerdy, but so was I.  Again, one day before class, some of the guys are roughhousing, and one of the douchier ones gets Chet with a kidney punch.  Chet was tall and lanky but not all that “swole”.  And I could tell it hurt.  And he went and sat down on the edge of the table and looked like he was about to start crying – well, this was 8th grade, and I knew that the douches would make him miserable if that happened.  So I went over and started telling him jokes, doing an impersonation of one of our lunch ladies who was always trying to push salads on us, and just trying to work him past the pain and tears.  I made him laugh and just kind of stayed right with him til he was OK, and then class started.  And that was it.   Now, that may seem minor to you, but when he signed my yearbook in HS, it ended with, “Ya waaaaaannnnnaaa a saaaaaaaaalllllad? - Chet”.  So, I think it probably mattered.  Chet’s in the hazing picture, by the way.  He is now a very successful lawyer, married to the sister of a classmate – has two gorgeous kids.  He did just fine. 

Here’s the last one.  There was a kid in my class who was kind of a jerk.  Cute, popular – short man’s syndrome.  Played tennis and was always calling me a nerd or geek or whatever.  One day, our class is headed to lunch and he realizes he doesn’t have money – so he’s asking around if he can borrow a dollar, and I offer to loan him one.  He looks at me kind of surprised, but he takes it, then pays it back the next day. Here’s how he signed my yearbook:

“You sang a really good solo in the play.  Thanks for the dollar.  You’re a real nice girl”.
What you say and do matters, people.  I learned that from both being kind and unkind.  And from people being kind and unkind to me.

I hope that I live my life so that the thing I did back in 7th grade stays the meanest thing I ever did.