The prior had a few lessons I learned in elementary school.
Once I had ventured through 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade, my mind catapulted to middle school. This place was better by far, and I had a girlfriend from my neighborhood who shared classes with me. We were into Led Zeppelin, Journey, John Travolta, and Olivia Newton-John. We went roller skating every weekend and played Pac-man until dawn. We laughed, talked, and shared many secrets. These were some of my best childhood memories.
But for some reason, it seemed like I walked through life with a target on my chest. Something inside of me seemed to draw the sharks. Have you ever seen a geek with nerdy glasses and high-water pants get the attention he didn’t want? I think we all have seen an antelope on the Wild Kingdom walking with a limp. The lion crouches. He crouches down and waits for the sick one, the scared one, the one that can’t keep up with the herd. It’s an easy target. I seemed to have one of those postures that bent downward.
And then one day, something happened in music class, something that wounded me even more. It was choir practice, and we were standing on the bleachers. I accidentally fell into the girl next to me. She was thin, pale, angelic-looking, and strikingly innocent. I said I was sorry and helped her up. On the back row, standing taller than all the other students in 8th grade, was Melissa. She was 15 and had given a baby up for adoption already. She was hard, cold, and ready to pounce on me. After class, we went to lunch, and as I ate, I had this sinking feeling. The kind you get when you know something terrible is coming, but you’re not sure from where or what it will look like. Sort of like when the meteorologist says a tornado is headed in your direction, and you need to take cover immediately. You hear the sirens, and you see the sky turn black with a greenish tint illuminating the darkness. You have no basement and nowhere to go, so you sit in the bathtub and wait for it to pass over. That day was like that.
I walked home with one of my girlfriends every day. And so after the stumbling bleacher incident, I headed down the sidewalk, oblivious to the funnel cloud. The school sat back off the road and was almost hidden by the trees. The adjacent parking lot was that of a church with a line of trees and a fence. The sidewalk that ran down the long road between buildings eventually led to a big intersection where a crosswalk officer directed the school traffic and allowed us to cross the street. This was, however, unseen from the church.
As we rounded the sidewalk and were half-way up, I saw a large gathering of students huddled outside the church. The building’s lot, which was empty during the week, seemed filled like an arena and there amid the crowd was Big Mellissa and several of her tough wrangling friends from the rougher part of town. They were yelling for me to come over. I didn’t want to. Their blackened pupils and mouths kept calling me. I did not want to face them–or what I discerned now to be the storm I had felt all day.
About that time, Melissa had one of her cohorts grab me by my hair and drag me over to where pretty angelic Michelle stood. Her short stature and the frail frame looked up at me. I was under 5 feet in height, and I could tell she was caught in the middle of doing what they wanted her to do. She had become their excuse to attack me.
“You pushing my cousin?” “You knocked her down in chorus.
Tekoa, why don’t you knock her down now B*%$#!” I started trying to explain it was an accident, but they kept shoving me. One girl grabbed me and started punching me in the face with her fist as hard as possible. I began to fight back even though I did not want to. The crowd roared, and the more I fought, the more girls joined in, and pretty soon, they were holding me down. One had my hair wrapped around her fist and was bluntly jostling my head into the aluminum fence post. I felt a sticky substance running down my face and a taste of crimson blood in my mouth. By this time, I gave up and let them get the best of me. The crosswalk lady came and blew her whistle a little too late, and my one friend stood with the crowd, scared, helpless, and frozen to do anything other than standing there gawking. My right eye was swelled shut, and my bottom lip felt like it had been injected with Novocain. My first shiner!
I walked home alone. Blood ran down my face, and my hair had patches of places that were bloody. My friend said something, but the air was thick, and my robotic legs were moving like something you’d see in a slow-motion film reel. I remember thinking, “Jesus/ Yeshua is this what you felt like when they shoved those thorns into your skull? I opened the door and entered the house, spitting more blood out of my mouth into the yard. I was too wounded to cry.
My sister was the first to get a look at me, as my parents were working.
“Who did this to you? Do you know where they live?” She scooped me up along with a baseball bat and went driving neighborhoods looking for those girls, but to no avail. That night, my mother told me that I had to go back to school tomorrow and face these girls, or they would continue to pick on me and bully me. I was terrified! I couldn’t breathe, but the next morning I entered the building. I heard the whispers–the eyes that followed me–the snickers and, yes, a frozen fear. I couldn’t shower or wash my hair for days because the bruises and knots were dreadfully painful– but my heart was worse. Why was this happening to me– the shy little girl who never wanted to fight anyone?
Later that night, my best friend’s father brought her down to our house and made her apologize for not helping me. I didn’t blame her. It was us two against ten or fifteen. We were innocent. I lost my innocence that day in a way I can’t explain. I continued to shrink back from people, faces, friends, and enemies.
That week I prayed with all my heart and asked God to save me, but not like you do on Sunday morning at the altar. I asked Him to protect me and to remove me from the situation. A prayer I would become an expert at. He did not remove me, but He did send a girl who was even bigger than Melissa. She was from Paducah, KY, and her family raised horses. Her name was Kendra, and she had missed a few grades too. She towered above the girl’s heights and was even taller than most of the boys. She said she heard about what those mean girls did to me and that she wanted to be my bodyguard.
I let her.
Pretty soon, the word going around school was, “If you touch Tekoa, Kendra will kick your Butt!
I still had nightmares. I still had fear, but for some reason, I grew a thicker skin. I probably made friends with some folks a tad more colorful than my gentle friends from youth. Almost 20 years later, at an Italian restaurant, I waited on Mellissa. She was with a man. He possibly could have been her husband. She still looked rough, and she had quite a few tattoos. She smiled at me, oblivious to who I was, and ordered a manicotti as if it were the most ordinary item on the menu. I was amazed that she was capable of offering me a smile that looked almost surreal. I waited on her like a good server and thought how ironic it was to look her in the eye, refill her drinks, and take her dirty plates to the kitchen. I said Abba, what are you trying to teach me?
And then suddenly it was quite clear. . . The Father had taken my share of dirty plates, and if He could forgive me, I had to forgive her. I hoped that she had grown kinder, gentler, and that whatever had happened to her in her childhood was being healed. I knew I still had a long way to go.