“You are so ugly!” Michelle said right in my face.
Those powerful words.
Those powerful, meaningless words made my heart sink and my knees rattle. Didn’t she know that “God don’t make no junk?” Perhaps her mother hadn’t told her. Or, perhaps she was like every other kid in 6th grade who wanted to pick a fight. Those overtly aggressive kids would offer up a direct insult. They would discharge that insult like a beach ball being punched up in your direction. Once it came your way, you would either have to punch it back or let it fall to the ground. If you let it fall…you lost. It was always curious to me that certain people had to move through these experiences of fighting and conquering weaker people, progressing, in their minds, up the pecking order. As the timid one, I always let the ball plunge to the earth, never punching it back. Until now! This time was different. “You are ugly” just griped me. I was tired of being the weak one, tired of being insulted, and tired of getting no respect. So, I decided then and there I would respond.
“I am not ugly! You are ugly!” I retorted.
Michelle was no beauty pageant runner up. She had coarse, mousy brown hair and her overall appearance was greasy, as if she’d been lingering around a Waffle House griddle. Her clothes were easily five years out of date. She wore dreadfully thick glasses that were smudged and opaque. With pale, bumpy arms and a stocky figure, Michelle was easily a head taller than I. Her family lived about 1/2 mile down the road in a smoky-blue cinder block house.
Bam! She hit me on the side of the head.
Where did that come from?
“Ow! ” I yelled. I remember unleashing a most unladylike expression at that moment. There were no words too irreverent on that bus; our foul mouths rivaled any sailor getting off the ship in nearby Mayport.
About the time she slapped me, I looked back and noticed the bus driver. She was cheering and, to my surprise, gesturing excitedly for me to slap her back. What was this, gladiator time? At that moment, reality sunk in. I was stuck in this mess and there was no way out. A fight was going to happen and the bus driver was certainly aiming to see one. I guess her boring job could use a little excitement, even if it was only couple of prepubescent girls clawing at each other’s faces. I would have to defend myself or die trying. Void of responsible adults, this bus was full of vicious, narrow minded people who were bored and looking for cheap entertainment.
Slam! In an instant, she fired another shot directly on my ear. My face grew hot with anger and embarrassment and pain. I reached for her face, ripping at it with my nails. Michelle, in turn, grabbed and yanked hard on my thin, pale hair. She kept yanking and slapping at me. Groveling, I pulled and scratched whatever fleshy parts I could seize.
I stepped back and surveyed the situation for a minute while two emotions welled up inside me: anger and pity. I was angry that she was hurting me and pitied her for living such a rude, sad life.
I blurted out, “You are so rude!” Tears were streaming down my face now, salty tears that overflowed onto my hot, red skin.
At that exact moment, in my teary, angry haze I remembered something my mother told me as a young child. It was a defensive trick: “If someone is attacking you, hit them square on the nose and the pain will back them off.” Gazing at Michelle, through her nasty glasses, I knew what I had to do. I suddenly felt I had the strength of “ten Grinches, plus two!” I leaned in and banged her right on the bridge of her glasses. She cringed in pain. Then, I did it again. This time, she crinkled down to the dirty floor of the bus. I stood there, shocked that it had actually worked. Then, I backed up three steps and looked out the window to realize my stop was just ahead. Quickly, while every kid on that bus was starring straight at me, I gathered my lousy books and papers and moved into the aisle as the bus came to an abrupt stop, pssssssst. Utter silence prevailed.
As I jumped down the steps, I heard Michelle hurl a word out from her clump on the floor of the bus. That word started with a b and rhymed with ditch. When I heard it, I ran as fast as I could from the bottom step, in front of the bus and across the street to my sandy, overgrown driveway. Oh! I was so grateful to be off that God-forsaken bus. I could breathe again! My heart was pounding, my ears hot and stinging.
I gazed ahead at my trailer-home. Then I looked back at the big yellow bus lurching forward. Strangely, I felt like I had accomplished something. But, what? Self-dignity? Respect? Confidence? Yet, I didn’t feel all that victorious inside. I felt ashamed, exploited and cheap. As I approached the door, I saw my mother in the kitchen.
“How was your day, little honey?” she asked, looking at something in the sink. She hadn’t seen me yet.
My red faced altered. “Mom, do you think I’m ugly? I asked sheepishly.
She glanced at me as I finished. “Oh honey! Of course not! What happened? Come here.”
I went straight to her arms, a blubbering mess, and so thankful to be finished with that horrible ordeal.
Michelle never said another mean word to me again. And, although I failed at turning the other cheek, I let her know that she needed to move on to another target. Years later, we became friends.