I was surfing Facebook (cybeer-peeping) recently, when I came across a girl that used to ride my bus. I'll call her Mary Anne. When she was in seventh grade, Mary Anne was friends with my little sister along with two other girls I'll call Cherie and Gretchen. My sister used to miss alot of school, usually on Mondays and Fridays ("Sounds like someone's got a case of the MONDAYS!" ), and after missing one of these days, she went back to school and found out that these girls weren't going to be friends with her anymore. Apparently they had decided this over the weekend and used my sister's absence to stage a friendship coup. Kind of like when Idi Amin took over Uganda. Anyway, they decided they were going to freeze her out of their little clique. The one girl, Cherie, was my sister's "best friend". They both had horses and she was an only child. Later in the week Cherie folded and became friends with my sister again but the other two kept their distance. I remember an ugly scene on the bus with this girl Mary Anne making a sour face at my sister, as if swallowing the devious, catty and mean truth of her actions. I didn't give a shit about the other girl, Gretchen. She was an amazon for a seventh grader and she always came across like a bully and an asshole anyway.
My sister is blonde and sunny and, although we fought from 7th grade until college, not fake. She isn't a schemer, she doesn't act a certain way to be popular, and she treats everyone with respect. I've gotta believe that this little clique of girls had had enough of my sister's perpetual sunniness and that is why they froze her out. My sister was crushed. She cried. I set about, true to my Irish roots, not liking those girls, especially Cherie, who was too cowardly to confront my sister to her face and then too cowardly to fully abandon her. Although my sister was friends with her, and maybe even best friends, throughout high school, I never cared for her after that. I was a wuss back then so I never said shit to anyone but that's what I felt like inside. The girl that rode our bus, Mary Anne, continued to ride our bus, and eventually I graduated and never saw her again. She kind of started to blossom in high school and, even though she had betrayed my sister, I liked sitting next to her and peeking at her bra and its perky contents. Yes, although I didn't like the girl I didn't let that keep me from looking down her shirt.
She lived in a weird little collection of houses that were in an area we called Factory Hollow. It was almost a trailer park - it's a flat basin area with trailers everywhere. She lived in the extended part, across the main road, and lived in a house. I just drove by there the other day and not much has changed: tires in the yard, kids' toys and wagons abandoned in tall grass, lots of rusted propane tanks and automobiles in various stages of repair. There's an abandoned mobile home, windows shot out, about forty feet from the cracked and muddied vinyl-sided house that she lived in. Her mom was a single parent, she had a half sister, and I think they rented.
My sister graduated with Cherie and they even performed in the talent show when they were Seniors. My sister and I went to the same college for a year and somehow she had gotten older and more responsible than me. The last time I saw Cherie was at my sister's wedding. It had been twelve years since I saw her and she seemed like the same selfish, little person that I remembered.
This had all faded from my addled brain until recently when I came across Mary Anne on Facebook and I read something that gave me a new perspective on all those happenings from long ago. Mary Anne writes a blog and was sharing her current circumstances. Her and her husband (some sort of carpenter/roofer I believe) moved down to Florida with their kids and lived in a trailer in the hopes of making a new start. Then they were in the process of moving back to New York after things somehow did not work out in Florida. She said "It's difficult to put on airs when you live in the crappy little house in front of the Sugarcreek" (the Sugarcreek is a gas station/convenience store). Suddenly, for the first time in thirty years, I felt empathy for her. When I knew her she lived in the weird little (crappy) houses that were down the road from Sugarcreek. And now she lived in front of a Sugarcreek. My sister and I came from a whole, loving family that lived on a beautiful farm and had horses to ride. My Dad worked his ass off to give us an upper-middle class upbringing and my Mom worked her ass off to make sure we were raised the right way and didn't embarass her in front of the neighbors. Mary Anne never had horses or a sweet house to live in or a farm to run around on. Or a yard that had more grass than mud. I never judged her for living where she did and it didn't really even register with me, but after reading her comment about putting on airs, I'm sure it not only registered with her but shaped who she was. I realize that she must have been supremely self-conscious about it, kind of like we all are at times. I was recently reading Mary Karr's Lit, and she told a tale of being at a fancy ceremony with her plaster pearls and cheap shoes with cardboard soles, and feeling like she didn't belong. I think we've all felt like we are faking it at one point or another, like we weren't good enough and we didn't deserve to be where we were, or maybe we did deserve to be where we were, and where we were was a crappy house across from the Sugarcreek.
Bullying is big in the news right now. Kids are commiting suicide or just having a generally hard time, getting harassed on Facebook, etc. I think now that I might have done more to better understand Mary Anne's situation and maybe not judged her so harshly with my Irish temper. Maybe. I think bullying comes from a place where people can lash out at those weaker than themselves because somewhere in their life they have to take shit from someone else. Or maybe, lacking worth elsewhere in their life, they latch on to a Gretchen or an Idi Amin, to give them some sort of status as opposed to getting a bucket of pig blood dumped on them like Carrie at the prom. Or maybe they just don't want to be the slowest gazelle in the herd and abandoning one of their own to the lions is the only sure way they won't get eaten. I don't feel sorry for bullies and I don't like them, but for everyone else I think a little empathy goes a long way. Think To Kill A Mockingbird when Scout stands on Boo Radley's porch for the first and only time, and sees the world from his point-of-view. I don't have to like Mary Anne but I do understand her better. We've all been the person with cardboard soles in their shoes, haven't we?