(Originally posted Thursday, February 28, 2013)
Thanks to Eden Prairie’s status as one of Minneapolis’ most desirable suburban communities, it was only a matter of time before I was no longer The New Kid. New students were arriving on what seemed like a weekly basis at Central Middle School, and by the time seventh grade rolled around there were enough of us eating at the outcast table for us to qualify as our own clique. This included the first African American girl and the first two Asian girls to attend CMS, as well as two girls who had lived in Eden Prairie all their lives but for various reasons decided to ditch their old gang to join our band of misfits.
One person who never spent a moment at the outcast table—despite arriving to CMS after I did—was Kirsten H. (I use her last initial to distinguish her from the other Kirsten—Kirsten Q—who seemed to have a surplus of self-esteem, but who was way too decent and ambitious a person to jeopardize her spot on the Student Council by violating the CMS code of student conduct.)
The absence of Kirsten H from the outcast table probably had something to do with the fact that she spent part of the day at the high school down the street studying German and taking advanced classes of some kind. Even now—and for reasons you will soon understand—I derive a sort of sick comfort in the idea that, as a seventh grader among all those high school students, she probably sat alone at her own version of an outcast table before returning to CMS for pedestrian classes like PE and Home Ec.
It was during one of these pedestrian classes—PE to be specific—that Kirsten decided to rip my pants in half. It bears mention here that these weren’t just any pants. These were brand new burgundy dress slacks that I had bought—along with a matching tunic and scarf—with my very own money. As one of the oldest kids in the apartment complex, I was making what I considered big bucks babysitting five to seven nights a week and spending it on clothes that would help me achieve my goal of not standing out like a poor, sore thumb.
In any event, for whatever reason, Kirsten didn’t want me to have those pants. Maybe their color or their texture offended her. Maybe she thought they’d been made in a Bangladeshi sweatshop by three year-old kids. Or perhaps she was just an evil witch. It’s difficult to say.
What was abundantly clear is that she did it. I may not have seen her do it but I did see her go to the locker room after class had started, and I saw her slink back out a couple minutes later. And she had seen me—and blushed—as she came back through the gym door, which told me something was up. So I went back to the locker room where I found my brand new pants ripped completely in half and hanging from the door of my gym locker.
Unwilling to undo all the progress I’d made in terms of fitting in since my encounter with Gretchen and Lori, I decided not to report the incident. Instead I had a chat with the gym teacher, who granted my request to be excused to the Home Ec room; asked me if I knew who had done it; and, upon hearing the suspect’s name, all too happily agreed to keep it between us.
I had just finished stitching my pants back together and fixing the zipper when the members of the next period Home Ec class—which included Kirsten H—started to arrive. I allowed myself the luxury of giving her one dirty look and then spent the next two days pretending she didn’t exist. Sitting in class and looking right through her day after day, I felt like Hester Prynne herself, quietly bearing my burden with dignity and grace. Unlike the Puritan adulteress, however, I wasn’t guilty of anything, and I wasn’t trying to redeem myself or induce anyone to have mercy on my soul. I was teaching Kirsten something about money and class—and driving her insane with every moment that passed as she waited for the other shoe to drop. It was delicious.
It got even more delicious when she approached me before gym the following Monday and in a voice barely above a whisper, confessed. Evidently she’d told her mom what she’d done to my pants and, as penance, offered to pay for them. I responded by thanking her for owning up to it, and telling her to keep her money. I wish I could say I did so to reward her honesty, but the sad truth is I thought taking the money would make her feel better—and I wasn’t quite ready to let her off the hook.
Eventually, though, I got over it and Kirsten H and I learned to peacefully coexist. Likewise, middle school eventually came to an end and we both moved on to Eden Prairie High School, where I would meet my arch nemesis, Mary.