(Originally posted Thursday, February 21, 2013)
Eden Prairie sounds like paradise. A haven if you will. And paradise it was for most of its residents—at least until the late Seventies when the government decided to slap down a low income housing project at the intersection of Preserve Road and Anderson Lakes Parkway.
Being only eleven years old and having attended rural schools for most of my life, I was not aware of the impact high density housing—and government housing in particular—could have on the value of privately owned, single family dwellings, or of the impact that falling property values could have on upper-middle class homeowners. Nor did I anticipate how the resentment that some upper middle class homeowners felt toward high density public housing could influence how their offspring treated the children who lived in high density public housing. Personally, I was just glad my dad had finally found a place we could afford, and hopeful that I wouldn’t run into another Lisa, Maria, or anyone with the last name of Gilmer.
To be fair, both Eden Prairie and our apartment complex in particular seemed like a haven to me, too, at first. Our ground level unit smelled of fresh paint and new carpet, and discounting the house we built when my dad married my first stepmom, it was the nicest place we had ever lived. With the apartments being part of a development called The Preserve, we had access to two swimming pools, four tennis courts, a golf course, and miles and miles of bike trails. Since it was winter when we arrived, I was unable to take advantage of these amenities right away, but the promise of enjoying them with all the new friends I would make before summer came left me blind to the possibility that, despite its heavenly name, Eden Prairie was home to wicked creatures, and those creatures attended Central Middle School.
I learned of these creatures on the bus ride home from school on my first day. My dad had driven me in that morning or I probably would have encountered them before I even made it to homeroom. As it happened, though, I retained my hopes and dreams of making new friends through all seven periods of class that day—thanks, in no small measure to a girl named Sheila whose best friend Gidge had recently moved away and who seemed eager to find someone to fill the vacancy. (Although I didn’t get the job—owing no doubt to my inability to impress Sheila’s wider circle of friends with my polyester pantsuits and general lack of sophistication—I will be eternally grateful to Sheila for the chance to audition.)
Anyway…things only seemed better from my perspective when eighth graders Gretchen and Lori abandoned their seats near the rear of the bus to pay me a visit at the front. From the way they smiled and inquired about my old school and complimented me on my hair and clothes, I thought I was about to make two new friends. That is, until they decided to give me a make-over.
I was naïve enough at first to think they were actually going to style my hair and apply eye shadow and mascara. It was only when one of them took the gum from her mouth and squeezed it into a section of my unsuspecting tresses that I realized what they were up to. Having been caught off guard and with no means of escape, all I could do was sit there as they reached down and gathered handfuls of gritty, muddy, midwinter slush from the floor and smeared it all over my head and face.
Thankfully, we were only a couple of blocks from my stop when it happened. And thankfully, when the principal called Gretchen and Lori into his office the next morning—after my dad stormed in and told him what had happened—neither of them denied it. (Note to prospective bullies: If you’re going to pick on someone, don’t choose a kid who has an eidetic memory, and for heaven’s sake don’t introduce yourselves—especially using your real names. That goes double if one of your names hasn’t cracked the top 100 for baby girls in over a century.)
Suffice it to say that my dad’s actions—however well intended—did little to enhance my experience as The New Kid, and did even less to increase the rate at which I made friends. And so it was that I opted not to tattle, but to take matters into my own hands the following year when I became the target of the lovely and talented Kirsten H…