(Originally posted Thursday, February 7, 2013 )
Having just moved to Milaca (in the middle of the school year, of course) I didn’t know about the Gilmer Girl—or about her fondness for terrorizing anyone younger than her who was dumb enough to cut through the park on the way to or from school—until I had taken the risky trek several times.
Fortunately I learned of the fiendish fourth grader before I actually met her, thanks to a couple of curious classmates who asked me where I lived and how I got to school. I had barely gotten as far as ‘the park’ in my story when their faces all went white, and they started telling me about the dreaded Gilmer Girl and why the park was to be avoided at all cost.
Having moved three times in as many years by then—and having survived the death of my mother two years earlier—I had learned to charm my way into the heart of almost anyone in my vicinity and naively ignored the warnings of my concerned compadres. Instead I decided to continue crossing through the park and resolved that if I encountered the Gilmer Girl, I would talk her out of harming me, make her my friend, and perhaps even convince her to change her evil ways.
I’d like to report that my plan worked and that the Gilmer Girl and I became best buds who still correspond today. I’d like to say she turned over a new leaf and now runs a charity that benefits the elderly or small animals. But that would be a lie.
In truth, I have no clue what happened to the Gilmer Girl. Judging from her reputation and our single encounter, I’m guessing she’s in jail—if not as an inmate then perhaps as an employee. I can just imagine her patrolling the halls and barking orders at the residents to keep them in line, or sporting a fancy orange jumpsuit and extorting cigarettes or contraband from the other members of her cell block.
All I can say for sure about the Gilmer Girl is that she was not interested in making friends. She may have been a person in pain who only needed to be understood, but that was not apparent on that cloudy, cold morning when she hopped off the bench and stormed over to block my path to school.
I can still feel the quiver in my voice as I explained how she didn’t have to beat me up; that we could work things out; that we could be friends. And I can still hear the growl in her voice when she asked, “Why would I want to be friends with you?” Knowing even at the tender age of six the difference between a rhetorical question and a genuine interrogatory, I didn’t try to make my case. Instead, I did an about face and ran as fast as I could to the edge of the park and all the way up Central Avenue to the uniformed crossing guard—and never cut through the park again.
Although we left Milaca for Mora part way through second grade, and moved from Mora to Pine City and back again the following year, I managed to complete third through fifth grades essentially unscathed.
Unfortunately, the summer before sixth grade we moved again—this time to Onamia, which is where I met Lisa and Maria…