Billie’s Bullies – Part Six

(Originally posted Thursday, March 7, 2013)

I first encountered Mary on my first day of ninth grade as she was sitting outside the school griping about freshmen and how annoying they were, and how if one of them got assigned a locker next to hers she was going to slam it in their face every chance she got. This turned out to be a recurring theme for Mary—one verging on unnatural obsession in my book—who was ranting about annoying and immature freshmen virtually every time I saw her, which was often since she was three levels above me on the volleyball team; she was a teaching assistant for the instructor who taught my PE class; and because she occupied a locker barely a dozen feet down the hall from mine.

To those who know me and are familiar with my tolerance for asses, twits, and morons, it will come as no surprise that I soon grew weary of Mary’s voice and her constant harping about my fellow classmen. It will be equally easy for you to believe that at one point—on the activity bus on our way to a game in Glencoe, I believe—that I took it upon myself to prove to Mary just how immature freshmen could be by placing my thumb on my nose and waving my fingers in her direction.

I should take a moment to point out that, in addition to being a senior, a skilled volleyball player and a bit of a b*tch, Mary was a body builder. In fact, the same year she was grousing ad nauseam about her least favorite group of underclassmen, she also broke some school record for weight lifting. I don’t recall the specific amount of weight involved, but the woman apparently could bench press something in the neighborhood of 130 pounds—and she was barely five feet tall.

So to say my actions were a tad reckless is akin to calling Warren Buffet comfortable or accusing Charles Manson of being an oddball.

At any rate, and to my surprise, Mary did not rise from her throne near the wheel well and pound me to pieces. Nor did she grab me by the hair, shove me to the floor and kick me to death. Instead, she stopped talking—which alone made my actions worth taking even if the effect was short lived—cast her eyes meaningfully in my direction, and informed her fellow upperclassmen that a certain blonde freshman was asking to get her fingers broken.

You know what they say about honor among thieves? Well it doesn’t apply to immature freshmen volleyball players. I know this because instead of nodding in solidarity and vowing to back me up, my two best friends, Gwyn and Lisa (not the same Lisa who objected to the exuberance with which I play kickball, by the way) immediately informed me that I was both stupid, and entirely on my own.

Knowing what was coming, I decided during the Junior Varsity game to bite the bullet and get it over with. With that in mind, I strode into the locker room where the varsity players were seated on the floor having their pregame powwow, picked up my backpack, and headed back toward the door. I had just grabbed the handle when Mary motioned for the others to be silent, and addressed me.

“You think you’re pretty funny, don’t you?” she asked as her cohorts stared into the periphery like a herd of White Tail deer on high alert.

“Not really,” I replied.

“Then you obviously have a death wish.”

“If you say so.”

With a shrug that belied my terror, I opened the door and went back to the gym where Lisa and Gwyn marveled at the fact that I had all my body parts, and not one of them was bleeding or broken.

“She’s all talk,” I sniffed as the adrenaline coursed through my immature freshmen veins. “She just wanted me to be afraid of her, and I just proved I’m not. I doubt she’ll bother me anymore, and I’m guessing she won’t have as much to say about freshmen, either.”

To my intense surprise—I was right. And I didn’t even have to relocate to avoid a beating this time. In fact, we stayed in Eden Prairie until 1982 when we moved to Rushford where I would meet the Jarhead of my dreams. He wasn’t a Jarhead when I met him, but…well that’s another story.


Billie’s Bullies – Part Five

(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.

Billie’s Bullies – Part Four

(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…