I think back to arriving at the bus stop that first day of 5th grade, when I was met by two neighborhood girlfriends and immediately knew something was wrong. I approached them with a smile but could see that they were not smiling back. That long minute before the bus arrived was awful and shocking, mostly because I never saw it coming. They took turns hissing at me while slamming me with the following messages.
We weren’t really your friends over the summer.
We were just using you.
We’ve always hated you.
Everyone hates you.
You have buck teeth.
You’re a dog.
Your mother probably packed you Alpo for lunch.
You’re a fag.
We are best friends and have always hated you.
You are a pig.
We are going to beat you up after school.
Your shoes are so ugly.
We are going to turn everyone against you.
Your clothes are so ugly, you must be poor.
We are going to beat you up at recess.
We hate you.
You are nothing.
Add 42 more and you have the minute that changed everything.
This was the first of many minutes just like it that would thread their way through the next 10 months of school. Each morning, while trying to find ways to stall at home, my mother made sure she swooshed me out the door so I wouldn’t miss the bus. It felt as though she was sending me to the lions. I walked to the bus stop as slowly as possible, hearing the taunting getting louder the closer I got. Occasionally, a neighbor would open her window and yell at those girls, “Leave her alone!” This would only make them curse me under their breath as they continued their tirade onto the bus.
As the months went by, the only thing that improved was the fact that I could mentally prepare for what was about to happen each morning. Yes, I was still scared, hurt and angry, but at least I knew the verbal assault would be temporary and that it would more or less end when I entered my classroom. The emotional effects however, would live with me for the rest of the day, leaving a permanent mark on how I trusted the world and its ability to protect me from the lions.
One minute was all they needed. Sixty seconds to turn a ten-year-old’s world turned upside down. One minute and one school year that seemed like forever.
This was a piece I wrote based on the writing prompt, A lot can happen in a minute, over at ReadWave. I thought it was worth posting here as well although I originally hesitated because I didn’t want to come off as if I was looking for sympathy. In fact, what I wrote is very much toned down from the actual events. I admit that 42 years later, I still bear many of the scars from that year but have dealt with them and have tried put them into their proper place. These type of events in life are simply not things you “get over” as some might advise. Our choice is to bury them deep or face them and acknowledge their weight. For me, writing this has lifted away some of the burden.