by Gina Below
This was not the first time I had been here in this particular predicament. No, this was not the first time I had stared at this particular door that I was forbidden to enter. As I glared at the strange green color that it had been painted I felt the burn of tears in the back of my throat, and my six year old tomboy anger flared and I punched the ancient swinging wooden door hard enough to make it move and hurt my hand. But I pretended it was my tormentor and it was worth it. The dastardly coward had hidden in the boy’s bathroom and with him my only store bought knit cap that he had again snatched from my head.
No, this was not the first time he had hidden here just to make me cry, but this was the first time he had not returned it. I had become very good at evading him as of late, changing my path to my first grade class, begging my older brother to walk me, or snatching it off of my own head to hide it in the pocket of my red coat and running like the devil himself chased me. But he was clever and relentless and I could not imagine just what I had done to draw his attention to me in particular because I wasn’t exactly an easy or silent target. I had two older brothers and any ladylike tendency I may have once possessed eluded me now. He had gone away bruised and limping on more than one occasion that I could remember, but it didn’t seem to help much. He always returned meaner and more determined the next day or two later.
My eyes burned as the tardy bell rang and I had no choice but to abandon my post. It looked like today was going to go be one of those days where nothing went right and if I didn’t hurry I would be paddled for being late. I started down the hall at a fast walk careful not to run and wind up in more hot water, but it was a long walk to the first grade rooms at the other end of the elementary school hall and mine was the very last one. The farther away I got from my knit cap the harder it was to see as the tears clouded my vision and my stomach became knotted. Mother had warned me not to loose the cap she had bought from a store in town for me to protect my sick ears from the winter wind. If I did I would have to wear a scarf to keep them warm. I had been careful, so careful, always making sure it was in my pocket or clutched in my hand when it wasn’t on my head.
I already stood out like a sore thumb; a scarf would be like a flashing red light on top of my head. I was too tall, taller than any of the other little girls in my class and most of the boys. My dark brown hair was too short and completely out of fashion. I had no ribbons or barrettes to wear in it even if it had been long enough for them or even had I wanted to wear them. I had a healthy collection of freckles splashed across my face and I would rather play the rough and tumble chase games that the boys played as opposed to the girly games of my class mates. And to top it all off I was loud, I laughed too loud, talked too much and possessed no ladylike grace of any kind. If you added that to the fact that I had no fear of dirt or getting dirty and I hated wearing the dresses that were a requirement and fashion of school attire in 1969, then you had a more than slight oddity to say the least. Maybe that was the reason I was his target.
By the time I had reached the door to my full classroom any dignity that I may have hoped for had vanished and my disheveled looked drew startled gasp from many of my classmates as they turned to look at the spectacle that was me. I was certain that I now knew what my Mother meant when she made reference to “This being the final straw” and I bowed my head from their view as I blindly made my way to the cloak room to hide. Into the farthest, darkest coat filled corner I could manage to scoot as the silent tears I could not stop fell.
For once in my life I was silent as the knots in my stomach worked their way up to choke out any other sound. Kind young souls followed worried for my well being as they tried to help. But no words were forthcoming as they awkwardly produced rough brown paper towels from the opposite end of the old cloak room near the sink to catch my tears. Nervous whispers floated around me as small kind hands patted my shoulders and then silence as I felt them move away from me. Then I heard my name spoken, not my real name that they called me here at school, but the name I was only called at home. I was caught now; the gig was up as I tried to push further into the corner, refusing to look at him. Now my brother knew and I had no where to hide.
Long seconds passed before I finally heard his words as he tried to calm and comfort me and I snuck a peek to see how mad he was at me. But to my surprised delight no anger clouded his eyes only concern. I could be an embarrassment on my good days, but right now there was only our shared smile. He had beautiful eyes like our Father, not the dark changing color of mine, but our smiles were the same. Right now he used the small smile, the one that told me it was okay. With the unbuttoned cuff of his school shirt sleeve he wiped my tears and somewhere behind us someone produced a damp paper towel and he placed the cool compress against my cheek. Finally I was able to breathe again and I begin to hear his words. “Its okay” he said softly and then I remembered it wasn’t. My brown knit cap was still stolen and in the boy’s bathroom with my stupid bully. I begin to shake my head as I remembered, No it wasn’t okay. I tried to explain, but my words jumbled as they often did when I was upset. Finally out of desperation he hugged me tightly to him and my rattled words stopped and we were silent.
As he let me go he pulled a dark brown object out of his back pocket and placed it in my hand, my brown knit cap, the one Mother had bought in a store for me, the one that was the color of my hair lay safely in my hand. I filled my lungs with air and let it out in a long sigh of disbelief as I looked up into his blue eyes again. Then I noticed the small cut on his eyebrow and the slightly swollen lip. His shirt was askew and a button was missing. The knuckles of his hands, the ones that held mine now were battered and bruised and his smile became sheepish as I looked up at him in surprise. “It’s okay”, he said once more, “He won’t bother you ever again”. I started to speak but he just smiled and there was no need.