(Originally published on Thursday, August 22, 2002.)
In sixth grade I was a skinny, sullen sort of kid who's family had just a very little bit of money. I was a nervous child who participated in class, but kept few friends or extracirricular hobbies, besides reading or dancing. I rode the bus to school, which, as any former bus-rider knows, is a separate but equally intimidating social microcosm of its own. The bus picked my sister and I up last on its route and there was never room for us to have a seat.
Rayanne Heath was bigger and broader than me, with a full-grown set of girly parts and half a dozen gold necklaces and just as many gold rings. She traveled with a pack of similar girls--I remember them being called "hoods"--all fully developed and pissed the fuck off about it, apparently.
Rayanne made it a habit to make fun of me or threaten to “beat my chipmunk face into the locker.” She spread a rumor to my classmates that I had lice, which I did not, a lie that did little for my scant friendship prospects nonetheless. She’d glare at me in the lunchroom and accidentally fall into me whenever we lined up for whatever it was we lined up for.
I always made sure to take the route that she and her mean cronies less likely traveled, but I couldn’t avoid her on the bus. She’d sit behind where I stood, laughing at my hand-me-down jeans and trying to pull my sneakers off by stepping down hard and repeatedly on the back of the soles. I always stood still as I could, trying hard not to even move from breathing. And took it.
One evening I was lying in bed considering the day that awaited me. I was unhappy at school and at home and decided that I was going to begin to make changes in my life. I clearly remember deciding to take more initiative with housework in order to gain approval from my family. I remember mapping out varied hair styles for each day of the week in order to be considered more attractive to my peers. And I remember making the choice to not be intimidated by Rayanne Heath.
I climbed aboard the bus the next day scared shitless. I knew she’d laugh to her seatmate about my supposed lice infestation. Or she’d tell the guys how some boy I barely knew told her I was a bad kisser. (Little did she know I wasn’t a kisser at all.) And I knew I had to say something to her about it, I just hadn’t planned on what to say.
I started up the stairs and onto the bus and made a move toward her that was pure gut and impulse. I walked directly down the aisle to her seat, or one seat behind her, wrapped my hand around her moussed-up, crunchy ponytail and yanked it back with surprising force. I may never forget her face--at first a smirk, then a pained, distorted look of genuine fear magnified by the bulging of her eyes as I pulled back and down on her scalp.
“Today, and from now on, I suggest you not bother me,” I said in a low growl, turned on my heels and stood, heart thumping wildly about, in the aisle of the school bus. Then I started to cry quietly, but managed to scurry out the sliding doors before she noticed. Before long, everyone forgot all about the lice.