That Girl; That Boy

Oleander Elementary: 1981

Long natural golden hair…the kind that was allowed to grow since birth. Fresh-faced skin with tiny freckles scattered from the hill of her nose down to the sides of her cheeks.

“Carrie, can you take this to the office please?”

Her hair’s natural highlights allowed the eight year old into the most exclusive places on campus: the teacher’s lounge, where all previous and future teachers praised her graciousness. The principal’s office, along with his secretaries — the ones who couldn’t help how adorable she looked behind the desk.

“Carrie can you collect the test papers?”

She dominated the enviable classroom jobs. A responsibility handed over to the mini adult with organizational skills far beyond her years. Because of this, she was allowed to walk around the room without the slightest raise of a hand.

She was the smarty who gave extra special care and attention to those students who had no clue as to why they were in school to begin with.

“Carrie, can you reteach this small group? They don’t understand repeated addition.”

I was in that small group.

Carrie was that girl when I was enrolled in Ms. Kelly’s third-grade class at Oleander Elementary.

***

Spinning round and round and round…with the back of my left knee folded over the jungle gym bar. My right leg stretched out, guiding the number of rotations while my hands clasped together over my shin to keep the balance.

This was where I excelled the most…the jungle gym. Here was the place for everyone — girls as well as boys — whether you were smart or lazy, athletic or clumsy. All of us gathered here for one reason: to release the pent up energy from the struggles of sitting through a thirty minute lesson. There was no place for critiquing who did what, or how things were done…it was a race to complete as many activities as possible before it was time to go in.

…until Carrie came along.

Just her presence alone would part the Red Sea of students clamouring for an opportunity to glide freely on the swings. Her energy, the deciding factor as to who was first in line at the tether ball court. All Carrie had to do was appear and things would magically change for the better…or in my case…the worse.

It only took one phrase, said out loud, in front of a bustling recess crowd to change the carefully chosen words etched on the early years of my tabula rasa.

“Eddie how come you play with girls and not boys?”

Before then, no one ever noticed or even cared that I was a jungle gym star. As far as I knew, no one else noticed that every single person in line behind me was a girl…until Carrie pointed it out.

“Yeah Eddie, why do you play with girls?” another observer judged.

One by one, each word took down every high kick, cart wheel and somersault I had mastered up to that point. While the crowd closed in, the birth of my passive/aggressive nature broke free as I racked my brain for an answer. There was no answer…at least not at the moment. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and walk away before the start of a scene.

Soon after, I couldn’t escape Carrie’s piercing observation. From that moment, if Carrie wanted to play, all she had to do was point out the obvious:

“Eddie, isn’t that a girls game?”

***

The taunts from Carrie had escalated to such a degree that I no longer sought out the calming effects of the gymnastic routines cultivated through hard work. I avoided the “girls” jungle gym at all cost. I couldn’t manage the judgemental looks as I approached the blood of my heart, the skin to my bone routines I had worked so hard to craft. Every time the sole of my shoe touched the sand filled playground, each third grade eyeball formed an invisible fence with a sign that read, “Get Out!”

In its place I found solitude and safety within the trees. After lunch I’d run to them as if they were huge soldiers ready to guard me from the politics of the afternoon playground. I’d hide behind them, protected, as I watched all the kids and Carrie from afar.

Every afternoon Carrie would sit idly on the lonely bar stationed between the classroom portables and playground. It was an arched shape piece of metal that really had no use except for the one or two stragglers who used it as a go-to when all the equipment was occupied. Carrie used it as her throne. She’d sit on top with her feet dangling close to the ground as the gleam in her eye carefully monitored the playground.

Nestled within the safety of the wooden soldiers, Carrie sat as an open target. A vulnerable, open target on which I could release all the pent up energy I had stuffed inside without any hope of release. That energy was a force. As I started to move past the trees and onto the grain filled sand dunes of Oleander Elementary’s primary playground, something inside of me snapped.

I, too, had become an open target. At any moment Carrie could jump off her throne and come at me with her giggles and highlights as she shamed me back into the trees. But that day, I wasn’t having it. I was determined.

As I approached the throne, I had no idea what to do next…her energy was powerful. I felt my determination weakening, melting away quickly as she came closer within sight. By the time I was in front of her, there were no words to describe how I felt; no language to communicate the hurt she had caused over the last couple of weeks.

So…I pushed her.

I pushed her off the bar…and down she went. The back of her head hitting the ground first. Luckily it was sand. Luckily, after the fall she cried immediately.

From that day on, I became that boy: the one who pushed Carrie off the jungle gym bar.

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