Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Spirit of Giving

As child of divorce and remarriage I was your standard American kid with Issues. Which is to say I was a selfish little brat. It didn’t help that I went to a strict Catholic school; one of those places where cranky teachers seem to glare out from under years of repression. I regularly got in trouble for questioning the nuns during religion class. I may have learned to distrust religion, and to behave myself like a proper lady but one thing I did not learn at that oppressive place was any Christian charity.

In fifth grade, I was transplanted from my idyllic mountain town to uber-hip NorCal suburbia. Having only ever worn an itchy wool school uniform, I’d been an outcast from the moment I arrived. I didn’t understand the mall culture that gripped 80s America. I didn’t own a stitch of Guess or Espirit. In those first few months, I got used to being a bottom feeder and mostly tried to keep my head down and get through till college where I was sure there would be people I could actually relate to.

These suburban pre-teens were vicious kids. I was shocked,...shocked, to hear the kids swear at recess. I snapped my head around looking for the wrath that was sure to reign down in the form of a yard duty but none came. Out here in the NorCal public school system, no one cared if you swore. My parents had always taught me not to be mean to people, don’t stare at handicapped kids and try to help when you can. It seems these Gitano-wearers had missed out on that class.

There was a girl in our class who was badly disfigured and in an electric wheel chair which she steered by nudging a joystick with her largely useless hands. Stacy was pretty tough to look at for someone like me who couldn’t eat meat for a year after being grossed out by ET. But it would have gone against my upbringing to deliberately avoid her. My jaw dropped again when these poor little rich kids would get in her face and ask her what kind of drugs was her mom smoking when she’d been pregnant.

Each Christmas, my new and terrifying school had a tradition known as “Candy-grams” wherein you paid a dollar for a slip of red or green construction paper. You then filled out the To and From lines and whatever cutesy, lovey, ass-kissing message you wanted. The notes were then tied to candy canes and handed out at an assembly during the week before Christmas break. Of course the popular kids always walked away with armloads of candy canes. They’d crow over how many they got, how many people loved them.

Though I never got more than one or two myself from the other loser kids at the bottom of the playground food-chain, I could never bear to see Stacy roll out of the auditorium with a candy-cane-less chair. So each year, I’d collect my allowance and buy her as many as I could. I never had the courage to sign my name though. I at least had a toe-hold of fitting in with the other losers where as she was a total pariah. I just couldn’t risk it.

So I signed them From: Your Secret Admirer. Because I was. To put up with these bull-shit ass-wipe kids like she did. Brave a gauntlet of hatred and fear every day and still find it in herself not to roll out in front of a bus. I don’t know if I could have kept on. I survived by virtue of the fact I kept myself as invisible as possible. She could never have the luxury of invisibility.

Years passed. I made it out alive and away to college. As far away from those kids as I could get. I assumed Stacy had done the same. She was smarter than most of us. She had regularly blown the curve on tests. I didn’t think of her much since I’d been too spineless to really get to know her. She faded into the background of “people who I went to school with.”

Except each Christmas I’d remember her when I saw candy canes and construction paper. I was home for Christmas a few years back and heard from an old friend that Stacy had died. It seems the complications of her condition meant she was not promised a long life expectancy and she’d already beaten the odds. But it still surprised me. She was so tenacious.

I hope she knew that someone really did admire her. I hope she didn’t think that some little bitch was just making fun of her. That’s what I would have thought. But then I'd been busy strategizing and trying to avoid derision whereas she's been just living. And it turns out that’s the point, isn’t it?

Merry Christmas, Stacy. From: Your Outright Admirer.



Blogger Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Thanks for sharing this very touching story. This would make a perfect short story. Let us know if you ever write it :-)

3:41 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Unrelated to this post, but it was great to meet you last night! Hope to see you again soon. :-)

8:23 AM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Good to meet you too, Joel. Have I ever mentioned my brother's name is Joel? It's like we're family!

SWU, Thanks for the props. :)

7:09 PM  

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