Moving Beyond The Pain
by Piper Davenport

The girls' gym locker room with a sign that said GIRLS ONLY was the beginning of my worst nightmare. In the gymnasium where we had school dances and assemblies, I recall not dancing, and having to sit next to people I would rather not. So often, I felt invisible; the only thing people noticed about me was my thick, curly black hair, which earned me the moniker "Chia Pet." Inside, rows of metallic blue lockers and long, hard brown benches was a source of great discomfort for me. With hardly anyone around, girls could watch each other undress; the temperature on the thermostat kept the room just warm enough to agitate my tormentors. About once a day when I felt like crying, they found this sensitivity to be particularly bothersome.

No one knew or cared about my situation with a sick mother at home, or my desperate need for friends. The lunchroom echoed sentiments of the cliques that began in the locker room. Pretty girls dressed together; I dressed alone. As I looked back at my yearbook, those girls were not that pretty, but had a sparkle of personal magnetism. The tougher girls found pleasure in using rubber bands to make the fat around my thighs snap with the pop of the band.

While the girls continued to horseplay as the teacher's sterling-silver whistle tooted and puffed, I ran listlessly into the locker room to change before them. Most days, I sat on the bench, and put my pants on top of my gym shorts. Later on, I went back and tossed my shorts into my locker room basket right before making the dreaded bus-trek, full of having to stand up on the bus, and of not having anyone to sit next to. Other days, I would usually dress facing my locker, and even sometimes, I would be late to my class just so the other girls would not see me unchanged. I did not want them to see my stuffed bra, or me yanking a maxi pad out of my purse.

One actual day, I became an easy target both outside and inside the locker room. Relay races were always a source of pain and heartache for me. Being an unpopular kid in school meant watching the entire class cheer for even the last girl, sometimes the only white girl in class. My classmates accepted people of different races; no questions asked, but for me, they made an exception. Once, I was the subject of ridicule because I managed to finish the relay race last. We were outside, the other girls were racing together; I ran by myself. One boy even said to me, "I'll give you a cookie if you hurry up!" My face became naked expressions of hurt emotions; I began to cry. The gym teacher completely ignored the class' laughter. I never suffered so much loneliness. I became unable to desire the ability or confidence to talk to other people. I began to withdraw into myself.

That day, I scurried ahead of nearly all of my classmates into the locker room for the reason that I had a headache. I merely intended to dress and proceed to my next class as quickly as possible. It was mandatory to remember locker combinations from the beginning of the year, protected by the steel force of a hand-held combination lock. If we forgot, there was always Miss J, the girls' gym locker room teacher. She does not attend class with us, but when she substituted for our English teacher, Mrs. B, she whacked our palms with the cold, metal side of an unbreakable, sharp-edged ruler if we read and did not pronounce our words with correct diction. A woman, whom did not tolerate us even asking for assistance, but I did not know this until my cheeks became bright red as she yelped that helping me was not possible.

Continuing to face my locker, I stared at the air vents that separated my clothing. The other girls came in, but fortunately, that day they disregarded me. Tears gradually rolled down my round cheeks, and whimpers of protest failed to escape from my lips. One blonde-haired girl whose name I cannot remember came over to me and said in a comforting voice not to cry. She was one of the popular girls who I did not think knew that I existed. Taken aback, I rolled over my combination on my lips: 36-07-28.

I studied Miss J scrutinizing us with her frizzy perm and pancake-applied makeup. She smoked a cigarette when it was nonetheless permissible to smoke inside. Her fingers limply held it; the stink floated from the other side of the locker room to pummel me in the nose. I stared down at my sneakers, and breathed a sigh of relief as my locker opened, no matter how late I would be for my next class. The blonde-haired girl did not seem either to care that she was going to be late or that there was another class of girls coming in. At that moment, I turned to say something to her, but she as quickly, went back to her bubble gum world of friends, fast-food hangouts and entertainment. Once again, the callous manner of social classes became part of my worst nightmare: That I would always be alone. My heart beat erratically as the final bell echoed for the next period class to begin; I was tardy.

Slowly I strolled to my next class, clutching the walls; assessing the hallways for any bullies that might try to force me into the bathroom to smack me around, but a pink flyer caught my eye: Middle School English Poetry Contest. I thought of my mother, lying up in a hospital bed with a brain tumor, who always wanted to be a writer. On one occasion, I had sent off something written about my brother to a National Library of Poetry Contest. Years later, I found out that, it was a swindle, and I was remorseful that I had sent my only copy.

Winning that contest for a twelve-year-old was as insinuating as giving a homeless person a fake ticket to win the lottery, but I was still not a writer at this moment. I was someone who wanted to create a poem for my mother: I wanted to write for her, become the writer that she never became. She had resented herself not being able to go back to college to finish but I never discerned this as I watched her fuzzy-shaved head, the smell of collapse seeping through her pores, and the nurse hugging me for a few lengthened seconds. Excited about something from school though, I went homewards to tell my factory-worker father. Our kitchen was a bright, yellow joyful color. Since my mother was in poor health, and my brother was in elementary school, I was responsible for creating whatever I wanted, so for the ceremonial dinner that night, I made pancakes with chocolate syrup for my Dad, and myself and for my brother, ketchup and jelly sandwiches.

The threatening smudges between my fleshy fingers from the flyer that I got on his favorite Coke bottle glass did nothing to him or my brother making dirt pies on the hallway floor. I said, "Daddy, I am going to enter a poetry contest." My father's response, "Chemotherapy." What is that?Does that have something to do with chemicals? Cause I learned about them in science. She needs them to get better. Can I help Mommy? No. I decided to write about my mother. Wisps of hair cry/Free Falling. She was going through a rebirth, and not death. To an oblivion of nothingness /Endlessly dreaming. She had too much involvement now. Someone from this family was going to turn out to be a writer. Furiously I wrote the poem that night. Entering the contest, and not prevailing flattened me, but I got back my mother in return for losing. Later I revised that poem into Contrapuntal: the Feeling, a poem published 15 years later.

However, this did nothing to stop my middle school nightmare. My poor mother had to come up there subsequent to three girls threatening to hammer me for a false rumor that I did not start. She came up to my middle school with a yak-colored wig, big, black Jackie-O sunglasses, and a steel-covered walker. Each painful step toward my middle school was a painful remainder of how close my home life really was to my school life: I did not want the two to intertwine. I did not have a choice. My father's job did not merit vacation time during an icy November day, and his temper not patient enough to deal with a school that could care less that his hard-working tax dollars were going to treat his daughter as a rag doll.

Nonetheless, the journey toward my mother and me developing an understanding between each other awakened after her visit to my school. Dismissively, the secretary engaged in her own popularity contest by instructing my disabled mother to have a seat, while a well-liked student's parent, a local celebrity of sorts, immediately accepts coffee, donuts, and a place in the school's hallowed hall of fame. Ten minutes later, the assistant principal, my mother, and I sat down for the beginning of a very frustrating conversation. My assistant principal, a mighty woman with aspirations of moving up, listened with indifference, more concerned about fixing everything into a little package that could be wrapped up for her boss and filed away under How to Solve a Problem in 30 Minutes or Less. I listened with the same rage of a homeless person, just having welcomed jail time for a passed off fake ticket.

The harassment began when a false rumor started that I had said something terrible about my tormentors, who decided that since the rest of the school already did not like me, they had enough of pretending. I started writing to define myself in a world where I was not accepted. I made up stories where I was the pretty girl, the most popular, the one with boyfriends. If an ugly thought or memory of intimidation crossed my intellect, I wrote through my feelings and carved my tormentors out of my chronicles. They moved away; I stayed. In my fairy-tale, my mother did not have a brain tumor; she was the beautiful woman I had known as a child with long, flowing hair, radiant makeup, and glamorous gowns. Not surprisingly, the other girls' mothers presented a unified front when we went to meet; they deemed me the delinquent and I yearned to escape or fall down a flight of stairs.

While my assistant principal tried to appear unbiased, her child, one of the most popular students in the school did not face the obstacles that my mother and I did trying to get me through eighth grade in one piece. Her solution: that my class schedule switched around so I would see all new faces. My mother, despite her frail exterior, did not feel that this was good enough. My assistant principal in her best career educator pose gazed directly in my mother's face and said, "Some kids are just pickable."

I could not believe it, and a small part of my faith in other people died that day, never recovering. Unlike my mother's diagnosis, which she defeated, she swallowed this with severity. Her own struggle for self-definition beyond that as a survivor was tough. I was angry with my mother for not fighting harder for my survival. Selfishly blaming her for being on a walker, for not having had died; maybe that would have garnered more sympathy. My mother, a woman who to this day refuses to taste the intensity of bitterness, left defeated. I learned from my mother that I needed to turn that defeatism on my enemies and use my pain to help me find my voice.

All submissions displayed are the legal property of their respective authors, and as such cannot be duplicated without permisssion of the author.
In other words, plagiarism=bad; either write your own stuff or ask the author if you can use this.

Back To Essays