I remember in eighth grade the kids used to sit behind me in class and put little paper wads in my hair, because it was a time of thicker, longish hair (mine was short in context, but would be considered long today), and I did not shampoo my naturally greasy hair often enough at that young age. It became a game--how much paper can we get in his hair before he realizes we've done it? I was such a misfit! Once, a kid with a bully streak sat behind me in science class and ground a pencil lead into my back like a drill. I did not take any action to stop him from doing so, as fighting would have been against my "always behaves in class" credo. But as I walked out, I burst into tears. The teacher went and pulled my tormentor from class. Feeling betrayed, he challenged me to meet him by the town hay warehouse on Saturday for a fight. I had no desire to fight him, and I was quite afraid. But I feared the loss of face more. I showed up. He did not.
In my senior year of high school, I was in my second year at a new, larger town. During my social studies course, I sat next to Eunisia. Eunisia had just moved to town from California. She was a nice women who was very Californian to my Arkansas perception. She had long, straight hair when everyone had the feathered hair and perms of that sordid disco era. She spoke of things I now would call new age, and her make-up sense was more "children of hippies" than "south of the Mason-Dixon line". She was not at all bad looking, but she was perhaps too plain to fully compensate for the ways in which she did not quite fit in. She "ran with" kids who were considered just a bit wild (and here I'm afraid that social class fit into it someplace).
We sat next to one another in class, and we spoke each day, because she was pleasant and a good conversationalist. I spent much of that class looking across the room, though, at a woman named Jennifer who was on the tennis team, a frighteningly beautiful girl with short, jet-black hair, who looked as if she had stepped from every adolescent fantasy I ever had. Jennifer dated the football team's star fullback, and essentially had no idea I existed. Meanwhile, Eunissia and I became friends in that "we sit in class together" sense.
One day, our teacher asked us to team up with someone else for a class project. Eunissia, with whom I'd spoken every day, turned to me and said "well, Bob, do you want to be partners?". Suddenly, a wave of fear crept through me. What if people thought we were going out? What if people looked down on me because they looked down on her? I must admit that the fact that I had never kissed a girl, and yet I imagined Eunissia to be midly "fast" figured in somehow, although in hindsight I cannot imagine why that should ever have mattered one bit--there was never a hint of romance. What I do know, though, is that I turned to her and said, in one quiet, quick word, "Rejected". I then went and partnered up with a "good girl" who
sang in our local youth church choir group with me.
I will never forgive myself for this quiet act of casual cruelty and snobbery. I was such a social misfit, but not so great a misfit that I could not exclude someone perfectly nice.
Eunissia asked me to write in her yearbook, and I gave her mine to write in. I wrote to her that I was sorry. She wrote in mine that I was really a nice guy.
She was so wrong, and I was such a heel.
I met Eunissia a few years later, where she was working the cash register at the discount store.
She had replaced her California accent with a solid Arkansas accent, and her hair was no longer blonde, but a permed dark "country girl" look. She knew who I was, but it was as if we had never known each other.
Really, I suppose, we never had--except she knew, and I knew she knew, how awful I was to her.