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during the summer between 4th and 5th grade my family moved from florida to the philadelphia suburbs and i enrolled in drexelbrook elementary school for 5th grade. it was extremely frightening to be dropped into a new school at the age of ten years. plus i was going from an environment where i knew all the kids in my class from pre-school age, to a place where i knew absolutely no one. that first day in 5th grade was horrifying. i folded up into myself like an origami paper swan. it did not help when my favorite person in the world and my champion, my maternal grandfather, died later that year.

things got a little better eventually, but the whole experience marked me for life as anything like this will do when you’re that young. i went from being a sunny, carefree, popular child to a quiet, circumspect, fearful little girl. other kids, bigger and stronger than me, could smell the fear on me. one of the kids who singled me out for scorn was Mary Jenkins. she was tall and had fashionable long black hair with bangs. she hung out with a mean crowd who tormented weaker classmates as a way to pass the time.

Mary kind of looked like a Beatle girlfriend who was dressed in handmade clothing like a Mormon wife. she scared the bejesus out of me. in that evil, bitchy way that children are really good at, she challenged me to meet her one day in the playground so she could beat the crap out of me. this kind of event was de rigeur at drexelbrook school. much as the teachers tried to stop it, there were fights in the schoolyard just about every day - preplanned, like medieval jousts. once the two parties agreed to the challenge, the whole class would inform each other and there would be a sizeable crowd around the two principals.

Mary laid the challenge down by saying to me one day, “I call you out. After school.” you couldn’t say no, because it proved you were a scared, spineless wimp. so of course i said yes and sweated profusely the rest of the day as the clock ticked away to the close of school for the afternoon, wishing myself anywhere but there.

all i remember about the fight is that we were surrounded by a group of our peers yelling and carrying on, and since i hardly knew anyone there yet and had few friends, they were likely yelling for Mary. i don’t remember how it turned out but i am pretty sure she kicked my ass from here to Sunday. if we weren’t stopped by a teacher that is.

i wonder where she is and what she is doing now. i picture her as a housewife with many children, probably still living in the area near that school, possibly sparing a thought to what she was like as a child as she wipes the tears off a little one’s cheek who was bullied at school. or maybe it’s her kids who are the bullies. i forgive you, Mary, not that you need my forgiveness. and you did have really awesome hair.

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