I was an early reader, precocious in my ability to read aloud having been raised in a household that made bedtime reading a nightly habit.
I was sitting in front of my second grade classroom reading to the class making sure I would captivate my audience with proper expressive inflections. I couldn't stand listening to other kids reading in their flat voices, stumbling over the words.
As I was reading, taking the task most seriously, a super loud fart was issued forth from one of the students. I sat there mortified as the laughter erupted from the entire classroom and because I knew that I was going to be held by a standard above the rest with my place on front and center I fought to keep a properly solemn expression on my face. I was at a loss as my moment was stolen and I couldn't join in with the laughter. In fact I believe I froze until the teacher prompted me to continue on with my reading.
The poor girl Stephanie was to blame. I'm not sure if indeed it was her. The other kids said it was but with the way she was treated on a daily basis she may have just been the scapegoat. You see, Stephanie had cooties. Not the real kind but the insidious fictional kind that kids pinned on the outcasts. With her stringy hair and body odor and a lisp on top of that she was a target for all manner of cruelty. Why, you might get cooties yourself if you didn't hold your nose when she came near you or happened to be touched by her. A recess could come alive by the passing of cooties which would send a palpable shiver through me.
She played in her own world since the rest of us refused to go near her. In her world of ponies and horses she would trot and gallop, cantering and neighing about the playground.
I couldn't help but notice her delight when the speech teacher came to fetch her from class. "I love her" she exclaimed and she would cry when she would be delivered back to the classroom. How odd to love a teacher I thought.
The taunting extended beyond the schoolyard whether she was aware of it or not. The dull pink shabby house where she lived didn't fit in with the rest of the neighborhood. We would hold our noses as we walked by on our way to Fairway to get our candy. I spotted her mother more than once at the Popular Market, fascinated I was by this small dingy stringy haired mother who apparently must love her daughter just as my mother loved me.
On Valentine's Day we were required to exchange cards with everyone so the ones with the cute skunks were relegated to Stephanie.
Once in third grade I was rather ashamed when I was caught by my mother writing something unkind about the girl. In a fit of expansive expression I wrote that I loved everybody in the whole wide world except for her. I was afraid that without that qualifier someone might call me on it. A sure fate of unwanted cooties if there ever was one. "That's cruel " my mother said and she hoped that I was better than that, being so mean to the unfortunate girl.
"I think she has a cute name" my mother once said. I wondered how anyone could think that. My association with the name had become synonymous with something putrid.
By the fourth grade and probably from the result of me being busted by my mom, I had begun to mature and develop sympathy along with a few of the other girls in my class. We largely left her alone until a small group of the more popular girls took her on as a sort of project and extended the kindness of helping her set her hair and perhaps giving her a few other grooming tips.
It was that same year in a karmic moment that I was standing in the lunch line and a younger kid backed away from me saying "Ewww Stephanie!" Lucky for me another kid quickly stepped up and said "That's not Stephanie, That's Dan Rogers' sister!" and I was quickly elevated from the bottom of the heap to the status of a cool sixth grader's sister. It was enough to give me pause though and shoot a small pellet through my thin bubble of pre-teen self esteem.
After elementary school she disappeared from my sphere and I heard that she was hanging out at the riding stables and maybe even was working there when she was a little older.
I always wondered how she survived our horrible treatment and to this day wish that I could apologize for my part in it.
Did you have experiences with an outcast in your childhood?