When I was in grade four a girl came to my school who I am going to call Stacey for the purpose of this post. Stacey’s uniform was always lopsided and unironed. Stacey’s hair pulled up into a ponytail with bits sticking out looked like it had never seen a brush in it’s life. She was shy and in that kind of ugly stage all kids go through when they’re a tween and their body is in metamorphosis. No one liked Stacey. A rumour went around that she had lice since her hair was so unkempt. Secretly I believed her mama maybe didn’t care about her that much because my mother would never have let me out the door like that. When people would have to walk past Stacey’s desk on the way to the waste paper basket they would tip toe past and loudly exclaim they didn’t want her ‘germs’. To be honest, I didn’t really want to be Stacey’s friend either. She scared me a little, this wild girl. I didn’t actively tease her, but I didn’t stick up for her either.
The next year we were put in the same grade again and this class was much smaller. My mother was working early at one point and she had to drop me off really early for the span of a month or so and so I would get to school about an hour and a half before the bell. No one was around in the playgroup at that time, just me…and Stacey. So Stacey and I began to talk a bit. Her mama worked early too. She walked herself to school after she got ready and then she walked herself home. She was about to turn ten soon. She had gotten her first training bra. She didn’t have lice and she knew people said she did but she didn’t care.
I knew that was a lie.
Because I had seen the hurt in her eyes when those kids tip toed past her desk and I had seen her wipe her eyes on her sleeve when kids teased her in the playground. She didn’t play with me at lunch even though we talked every morning. I’m ashamed to say, I don’t know where Stacey played. I only know it was on her own somewhere. And I, despite the fact she opened herself to me, never opened myself to her. I was polite. But not really her friend.
So it surprised me when she invited me to her birthday party. I didn’t want to go, but I wanted to be polite so I did. Her mama did care about her. So much. She lived in a run down high set home that had been decorated within an inch of its life. She had a big cake, she showed me her room. We played games and drank soft drink and even though not many people came (when she handed out her invitations some kids tore them up right in front of her) we had fun.
She moved away not long after.
I think about her all the time.
I didn’t actively participate in the systematic bullying of that little girl whose only crime was that she was nine years old and didn’t have her mama in the morning to help her get ready and do her hair for her. I didn’t participate. But I didn’t stop it either. I feel guilty about that all the time. And, oh Stacey, I am so sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t stand up and say something when people were nasty and I’m sorry I didn’t hand you a tissue when I saw you wiping your eyes on your sleeve. I’m sorry I didn’t open up to you. You were a good friend to me and I wasn’t a good friend to you.
And that’s the way karma works. It isn’t always the big things. It doesn’t always mean someone is going to reach down from the sky and smite you for being an asshole. Sometimes it is much more subtle. Like the fact that 25 years later I still remember her name and feel the niggle in my heart at having borne witness to her sadness with no comfort offered. I deserve to feel that. It’s why now, I cannot be silenced when I see someone getting a raw deal. I don’t think I can fight their battles for them, but I can definitely stand with them. Kindness costs you absolutely fucking nothing. Cruelty will haunt you for the rest of your days.
Stacey, I hope you grew up to be fierce and free. I hope you always managed to keep your sweetness. I hope you found a group of wonderful friends who love you. I hope you bloomed. Thank you for inviting me into your life. You deserved better than me.