Mad Licks #2 (2010)
I was in 6th grade at St. Margaret’s of Scotland School on Chicago’s south side. There was a new girl in 5th grade. I didn’t see her except at recess—the time when pubescent socio-economics comes to life. I saw her classmates ridicule her and her desire not to feel totally isolated.
She was homely. She had a large wide nose, prominent brow with thick black eyebrows that grew together, dark peach fuzz that looked mustache-ish, and unkempt hair. Built big, she wasn’t fat but stocky. The kids called her “Cavewoman.”
She also had this strange uniform—it was the same plaid pattern as the other girls but it was a shin-length dress. I didn’t know they made such garments. The rest of the girls, every single one, wore above-the-knee skirts. Also, her required, white, button-up blouse was not-so-white and always wrinkled. It seemed her family—perhaps just dad, as he was the only parent we ever saw—could only afford one uniform and washed it, or not, every day.
She would dart from her dad’s rusted, blue, mufflerless truck in the morning and rush to get inside the building before he started to pull away, as if the double metal doors were a barrier from his thunderous rumble. There was not a door in that entire school impervious to that sound.
Often the instigator of creating a laugh at someone else’s expense, I oddly abstained from making fun of this girl. I observed how she tried to join in games but found herself ostracized to some lonely corner of the playground, until after a few weeks the teacher, I’m sure of it, made the girls play with her. She didn’t fit in—and it wasn’t that normal teasing that everybody both dished out and received. It was intended to send the daily, stinging message: “You are not one of us.” I pitied her.
To be pitied is offensive. To pity someone is to dehumanize them. Pity is a sharpness pushing out on the chest and stomach. It’s jagged butterflies.
I had this piteous feeling that made me want to tell her she should stick with it, that what she was doing was honorable, no, doubly honorable for stepping into this lion’s den of kids everyday. I never did, though. I never called her Cavewoman, but I never made a nice gesture toward her. I never even talked to her.
I have a dream when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, when I want to sink into myself. I’m in St. Margaret’s playground, nothing’s around but the skyline to the northeast and the lake to the east, off in the distance.
A figure approaches me from the horizon to the west. It moves at stealth speed. For a moment I watch it curiously, trying to make out what it is. As it gets closer I get scared. It’s grunting and running ferociously. It means harm. I start running toward the lake that seems a million miles away. I approach it with unbelievable speed but the figure still gains on me. I look back. It’s her—the Cavewoman—a few feet behind me. She’s in a brown animal fur with a plaid pattern, with the clichéd single shoulder strap, and she’s pounding a giant wooden club at my heels. When it strikes the pavement, it thunders like her father’s truck.
Upon recognizing her, I feel pity start pushing outward from my core. She sees this feeling well up and it enrages her. This is when I reach the lake and can run no farther. I turn, face her, and fear her, but can’t let go of the pity.
“I’m sorry,” I shout, wanting her to show mercy.
She lifts her giant club over her shoulder—the one without the strap—and it swings violently. She stops it an inch from my head and starts laughing as I wince with terror. She takes her massive, hair-covered forefinger and pokes me in the chest. That’s all it takes to pop my shell and release the pressure of the pity inside me. I wake up.