In elementary school, I made a girl fall and then kicked her in the stomach. Partly out of spite, and partly because I found myself standing in a warped moment possessing strange schoolgirl power that was so rarely in my hands. I forget why I kicked her – I’ll call her Lucy – most likely for no reason at all except that I disliked her. She had thick short hair, crooked, self-trimmed bangs – a dirty neck. She was fat. Her mass bothered me.
She wanted to be friends with me and my friends though ironically, we were ourselves constantly on the fringe of breaking up. Fractious factions so common to schoolyards filled with little (mostly Korean) bitches.
We were playing some schoolyard game or other. Or perhaps she had said something and I had pushed her. She fell heavily to the asphalt, landing on the corner of an empty foursquare court and I took the opportunity, lunging forward to kick her in the stomach. Not hard enough to send her vomiting, but hard enough so that she felt great discomfort in the soft flesh of her belly. (I have never been kicked in the stomach, so I have difficulty describing the sensation. Perhaps it feels like an external stomachache?) She lay on the ground, clutching her stomach and moaning, trying very hard not to cry. She did anyway, in a quiet, accepting way.
I looked around for angry adults but saw none. But still, she was taking her time rolling around the pavement and I feared a teacher would see this scene and think I had something to do with her odd position on the ground.
“Get up,” I hissed.
“Get up,” I stomped my feet, threatening to kick her again.
Like a beached seal, she rolled away from me.
“Why did you do that?”
“Do what?” I was prepared to lie through my teeth. No one had seen me kick her, I don’t think. I had moved quickly and was now standing straight up, hands in my pockets.
“You kicked me,” she wailed.
“Yes you did.”
“Get up. Just get up.” I reached down to help her up but she pushed my hand away.
“Suit yourself,” I put my hands back into my pockets. The bell was about to ring. “I didn’t kick you. You fell.”
I walked away that day feeling tough in a shallow way. Was I a bully now? She never told on me – and why would she? She had no bruise to show for it, no proof except for the dried tears around her eyes. Physically she dwarfed me and had an anger management problem, an unfortunate result of being a poor communicator. She frustrated easily and was prone to cry. I recall many times wrinkling my nose in disgust as she sobbed over elementary school equivalents of spilt milk and wondered if she would still act this way if she could see herself in the mirror. Tall for her size and extremely muscular, she had one haircut for the entire time I knew her and dressed in boys’ clothes, which I couldn’t decide if her mother chose for her or were her own taste. And yet even at that young age I recognized something harmless in her – that despite her heft, she was utterly incapable of causing the harm I had caused her. I kicked her out of contempt, a feeling she felt towards no one – not that she was purely good, but that she had no high horse to climb up on while I, at the age of nine or ten, had many such phantom steeds.
We were friends and then we weren’t. These labels depended on which way the winds were blowing from more powerful alpha girls – but even when we were “friends,” I knew we wouldn’t be for long. That was the nature of friendship in elementary school (and sometimes now): ever changing, trend driven, material based. I was allowed to hang out with my friends if I dressed a certain way, used certain words (“bunghole” and “hernia” were class favorites, as in, “Don’t have a hernia, you bunghole.”) and sometimes, although extremely rare, I would find myself at the center of command, capable of making or breaking someone’s social worth because the other girls had suddenly decided my opinion mattered.
Early on, I learned this lesson which takes some people a lifetime to unlearn, provided they have the opportunity: Caring is death. Nonchalance is queen. It wasn’t until middle school, when I consciously separated myself from these poison friendships and became friends with open-faced people who shared my sense of humor, my (feigned) disinterest in boys, my love for BBC America and movie-hopping that I learned a different set of rules which seemed to take me much further in my relationships: Loving people who love you back is much more fulfilling. Reciprocity is queen, along with caring, kindness and generosity.
And I was lucky too that around the same time, the former queen bees of my elementary school were learning the same things, within their respective groups so that by the time high school rolled around we found ourselves sitting next to each other in our honors and AP classes, inches taller, emotionally smarter, ready to rekindle old friendships in a genuine, lasting way. We were, after all, girls who had grown up together – if we couldn’t care about each other, whom could we care about?
But noticeably missing from our reunion was Lucy, the girl I’d kicked in the stomach. Somewhere along the way she had fallen behind, or dropped out intentionally from the path we were traversing, choosing to take another road altogether and probably make new friends. She attended our rival high school which was tucked away in some valley just a few miles away. I thought often of her and the day when I kicked her in the stomach. It was a good story to tell – I was then starting to know the value of being a raconteur – but I always came up blank when people asked with incredulous faces, “Why? Why would you kick her?” There was no moral to my story. I had acted monstrously for a few minutes on a school day afternoon. In the moment, as my leg was swinging, my blind blanked. I felt the rush of some illusory justice – she had annoyed me, assaulted my senses, angered me somehow. A swift kick was her just dessert.