By the time I was eight, I had lived in about five different places and changed schools three times. Being the new kid was not easy and I had coped by just staying in my corner of the playground and trying not to bother anyone. I'd been jeered at and made fun of and generally bullied and pushed. My response had pretty much been to run and hide. I had no real voice. And I didn't really have any friends, I had sort of tried to make friends but it hadn't worked out. I was too scared, too shy, too weird.
My younger brother and I were spending the summer at yet another new place in England, this time kind of out in the country in a little town called Sunningwell. It was a beautiful summer for once and I was walking around with my younger brother, just checking out everything.
He and I spotted a neighborhood girl, the first kid I had seen at all and I can't say what got into me, but it wasn't like I hadn't had the worst examples to follow. My family was a family of people who teased and it wasn't in a nice way. My uncle on my mom's side was merciless, he loved to make me cry. I don't know what it was, that day just walking with my brother, I said "Let's be mean to her."
And we began to yell "Stupid fat pig" at this innocent girl walking her dog. We chased her and taunted her and I could see in her face that she was terrified. She ran like I did every time I had been bullied and terrified. We never caught up with her or did her any physical harm, but we certainly inflicted damage. And I had gotten my little brother to go along with me because two against one is worse.
Then, we went home and had dinner.
And I was sick all night.
I couldn't believe I had done that. Me. Was this who I was?
I tossed and turned about it all night. I didn't tell my mother what happened.
And the shame began to creep in and it sat with me.
I was this little girl, she was me, how could I be so cruel on a whim? I hated myself in that moment and I knew I deserved to hate myself.
The next day, I saw this girl at the top of the hill. I was by myself, my little brother had gone to do other things. She locked eyes with me and I could see she was afraid. She started running.
I started chasing her. "Wait! Please! I'm sorry!"
And miraculously, she stopped. And let me apologize to her.
I told her everything. How I had never been that mean to anyone before and I didn't even know why- was I trying it on? Did I just want to see what it would be like? I don't know. But I knew from that moment that I didn't want to be that girl who hurt other people.
So, I told her I was sorry and I meant it and I promised her I would never bother her again and I asked her to forgive me.
And, somehow, this little girl smiled the biggest smile and just forgave me. Just like that. And then she did something even more astonishing, she invited me to her house to play.
And I went and we had the best time. She was my first real friend and we spent every day of that glorious summer exploring and playing with dolls and walking her little Yorkshire terrier and being shooed outside by the adults when we got too loud. And reading and sharing comic books.
I spent two summers being best friends with her. Her name was Sarah and I have no idea where she is now, but I'm grateful she forgave me and taught me how to be a friend.