Two posts in one day?!  [checks out the window for flying pigs or signs of the apocalypse]

I spend a lot of time in bed with my mind drifting. After all the musing over Max's camping trip and the drama leading up to it, my thoughts went back to my own time in middle school.  Most of my memories of that time are not fond ones.  I've blogged about my experiences with being bullied in the past, so I won't rehash.

There were a few bright spots in middle school. One of them was Jeanie.

Our Jr. High was much larger than my elementary school. Our town had 4 active elementary schools and they all fed into the one Jr. High (7th and 8th grade only.) Years later, the town would shut down 2 of the elementary schools and turn the former Jr. High into a middle school serving 5th to 8th grades, but that's not important to this story. Only that I was changing schools and there would be a whole lot of new kids to deal with.

I was on a new bus that left earlier in the morning too. The bus was full of mostly familiar faces and a couple new ones. I found myself awkwardly looking for a place to sit. I hated it when kids who got on the bus before it reached my street each took a seat of their own forcing me to pick a seat next to someone. It would have been ok if any of those kids were my friend, but none of them were. Why? My best friends on my street were all a year or two behind me in school. I always got along better with kids who were a little younger than myself. Even now, I don't feel fully matured.

For months, I would get on the bus, scan the faces of the kids already occupying every seat and randomly pick one where the kid looked the least hostile. That method didn't always work. More than a few times, the kid would swivel on the bench, plant a foot on my hip and shove me out onto the floor. More often than not, the bus driver would yell at ME for causing a disruption.

One day I climbed on the dreaded bus and there was a new face sitting near the front. A kind face that looked up at me expectantly. She actually patted the open seat next to her and smiled. Dazed, I sat down.  Her name was Jean, and she was new.  Now, I've written briefly about Jean before in a post I entitled Friends. That post was probably the last time I wondered about her.

She was broken and damaged. I was broken and damaged. We both desperately needed a friend. It was an instant bond. I didn't even know she had a physical handicap until we got off the bus 25 minutes later, but by then we were fast friends. Jeanie had club feet. She wore special shoes, but I don't think they were doing anything except helping her stay upright. Her feet were seriously turned inward, but she didn't let that slow her down. Much. It was mainly our fellow students who were the problem. What kind of sick mind goes out of their way to trip the disabled kid?? I mean, they tripped me too. And dumped our books. Maybe I should give them credit for not being discriminatory bullies? Anyone who wasn't "cool" was a target.

I look back now and wonder why her parents hadn't gotten her corrective surgery. It was the late 70s. Did they do that kind of surgery back then? Then again, her parents were divorced and hated each other's guts. Her dad started a new family with a new wife. Her mom moved in with a divorced man with older kids. They seemed wrapped up in their new lives and Jeanie was uprooted and passed around every time her parent's life situation changed. Moving in with her mom's new boyfriend is how Jeanie ended up on my bus that fateful day.

Jean was friendly, chatty, and thrilled to have made a new friend on her first day in a new school. She fit in easily with my school chums (the nerd table in the lunch room.) I stayed on the bus after school and followed her home, thrilled to learn that she lived on the first street just over the highway overpass, which was just past my own neighborhood. The problem was, I wasn't allowed to cross the highway. The overpass had no sidewalk and that road was busy. I wasn't even supposed to leave my own street, but I figured I would just call my mom to come get me when we were done playing.

Mom wasn't too pleased, but Jeanie soon became a fixture at our house. I'd bring her home with me or I would go home with her. We would trade off. At Jeanie's house, both adults worked. If anyone was home, it was one of the teen or 20-something sons of her mom's boyfriend. They pretty much ignored us. It was like having a whole house to ourselves and they had a basement rec room too! Complete with bar, pool table, black light, and funky posters. We listened to the stereo, looked at teen magazines, played board games, did our homework...all good clean fun. Unsupervised good clean fun.

At my house, we had my mom and little bother. I mean, brother. Mom would hover and ask intrusive questions. "What does your Dad do? What church do you go to? Do I know your mother?" My brother would hang around us just to be annoying. It's obvious why we started spending more and more time at Jeanie's house. I would stay there until dinner time, then call my mom and ask if Jean could come over for dinner. Why? Because no one was cooking for that poor girl. She was living on canned soup and pasta. Often she was making said soup and pasta for the lazy boys too.

If only I had kept my big mouth shut. But my mother had ways of getting me chatting. She would pry. She would interrogate. She was a bit of a smother. One day I made the mistake of confessing that Jean's mom wasn't married to the man whose house they were living in. I also mentioned the older boys. The fact that Jean came home to an empty house most days. *gasp* A latch-key kid!  But sometimes the older "brothers" were there! I thought I was saving myself. Nope. Alone in a strange house with unsupervised teen boys?! (Did I mention one of them was growing weed in his closet with grow lights? Yep. Jean showed me and I blabbed about that to Mom too.) 

As all was slowly revealed, I went from being restricted to having Jean over to play at our house only to eventually being told I couldn't hang out with her AT ALL. Bad influence. Divorced parents? No supervision? Neglect? Teen boys? Drugs?!  It didn't matter that Jean was a nice girl who didn't ask for any of that in her life. Judgement was passed and Jean was a forbidden topic. I was not to go to her house and she wasn't welcome in ours.

We still hung out on the bus and at school, but the magic was gone. I felt horrible guilt for spilling the beans. She found a new friend to hang out with after school. Valerie's mom had died and she lived alone with her alcoholic Dad. I wasn't allowed to go to Valerie's house either. Valerie took care of her dad and their house. She was also a very nice girl and my friend.

At the end of the school year, Jean told me she was spending the summer with her Dad. I never saw her again. Valerie and I were still in-school friends the following year. We still ate at the nerd table. But I was getting out of the public school system for good in high school. I headed off to Catholic high school and lost touch with all my nerd table friends.

I wish I'd kept in touch. They were a great group of kids. That became another vow of mine. My kids would not suffer at the hands of bullies the way I did. And one day my house would be a haven for those kids from broken homes. A nice kid is a nice kid, no matter what their home life is like. I would not judge!  I hope my boys take that message of kindness and understanding with them when they head out into the world to start their own lives.


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