When I was about... 10 or 11 or so, there was this girl named Alissa Gawlik who shared a bus stop with me. She was a year younger than me, and somehow she got promoted to being patrol at our bus stop, much to my displeasure at the time. I used to called her "Piss on Garlic" in my head, because making fun of people's names was a popular form of insult to me back then. Her sister was named Yola, which was just too good to pass up the obvious Star Wars pun in the days when "Empire Strikes Back" was THE movie of the decade, and damn anyone who dared call it, "Star Wars II." But that's a different topic. I never knew what ethnicity those names had, but they looked like normal WASPs that soaked the McLean neighborhoods, flowing among the assorted Jewish and Catholic kids.
I can't even remember why I didn't like Alissa. I have this vague memory I thought she was snotty and arrogant, possibly on a power trip. I have no idea if this was true or not, due to my age at the time, and how emotionally unstable I was. But I recently thought of her while discussing something else, and I have to confess a very mean thing I did to her.
Alissa made me mad one day. Like, angrier than I normally was at her. My sketchy memory tells me that she punished me for a minor infraction, and it had something to do with favoring her "friends" over me. I put "friends" in quotes for later referral in this tale of shame. When she was done with me, she turned away from me, and engaged in general "girl talk" where my seething eyes saw someone who was petty and stupid. Her back was towards me, and between her and I were the springtime buds of a dogwood tree that encroached into the sidewalk corner that made our bus stop.
Alissa had really long hair. Like, unusually long hair down to her butt. I am not sure what made me think of this, but I took small ribbon-like strands of her long hair, and tied each ribbon to a bud on the tree. I recall her hair felt really smooth, like the kind of smooth professional hair products give you, but I didn't know those existed at the time. Because her hair was so long, and she didn't move much while engaging in idle gossip, I managed to tie almost a dozen strands to the tree. She looked like a lopsided maypole. Her "friends," as well as everyone on the bus stop, saw me doing this, too. A few giggled, including one of the girls Alissa was talking to. Nobody said a word.
Then the bus arrived.
While this is a letter of apology, the point must be made that the peak comedic moment of this event, the moments that made it all worth it to my adolescent brain, was when she moved forward to line us all up. There was a step forward, and then her head jerked back with a sound that was out of a cartoon, and could probably be spelled, "Gluck!" But sadly, I had not gaged her reaction beyond the moment, and the comedy quickly turned tragic when she panicked, and... got tangled in the tree. I mean, not really. No one had to cut her out, but the bus driver had to get out and assist poor Alissa, a victim of my ill-conceived revenge prank.
I never apologized to her. I mean, everyone KNEW that I did it, and despite the ill-conceived escape plan of sitting at the back of the bus, word quickly got out that I was the arboreal and cosmetic assault upon Alissa's locks. But the bus driver made it sound like she didn't know, shouting at everyone that it wasn't funny while looking back at us from her wide rear-view mirror. Poor Alissa was crying, and I countered my guilt with some hastily-piled hill of mental rocks made up of all the things I could think of her deserving. But my face was burning, and I regretted my actions as the familiar boiling sensation in my stomach roared... a sensation that years later would lead to my ulcer.
I got to school, and nobody said anything. Had I gotten away with it? Since she wasn't in my class that year, quickly the incident was forgotten. Until about 2 hours into class when I was called out by a teacher named Mr. Dowden.
Mr. Dowden was a sixth grade teacher whom I didn't care for. He was one of those manly men who "rewarded " his class with a Friday game of football if the weather was nice. To me, "football" was anything but rewarding. Football to me was like a punishment, and I used to watch his class outside on those Fridays they played, wondering if he knew those frail blue bloods that peppered McLean kids were not having a good time. The skinny Asian girl who played the violin flouncing about in her confused femininity, years away from her already delayed puberty, looking as if someone released a cat into a box of Styrofoam peanuts. The genteel boy from Manchester, an old world Brit out of his element, trying desperately to run as far from where the ball as possible because he knew that if the ball got close to him, the burly Brazilian kid, who already had facial hair, would run him down like a bulldozer over a watermelon. Mr. Downden was also famous for having a "fort" in his classroom, where one could go and read. He may not have been nearly as bad as my memory paints him, and in fact, I know many who spoke of him with great fondness.
But he was also the head of the patrols. And this day, he was very angry. Justifiably so, of course, because I can't imagine him just taking this event in stride. But he did something that, had it occurred in today's day and age, would have been considered grounds for dismissal. I knew this would end badly because he took me behind a set of stairs.
First, to his credit, he asked me if it was true. Then he asked what happened. He didn't start out calm, and he really started losing control of his temper as I explained, obviously trying not to laugh, the events that unfolded. I remember I kept thinking how angry I was that I was snickering, because I didn't want to. I wasn't so stupid I was being cocky about it, but I am sure it came across that way.
"Let me tell you something," he said, and grabbed my shoulder with one hand in a firm grip. "If you EVER do something like that again, to one of MY patrols..." and his other arm cocked back with a fist.
This is when I knew what was coming. Having been hit by my own father and countless bullies, this scene was as familiar as a well-worn glove. Time slowed down. Already I planned to take the punch to the face and let my neck act as a shock absorber while I used the momentum to carry myself backwards. This would spring my chest back, where I'd pitch to the floor in such a way, I'd slide away from the assailant, and have a good roll to stand up and a run to get away. It wasn't a flawless system, especially if another kid was pinning me down while I got wailed upon, but it was all I knew, and worked enough times for there to be an inner monologue detailing the instructions like I was readying my ship for launch. I closed my eyes, timing the punch to take so many fractions of a second, and wondering if he would strike my lower jaw, cheek, or eye.
But the hit never came. Instead he said, "I will punch your lights out. You'll see more stars than the star spangled banner." I paused. My adrenaline for taking the punch and rolling was now stopped abruptly, and for a few seconds I still wondered if he was doing this to catch me off guard to hit me when I went, "Phew!" But he never did.
And STILL I could not help snickering. I now know this was a nervous reaction, but I was cursing myself inside for not being able to stop. But he let me go. And time sped back to its normal speed.
I don't think he would have actually hit me. These days, I am pretty sure of it. As I write this, there's a part of me that respects how much he protected his patrols. I am sure he saw me as this plump, skittish kid, probably slightly crazy, who had bullied a younger girl. One of HIS younger girls. I think that would have been an accurate assessment of me, "the Larson boy." Despite how I felt about Alissa's "power trip," which may have totally been my imagination, what I did was wrong.
It occurred to me that Alissa would have been about the same age as Scarlet is now. I still feel pretty bad about this, and not because of Mr. Dowden's actions, but just how petty and cruel this was. And I don't think I ever acknowledged this with Alissa. I recall we pretty much avoided each other after that, and I was burning with guilt that I couldn't stop giggling about it for a long time.
I don't know where she is nowadays. I last saw her in the halls of our high school, but we never crossed paths. She became as anonymous as most other classmates a year below mine. I don't even know if she remembers the incident, because I was only one of several who were mean to her in elementary school. I recall things got better with her social life in junior high. And she cut her hair short.
So I am sorry, Alissa. That was a mean thing for me to do.
Your former grammar school classmate,
Grig (aka Gregory or "that Larson boy")