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Friday, November 04, 2011

Cathy

Category: Short Story

People made fun of her, and I did too.  She was fat, and I was fairly popular at the time.  We were in grade 5. 

I don’t know where she came from; she was one of the new kids.  I was new too, having only been at the school for a year.  But the other kids hadn’t been mean to me.  Later, in grade 6, things could turn mean, really fast, but at the time, I was pretty complacent.  If you weren’t extraordinarily fat, or strange, and could skip rope properly, you could probably hold your own. 

Cathy, her name was. Cathy.  She always wore a blue skirt and some kind of baggy top, ankle socks… nothing terribly unusual, I guess, but she always looked out of place.  Maybe it was the blue skirt(s).  Maybe because she was a bit big and overweight. 

It’s a dog-eat-dog world in elementary school.  I don’t know where Cathy came from, but she wasn’t properly armed, I guess.  She was, perhaps, too pleasant, or something; maybe she didn’t have a hard enough look, or she didn’t have anything about her to overcome the fact that she was, let’s face it, overweight. 

She wasn’t THAT overweight.  She was just tall for her age, and quite chunky. I can still see her in my mind’s eye, but I can’t quite put a finger on what was wrong with her.  Maybe it’s because nothing was wrong with her.  Maybe she was just new. 

In grade 3, or grade 4, when you moved to a new school, it was no big deal.  It was a bit stressful, but you just dealt with it.  People would come up to you and say, “Want to play marbles?”— or hopscotch, or something, and you would say “Sure,” and then you would have friends.  (I don’t know what it’s like now, having not been in elementary school for years.) Of course, kids (and teachers) could be terribly mean even in grade 1, but it was more difficult to get in trouble then.  You had to be peeing your pants or really really strangely dressed or something, before you were regarded as a lost cause. 

In Cathy’s case, you could tell right away that even the teacher didn’t like her.  Cathy didn’t, whatever else she may have looked like, look like she came from an important family.  There was a sort of a sneer on the teacher’s face, or so I remember it, when she introduced Cathy to our class.  And Cathy just sort of stood there in her blue skirt, and said, “Hi.” 

I wasn’t really paying attention to the details, but it quickly became obvious that Cathy had become unpopular among us, me included (because I was, of course, part of the dog-eat-dog world of Grade 5).  I don’t know what she did, or didn’t do; I was busy maintaining my own popularity by skipping or playing marbles or saying witty things.  (I wish I could remember what counted as witty in Grade 5; it might come in handy now.)  Anyways, nobody liked her.

Every time she tried to say something, people would laugh at her.  It didn’t matter what she said; she couldn’t do anything right.  I thought it was a bit strange at the time, but even the teacher seemed to go along with it to a certain extent.  There were thirty of us in the class, so maybe she felt the same way that we did:  strength in numbers.

Cathy herself didn’t have much in her own defense.  She had said “Hi,” and nobody had liked her… her confidence had probably wained in accordance with the way things were going.  I didn’t really totally understand how she might have felt until the next year, in Grade 6, when all my friends turned on ME.  (I grew a whole inch, and was suddenly lumpy and ungainly, and ... I don’t know. I don’t know why they turned on me.  But that’s another story, right?)

We had fun making Cathy’s life miserable.  The teacher never asked Cathy any questions, ostensibly because if she’d answered, no matter what she said, it would have been wrong.  When the teacher was out of the room, we would grab Cathy’s stuff and run around with it, threatening to throw it out the window and suchlike.  One time, I made myself very popular by taunting her like a bullfighter with her own lunch.  I waved her brown paper lunch bag in front of her face, so close that she made a lunge for it, and then she chased me around the room, over desks, over the teacher’s desk, back to her desk, where I lowered it with supreme contempt, with two fingers, just before she arrived to grab it. Everybody cheered.

I don’t know what the other students were thinking, but I felt a bit bad—if you could say that about a 5th grader—about the whole thing.  In my heart of hearts, I knew that Cathy hadn’t done anything to deserve this.  That wasn’t the point.  The point was to maintain one’s standing and popularity in the dog-eat-dog world of Grade 5. The teacher, who (I’d sort of expected) would do something about it, wasn’t doing anything.  I had travelled a lot, and by this time it was my third school.  I might have even been at more schools than the teacher had. 

Whatever.  At some point, the teacher said we had to form into pairs and work on some project.  And for some reason I went and sat with Cathy.  I didn’t have to; there were other, less “disgusting” kids I could have sat with.  I did it on purpose.  I did it in such a way that the other kids thought that I was doing it, somehow, to make fun of Cathy: to make her think that I was being her friend.  So I wasn’t losing any face by sitting with Cathy. 

Condescendingly, I sat down beside Cathy.  But my heart wasn’t really in my condescension.  And Cathy was so glad to see me—she just started right in, explaining to me what she thought our project should look like.  She wasn’t even grateful… just glad to have someone to work with. 

I couldn’t help but get interested in the project (whatever it was).  Cathy wasn’t bad to work with.  We got a not bad result.  People’s attitudes towards Cathy sort of mellowed after that, and they didn’t turn mean towards me (until the next year, which was unrelated).  Cathy went on to a new school before the term was even over. 

Years later, I still wonder if Cathy remembers me, why I remember Cathy so vividly, and why the teacher didn’t help us.  We were only in Grade 5.  I am vaguely proud of myself for sitting with Cathy for that project.  True story.

 

 

Posted by julianyway on 11/04 at 04:45 PM | Permalink
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