Sometime between 1972 and 1975 I went to Towpath Elementary School in Avon, Connecticut. That would have been third to fifth grade for me. I wish I could be more specific but that was so long ago. I do have two memories, though, that are as clear as day.
The first is of Marvin Gordon. We sometimes called him Marvin Gardens, from Monopoly. He didn’t seem to mind. He was the class clown. I don’t know if that was because it came naturally, or if he did that for pure survival. He was the only black kid in the entire school. They bussed him in from a long way away. He was the first black person many of us had ever seen. We used to like to touch his hair.
Everyone seemed to like Marvin quite a bit, but none of us used to really socialize with him. He lived far away, and he was too exotic for the average elementary school student to reach out and embrace. In later years I often wondered what happened to Marvin, and how his time in Towpath shaped him. Does he remember any of it? If I were to meet him again, I would like to tell him that I’m sorry for treating him like some sort of mascot, and even sorrier that I didn’t get to know him better. I wish him well.
The second memory is much more painful for me. At Towpath there seemed to be a very clear divide between the popular kids and the outcasts. I was firmly ensconced among the outcasts. Unfortunately we were not a cohesive group. Last to be picked for any of the typical reindeer games, we tended to be little islands of lonely isolation.
One day the popular kids got it into their heads that everyone should be coupled. It retrospect we were awfully young to be thinking along those lines. I know I certainly wasn’t spending much time focusing on boys. But once that decree came down from the popular crowd, it became law. It was easy for them. The popular girls didn’t lack for popular boys. I don’t think anything really happened in particular. It wasn’t as if there were any kissing or canoodling going on. It was just a matter of status. I remember going home and crying because I didn’t have a boyfriend. I also remember my mother being shocked that I cared.
Eventually it was decided that the popular kids were going to choose couples for the rest of us, the dregs of Towpath society. And since I was apparently the lowest of the low, I got paired up with my lowly male counterpart: Timothy Turkey.
Looking back, I can now see that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Timothy. I’m sure he was a very nice boy. He probably would have made a fine friend. I didn’t really know him. I have no idea why he was rejected, any more than I know why I was. Maybe our mothers didn’t dress us in the right clothes. He seemed perfectly content to be considered my partner, though, even though we never talked.
Everyone called him Timothy Turkey so consistently that I cannot remember his last name. I sure wish I could because I’d try to track him down if I did. Because I did a horrible thing to Timothy, and I’ve felt guilty ever since.
You see, I was desperate to not be on the bottom rung of the social ladder. They used to say, “You can kiss a pig or you can kiss Barbara. I’d rather kiss a pig!” So when they decided I was supposed to be paired off with Timothy Turkey, of all people, I knew that I couldn’t let that happen. It would drag me even further down, I thought. I just wanted people to like me.
So in the twisted logic of an elementary school kid, I decided to call him up and tell him I hated him. And that’s what I did. I had never called a boy before, so I was a nervous wreck. And then to say something like that…I knew it was wrong. And it felt bad. It felt horrible. But I did it anyway. And I have carried that mortification with me ever since.
As a matter of fact, that made such an impression on me that I have never been intentionally cruel like that to anyone since then. I actually tend to collect misfits now. And I stick up for the underdogs of this world. There’s nothing I hate more than a bully.
I only wish I could ask Timothy for his forgiveness, because that was without a doubt the most horrible thing I’ve ever done to anyone. Timothy, if you’re out there, I’m so sorry for what I said.