In LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES, sixteen-year-old Riley abruptly finds herself outside of the circle of friends she’s had since third grade. Her mom, who was a teenager herself when she had Riley, is furious and heartbroken…and somewhat helpless. You can’t make someone love your kid, after all. You can’t be with them all the time, every moment.
Which brings me to a story of a mean girl from my adolescent years. Patti…not her real name. Picture me—the thick glasses, bad perm, blueish-white skin. Picture Patti, tough as nails, fantastic athlete, hair always in a tight, long braid. I don’t know why she didn’t like me, but let’s just say she was a lion, and I was a baby impala with a limp. She prowled for me. She was the shark, and I was Roy Scheider, and I didn’t have a bigger boat.
Every lunch, she’d trip me if I went anywhere near her table. If I got an answer right in class, she’d snort in derision. She would shove me or knock into me at recess so often that I still have scars on my knees from falling on the blacktop.
We went to the same church, her family and mine, and as is common practice, families sort of claimed their pews. We sat in the fourth pew, Patti’s family sat in the fifth. All throughout mass, I’d feel her eyes on me, and I dreaded the moment when I’d be forced to turn around, extend my hand and say, “Peace be with you.” “And also with you,” she’d say, and I’d pray (literally) that she meant it. She didn’t. The next day, I’d be tripped, mocked, “accidentally” shoved into the lockers. My books would be knocked from my arms.
I said nothing and told no one. We had no anti-bullying policies. No teacher intervened It was embarrassing. Middle school was bad enough. Being bullied was bad enough. I wasn’t going to be a tattle-tale on top of it. I just wanted to be invisible.
And then, one day in church, there in the birth and death announcements, was the news that Patti’s father had died. They weren’t in church that week. The next week, they were, and I screwed up my courage, turned around and looked Patti in the eye. “I’m sorry your father died,” I said. “Thanks,” she said.
She never bullied me again. We didn’t become friends, but the bullying ceased. What a hard year that must have been for Patti, her father dying of cancer. No twelve-year-old should have to endure that. She was wrong to pick on me, of course, and no twelve-year-old should have to be afraid in school, either. But if I’d known how sick her dad was, if I’d been able to picture how devastatingly tragic their home life was that year, maybe I wouldn’t have been so helpless.
In LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES, Riley’s mom takes swift and decisive action to protect her kid. Riley eventually makes peace with the fact that her former friends are not the girls she once loved. In my life, I made peace with the fact that the girl who tormented me was in a lot more torment than I could imagine. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it taught me a lot. Should I have stuck up for myself? Absolutely. But you never know what someone else is going through.
Ten days till my book comes out, gang! Don’t forget (as if I’d let you) that preorders support St. Jude Children’s Hospital. You can order from any vendor via my website: www.kristanhiggins.com/life-and-other-inconveniences