So…once, when I was young (like, barely into the double-digits), I did something really mean. It was well intentioned—enlightened even, I thought at the time—although ultimately misguided. Very misguided.
But let’s start at the beginning.
In grade school, I had a teacher with a novel approach to passing notes in class. She didn’t just allow it, she encouraged it, believing it fostered our communication skills. We didn’t argue.
Many prepubescent alliances were forged (and broken) within the folded pages ricocheting around the room. Like any micro society, our class was not immune to the perils of hierarchy and its intricacies were prevalent in a multitude of ways, though one was particularly impossible to overlook.
This was back in the heydays of neon; the more you wore, the better off you found yourself, socially speaking. I had enough, which was to say no one needed sunglasses when I was around, but I certainly didn’t let the trend pass me by (not that I’ll ever dig out the photos to prove it).
Anyway, there was one girl, Pia, who wasn’t caught up in the bright colors of popularity—or so it seemed. She was the smartest kid in class, but brains weren’t as valuable as fluorescent yellow slouch socks and since she never wore any (a fact I assume she’s now extremely grateful about), she wallowed around the bottom of the social ladder.
Until the day I noticed the tie-dyed girls at the coolest lunchroom table squeeze together so she could sit with them while they copied her homework. Pia almost never passed notes (which probably contributed to her superior grades), but suddenly she became central station. And when she came to school wearing a thin neon pink bracelet, it was obvious an intervention was necessary.
I took it upon myself to deliver it and used the most obviously appropriate method at my disposal: I sent her a note. In it, I explained that by ingratiating herself to the highest social echelon, she was essentially throwing her life away. I then went on to outline their faults, in vitiating detail, including the inevitable sartorial consequences.
I signed the note with a question mark and left it on her desk when no one was around, because I reasoned unsolicited advice has more impact when it comes from an unknown source.
And it did. Far more than I could have anticipated.
Not only did she read the note, but she also shared it with all her new “friends,” and suddenly the mystery sender became the talk of the playground. And not in a good way. It turned out the Tie-dyed Girls of the Highest Echelon didn’t appreciate some (any) of my thoughts about them. In retaliation, they granted Pia unconditional acceptance into their crowd without her ever needing to wear another stitch of neon.
Realizing my well-meaning-but-poorly-considered-plan had completely backfired, I decided the only way to prevent the fire from burning me was to ‘fess up. So I sent Pia another note, saying simply, ‘I’m sorry.’ And I made sure she knew it was from me.
Then I waited.
In the interim, it dawned on me that my little tirade hadn’t, in fact, been an attempt to save her at all, but was instead a poor attempt to put her back in her place. She had broken rank and if she rose, it meant the rest of us had to fall. What I mistook for a valiant effort to restore the status quo, was in reality just a mean act that came entirely from a place of fear. Fear that there was only so much friendship (and neon) to go around, and if she got some, there would be less for the rest of us.
It took some time, but eventually my note came back.
“It’s okay,” she had scribbled.
And that was the end of it. The whole event died down and everyone moved on to the next scandal (something to do with the condition of Jeffrey McGuffrey’s tightie-whities, if I recall…)
The Case of the Mystery Sender remained unsolved. Pia never ratted me out. Which made me realize, it didn’t matter where on the social ladder she existed, she was without doubt the coolest girl in the entire class.