I was kind of a sad kid sometimes, living at the house on Kiowa street. We moved there when I was six and lived there till we moved to another town when I was thirteen. I wanted more than anything to have a best friend, like the kind of friend that you read about in books. I dreamt we would always sit together in the cafeteria for lunch, play at each other's houses after school and during the hot, dry New Mexico summers we would tell each other our secrets and dreams. We would laugh together. I would be hard pressed to say now, at age 37 why I never had that friend. I'm pretty sure that I was a weird kid, a reader and a dreamer. One of those kids who went to the "Gifted" and "Enrichment" classes... a round face, a tender heart. It could have been a geographical lack of viable BFF candidates in my neighborhood but more than that girls were often mean, and I couldn't understand what it was they expected of me so I generally sought the company of boys. But I still wished for that "best friend."
The closest thing to a best friend I had was a girl who lived across the street and around the corner... her name was Nicole Gutierrez and she pronounced it properly. She would correct you if YOU pronounced it Guh-ter-rez. We played together, mostly because there wasn't much else in the way of girls our age to play with. She had HBO and her folks let her watch rated R movies...she would talk about sneaking me in so I could watch those movies with her. It made me uncomfortable because my parents would be pissed-off no end if I watched a rated R movie so I was kind of glad that we weren't really allowed to play in her house anyway. We weren't allowed to play in MY house either. She would tell me about movies that she thought were the funniest things on the face of the earth...Cheech and Chong movies that she watched on HBO with her dad. She would yell "BEANERS!" at the top of her lungs and then laugh hysterically, like it was the best joke in the world, and then let me know that because I was a white girl I would get beat up if I ever used the word.
Later in life I watched a Cheech and Chong movie and I didn't think it was very funny even when I got the jokes, including when they yelled things like "Beaners!" Later in life I realized that she told me the truth that her Dad once ate cockroaches to survive. She said he did it when he lived in a pit dug in the dirt during the Vietnam War. I realize now that he had been a POW. I also realize now that he smoked pot, and that was part of the reason I was never allowed in their house.
I can't remember exactly why we weren't allowed to play inside my house... it probably had to do with the fact that it was a smallish three bedroom adobe with six kids and two parents crammed in. I shared a room with my older and younger brothers, then later my little sister for pretty much my whole childhood. My folks were Mormons, so there probably wasn't a whole lot of pot smoking going on.
At age eleven we went to "Middle School," and the fact that Nikki wasn't in any of my classes started to matter... to her anyway. We rarely ever played together anymore. She started to wear make-up and bra's, and playing outside was mostly boy-stuff and kid-stuff to her. She played over at friend's houses where you could actually go IN the houses. She started spending time with a girl named Mo, short for Maureen. Mo was tough. She was cool, and even though she was a white girl like me, she had friends who were Chola's (Hispanic girl-gang members...the precursor to gangbanger's), girls who wore Kabuki make-up, black canvas babydoll shoes, and enough hairspray to choke a horse. The meanest Chola in our school was a girl who had flunked two grades and was therefore sixteen years old when I was thirteen. Her name was Jean and she had the fire red hair of a pure blood Spaniard. She was arrogant and violent, she was a bully.
At the beginning of my eighth grade year something happened. I started to have girls shove me in the hallways, and yell filthy things at me as I walked home from school. Mo and Nikki would walk home from school together, and if at all possible I would walk far behind them so they couldn't call me names or yell threatening things at me. Then one day Mo told me that I was "gonna get my ass kicked." I was going to "get jumped." I don't know how she swung it, but she got Jean on my case. The Jean. I started to hear about the knife she carried in her back pocket. All the stories that ended with her using her opponents hair as a grip to smash their faces into the pavement repeatedly came back in a rush. I started to walk home the long way, but less than a week later they found me, and there I was... surrounded by what felt like a huge gang of girls, looking back it was probably no more than eight. One of them was Jean. They started pushing me around the circle and yelling things at me.
I felt like I was some kind of pathetic wuss because I was crying... but I look back on it now and realize that I had guts and nerve and that's what saved me from a beating. I knew I was going to get my face beat in but for some reason I wanted to know WHY!? I demanded to know why they were doing this and I think that sorta threw them off. Jean told me that I had been trash-mouthing her "friend" Mo. I asked what I was accused of saying. They told me I had been calling her a "bitch." I recall doing this funny hitching laugh-cry thing and I told them that was impossible.. they had been misinformed or maybe even lied to because I had never even SPOKEN that word let alone CALLED someone that. It's one of those claims that's so odd, it had to be true and I think these tough girls knew it. I then informed them that they were choosing to "jump" me two houses down from my own house and that this little circle very likely had not gone unnoticed. I was threatened that if I ever DID call Mo a bitch that I would get jumped, but they left pretty fast after that. As they left I saw Nikki peeking at the tableau from behind the tree in her front yard. The dream of a best friend had died long before this day, but it still smarted and I realised then that she was probably my accuser.
At the time I felt like I had talked and whined and cried my way out of the jumping... but looking back on it, these girls who made it their early teen hobby to "jump" people probably rarely ever had anyone demand to know WHY, or laugh at their "reasons" crying or no.
The story doesn't end here... the real "lesson learned" was that night as I was standing just outside my parents room. I can still see my Dad sitting on the edge of the bed in the light cast by the lamp on the bedside table. He held a phonebook open to the white pages and he was speaking to the person on the other end of the line in a way I had never heard anyone speak outside of TV courtroom dramas. His tone was masterful and cold and he used words like "accosted" and "assault and battery." He said things like "litigation," and "responsible parties" and my heart pounded. I was so proud of my Dad, and I felt a fierce love for him because I knew I was protected. I never heard anything more from any Chola after that and two months later we moved.
I have always loved language and words, but that day I saw that words were bigger and more powerful than bully's, Chola's, and the right words spoken well could wrap you in protection. I love words.