Writing My Life

Now and Then


… maybe techno-bullying ISN’T a NEW trend …

I wrote this narrative to use in a writing lesson with 9th graders special ed students. I’ve often thought about that experience and how it affected me. The incident occurred in 1960 when there were no cell phones or home computers. Nevertheless, the good old telephone could be used as a weapon in spreading ill will!

By the way, the following piece is INSPIRED by actual events. No one ever remembers the exact details, and I changed the names because some of my school friends read my blog.) 


I had known Sandra and Mitzi since fourth grade. Those two were the dynamic duo of Lewis and Clark Elementary School. The tiny girls looked nothing alike, but each was a cutie in her own way. Sandra’s olive skin, dark eyes, and short, natural curly hair contrasted with Mitzi’s fair skin, blue eyes, and long honey-blond hair.

Those girls were the type that every girl wanted to be friends with, and because they were actually shorter than most boys, the guys liked them, too. Even in fourth grade, boys chased Sandra and Mitzi during recess, and slid lovey-dovey notes to them during class. I know because I read a few before passing them along. That was when they didn’t even know my name.

Couldn't find my 7th grade picture, but this 8th grade photo is close enough.

By seventh grade, the guys were taller; so were Sandra and Mitzi, and I had finally stopped growing. I was still taller, but at least I didn’t tower over the two by a head and a half. That was the year we became friends.

For some reason the two buddies didn’t have any classes together, but I sat by Sandra in my first three classes and by Mitzi in my last three. We had gravitated to each other because there were so few people from our elementary school in our classes. We knew no one, except Tommy and Billy who were super goofs that irritated us every time they opened their mouths.

“Hey,” they called to me. “Runnin’ ‘round with the big girls, huh?”

“Mitzi, where is your Siamese twin?” Tommy asked my friend. “Little desperate to be running around with BearTracks, aren’t you?” That’s what they called me and I hated it.

So it went, but the two pest-boys were right about one thing: I had become friends with two very popular girls. While I couldn’t totally explain the phenomenon, I was feeling pretty good about myself – until November.

As Thanksgiving approached, Sandra and I decided to have a party over the break, and as we talked about who to invite, I was surprised that she was debating whether or not to include Mitzi.

“She’s really changed since we started junior high, don’t you think?” I didn’t know what to say because I DID think she had changed; she was NICER, but obviously Sandra didn’t think so. I wasn’t about to jeopardize my new friendship with her so I just asked how she thought Mitzi had changed.

“She is SO stuck up. Don’t you think so?” Again, I was worried about what I should say to that. If I agreed, she might tell our friend, and Mitzi would hate me. But if I disagreed with Sandra, she might think I liked Mitzi more than her, and so I copped out.

“If you promise not to tell Mitzi, I have to agree with you. Ever since Brent Caldwell started calling her, she really thinks she’s something.”

Sandra jumped right on that, “I KNOW! She doesn’t have time for her friends anymore because she’s always talking to Brent or hanging around him. And I don’t even think he’s that cute. Do you?”

Now I thought Brent Caldwell was the most gorgeous boy in the whole state, maybe in the world, but I answered, “Are you kidding me? I don’t know what she sees in him, and he’s such a jerk, too. One day I walked up to the two of them when he was talking to Mitzi, and he totally started flirting with me! Right in front of her! I couldn’t believe it!”

Sandra added her opinions; we said good bye, then went our separate ways without coming to a final decision about whether or not to invite Mitzi to Sandra’s party.

A few days later, Sandra and I were walking home together, and she asked if I could come to her house to plan the party. I was so excited because this event was going to be a Renae and Sandra production instead of a Mitzi and Sandra social.

While talking about food, music, and decorations, Sandra interrupted the planning to ask what I was wondering, “Well, should we invite Mitzi or not?” I just shrugged my shoulders because I really didn’t want to make the decision. “It’s your party, Sandra. Do what you want,” I finally blurted out because she wouldn’t stop staring at me.

Finally, she suggested that we call Mitzi and see how she acted towards us. “I’ll get on one phone and you get on the extension, okay?” Sandra ordered. “But don’t tell her you are on the line, and I’ll just talk to her for awhile, and then you tell me what you think. Besides, I don’t want her to know that you and I are planning this party.”

Something told me this was not a good idea, but being the wimp I was, I nodded in agreement and headed to the basement to pick up the other phone.

After a few minutes of friendly chit-chat, Sandra paused in the conversation with Mitzi and then asked, “Hey, what do you think of Renae?”

I was stunned. Why would she ask a question like that? And then I thought maybe she wanted to see if Mitzi would say something rude about me and that would determine whether or not Sandra would invite her old friend to the party. Still, I did not want to hear Mitzi’s answer because I really did like her. I held my breath.

“Oh, my gosh,” she started. “I can’t stand her. She is so conceited, and I seriously don’t know why.”

My heart sunk, my stomach churned, and then I heard Sandra say, “I KNOW! She used to be so sweet, and now she is the most stuck-up person in our school.”

I couldn’t believe what I heard, and tears started welling up. Part of me wanted to scream into the phone that I was listening to every word they were saying, but somehow I realized they knew that. Mitzi spoke up, “Can you believe she’s even trying to take Brent away from me. Every time we’re all together, she totally plays up to him right in front of me! But he can’t stand her and she doesn’t even see that.”

Carefully, I placed the phone in its cradle, quietly climbed the stairs, and let myself out.


… the monkey bites again, part 1 …

The biggest, blackest lie I remember telling was in second grade. One spring day Mrs. Quidor announced our class was going to organize a pet parade. While nearly all my friends cheered the news, I did not. I think I was the only child who had NO cat, dog, bunny, turtle, or fish to parade around the school.

It isn’t as if I had not owned a pet. Indeed I went through a slew of mammals, reptiles, and birds. Here’s a short history of what I remember:

  1. A puppy that was hit by a car – I swear I saw tiny angels carry away the body. (Mom doesn’t remember this dog – dead or alive.)
  2. A Pekingese named Nicky that my mom gave away because of too much barking and shedding.
  3. Apparently dyed chicks are still popular in IRAN!!!

    Dyed chicks. As in purple, blue, or pink. Seriously. Around Easter, retailers would give away little LIVE PeePs as part of some sort of promotion. I don’t know how many times we talked Mom and Dad into taking a couple home, but I doubt it was more than once after they found me rocking my colorful but DEAD new pet.

  4. Hand-painted turtles. I believe the shoe store that sold Buster Brown shoes gave away these amphibians around school-shopping season. They were creatively painted in a multitude of colors, but once again, they died almost before we could get them home. I understand it had something to do with paint softening the shells. I’ll bet money the bright colored designs were also applied with lead-based paint. WHAT WERE PEOPLE THINKING????

Rather than to admit that “I was BETWEEN pets,” I reported to Mrs. Quidor that I would bring MY PET MONKEY to the parade, and NO, it was NOT a stuffed monkey, but the real deal. (Please don’t ask why I came up with such an exotic lie. I don’t know. The closest thing I had to a monkey was indeed a stuffed one – Ms. Phoebe B. Beebe, live-in girlfriend to J.Fred Muggs; my sister owned the Freddy version. The two stuffed animals honored Dave Garroway’s guest and co-hosts on the Today Show. Of course, I didn’t know all that then. )

At any rate, I reported the daily shenanigans of the pet monkey to my teacher and classmates. For some reason, Mrs. Quidor sort of went along with the story, asking me questions in an attempt to either trip me up or to guilt me into truth-telling. But I was dedicated to the BIG LIE and continued on until the day AFTER a PTA meeting.

Surprised that Mom and Dad didn’t return and question me about the mysterious monkey that supposedly lived in our house, I thought I had pulled off the ruse, OR that Mrs. Q. decided NOT to throw me under the bus. But when I walked into the classroom that day, she immediately called me up to her desk to tell me that she had chatted with my folks.

“Renae, your mom and dad didn’t seem to know anything about a monkey,” she said.

Rather than fold, I just looked her in the eye, and with tears in mine, reported that my poor little pet had been hit by a car, and I no longer owned a monkey, and therefore, had NO pet to carry, lead, or drag through the pet parade.

I don’t remember her response. I just recall that I was awarded the honor of leading the parade wearing a majorette hat my mom made. Now, here is the irony of the whole incident: a stray puppy wandered onto the school grounds JUST IN TIME for the parade, and guess who got to carry him.

By all rights, this story of dishonest mischief should NOT have ended this way. But it did, and here is a newspaper clipping to prove it!