88: Rites of Passage

88: Rites of Passage

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Rites of Passage

You can out-distance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.

~Rwandan Proverb

My best friend Michelle and I decided it would be a good day for a swim. Checking the schedule of the local public pool, we found a public swim at 3:00 p.m. My father said he would drive us if my brother and a friend of his could go too. I agreed. It wasn’t a sacrifice to take my brother along.

Dad dropped us off at the pool and said he would be back later to pick us up. We shouted our thanks and ran off to the huge cement building, the scent of chlorine getting stronger as we got closer to the pool.

Before long, we had enjoyed all the pool had to offer. I found my brother and gave him the signal that it was time for us to be finished, while Michelle and I packed up our stuff and took a seat on one of the concrete benches to wait for my dad.

I don’t know how long we were there before the group of kids came up to us. There had to be at least twelve of them, all punked out and dressed in black. Lips and eyes black as night. They surrounded us, and the girl who looked to be the leader of the group came forward. The others formed a loose semicircle around us, smiling. The girl in front did not look happy with Michelle. She was huge. Not so much tall as she was stocky, she reminded me of a bull, all muscle under her clothes. It was the first time I had seen a girl with a Mohawk, and by the way she was staring at Michelle I was sure this wasn’t going to end well for either of us.

“What the heck are you staring at?” she asked Michelle.

“I am not staring at anything,” Michelle replied.

“I think you are. I think you’re staring at my hair.” She gave Michelle a push on the shoulder.

Michelle didn’t say anything, just looked back at her. Michelle was a tall girl for thirteen. She was strong too, and athletic, but I knew she would not raise a fist to this girl. That wouldn’t stop me from coming to Michelle’s rescue though.

“So what if she was?” I said, surprising myself.

“I wasn’t talking to you. It’s her I have a beef with.”

I almost laughed at the beef comment, because I had just thought of her as a bull only moments before.

“She’s not going to fight you. She’s a PK kid,” I went on, my courage growing with every spoken word.

“What the heck is a PK kid?”

“A ‘Pastor’s Kid,’ so she won’t fight you. Michelle sometimes just stares out into space; I’m sure she wasn’t staring at your hair.” I thought a clear concise explanation would do the trick and everything would blow over. The punked out girl was not amused by the way things were going. From what I could see it didn’t look as though she was going to back down. Where the heck was my father?

“Well then, I guess you are going to have to do.” She leaned closer to me, so close that I could smell her breath. Her friends started to cheer her on.

Up until this time I had never been in a fight, and the thought of being in one had never even crossed my mind. Now, faced with the possibility, my heart pounded in my ears, and adrenaline coursed through my veins. What was I going to do now? This girl towered over me and would beat me to a pulp in no time. I was dead for sure. With her friends penning us in there was no easy escape either. I didn’t see any other option. I took the duffel bag I had, full of my brother and his friends’ flippers and masks, and threw it at her head.

I thought this would give me enough time for some sort of escape. I was right. When I threw the bag, the semicircle of friends gasped at my audacity and they were caught off guard. I ran and broke through the circle at one end. I could hear the pounding of their footsteps chasing after me.

I soon realized that I had made a crucial error in judgment when I took off. Instead of going towards the pool and the adults inside I had run out into an empty parking lot. There was no one to help me out here, only Michelle yelling for help. I had a good lead on them since I was pretty quick, but suddenly something in me snapped. I no longer wanted to run. I felt like if I didn’t stop running right now, in this situation, I would spend my entire life running. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that.

She was like an advancing tank, her face a storm of rage. I was out of luck and options. It didn’t matter; I had to take a stand. I mustered all the courage I could and faced her. Everything around me slowed as she came forward, her arm and hand drawn back; I could see, close up, her thick fingers and protruding knuckles. BAM, her mammoth fist hit me square in the nose and mouth. It’s true what they depict in cartoons — I did see stars when my head snapped back. My hands went to my mouth to comfort the sudden pain there. I watched as she drew back and prepared to hit me again. Suddenly I heard honking; it was my dad coming to the rescue. The girl and her friends scattered to the wind. He came to me, asking if I was all right, tilting my head this way and that, trying to see through the blood. I told him I was and Michelle ran up and offered her towel to clean up my face.

I learned a lot that day. Mostly, I learned to stand up to my fears and meet problems head on instead of running. I vowed to myself that I would always try to stay strong, brave, and capable of anything.

Time went on and the years marched by. I was in my second year of junior high when I saw a poster saying peer counselors were needed, so I applied. I grew with the position, listening to kids and their problems and helping where I could, until one day when I was paired with an unexpected visitor. It was her — the same girl from all those years ago. She no longer wore the Mohawk, and the black make-up was gone, but it was her all the same, there could be no mistake about it. I was shocked. I almost didn’t know what to say. I waited for her to recognize me from the fight we had, but she never did.

I listened to her problems like I did all the others, and to my amazement I actually could feel compassion for her and her situation even after what she had done. After all, despite the pain, she had given me a gift. A chance to take what life offered, learn from it, and most importantly, grow from my experience.

~Tracie Skarbo

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