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TAG

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

Tag

I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.

Pablo Casals

“You’re it!” I screamed while slapping my classmate, Hunter, on his right shoulder. It was a kind of ritual to play tag at recess. Even in third grade, social standing was critical and tag was just another way of proving yourself. I wasn’t too fond of the game. I’m not saying that I wasn’t good, but it was rather tiring.

About ten minutes into our ritual, my attention was brought to the kickball field. A group of kids were huddled in a circle shouting malicious names. Curious to see who the poor victim was, I started to make my way over. As I was getting closer to my destination, our teacher Mrs. Smith started to get involved.

“What’s going on here? ”Mrs. Smith asked in a stern voice.

The circle was immediately broken and there sat a short, brown-haired girl. Mrs. Smith’s eyes studied the crowd for a moment and then, bending down, she started to help the girl to her feet.

“Are you all right, sweetheart?” Mrs. Smith asked in a softer tone. The girl nodded and then began to walk away. “Would you all like not to play at recess for the rest of the year?” The children remained silent.

“Then stop tormenting Angelina. She’s done nothing to harm you,” Mrs. Smith said. “If I ever see any of you teasing her again, I will double your homework and you won’t see this playground until next year. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Mrs. Smith,” the children said in unison. Just as it had started, it was over. None of the kids who were involved in the attack had any remorse. They quickly restarted their game as if nothing had happened.

I began to survey the area to see where the girl had gone. Her name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I had heard it last.

“Tag! You’re it!” Hunter yelled.

“Can’t you see I’m not playing anymore?” I said, irritated.

“You can’t just stop playing. You’re breaking the rules,” he argued.

“Well, guess what? I just did,” I said with a smirk on my face.

“You’re a butthead,” he responded cruelly.

“I am not!” I shouted. “Hey, do you know who that Angelina girl is?” I asked, changing the subject.

Hunter glanced at her. “That retard?”

“Yeah, didn’t she used to be cool or something?” I asked, staring at her.

“She used to be until her mom died. After that, she got really stupid and quiet,” Hunter said, trying to squish a grasshopper he had found in the grass. “You’re not going to go play with her, are you? ’Cuz if you do that, you’ll become stupid, too, you know. Stupidness rubs off on people. Well, that’s what my dad tells me.”

“I don’t want to play with her. I was just asking,” I said pitifully. After a moment of thinking, I turned around and hit Hunter in the back. “You’re it!” I screamed as I bolted away toward the sandbox with Hunter close behind.

Spring was coming in full bloom. The flowers were starting to come alive, the trees were waking from their dark spell and the sky was finally clear and a beautiful blue. As the bus sped away, I took in a deep breath of fresh air. As the sweetness filled my lungs, I smiled and walked through my front door.

My mother was sitting on the floor filling out paperwork, while my brother was on the couch eating a peanut-butter sandwich. I dropped my book bag and headed for the kitchen.

“Hey, Hon,” my mom said softly. “How was your day?”

“Good, I guess,” I said, kneeling down to find the peanut butter in the cabinet.

“I have to tell you something,” she said quietly.

“What is it?” I asked, not even looking at her. I found the peanut butter and placed it on the table. She was silent for a moment, then began to speak.

“As you know, I went to the doctor the other day. He did a lot of tests because of some problems I’ve been having,” she explained. “Well, the doctor called today. The cancer is back.” I immediately stopped what I was doing. At the time, I didn’t know a lot about the disease. My grandfather had died of cancer a few years before, and as soon as I heard the word come out of her mouth, I thought of death.

I ran out of the house in tears. My mother followed me to the porch. She embraced me and cradled me in her arms. “Erin, it’s gonna be all right. Dad’s going to come home, and I’m going to start taking medicine that’s going to get rid of it,” she said reassuringly. I look back at that moment in astonishment at how confident and determined she was.

I was relieved when my father came walking through the door. He was the strong one, the man of the house. But you could tell just by looking in his eyes, that he was petrified.

My mom had gone through cancer once before in 1988. She had gone to several doctors to find out why she wasn’t feeling well. They did many CAT scans and tests, but all of them came out negative. After months of searching for the answer, they discovered what was going on. She had ovarian cancer.

I cried a lot during that time. I was so confused about the whole situation. I felt betrayed by God. I remember asking over and over why it had to happen to my mother. I even asked my mother. She would always just say that “everything happens for a reason,” or that “good always comes out of every situation.”

Meanwhile at school, I became distant from my friends. I would try to play games, but I would get frustrated and quit. I was starting to get ridiculed by even my closest friends.

“Why don’t you ever want to play anymore?” Hunter asked me one day while I was sitting down watching a game of tag.

“’Cuz I don’t want to, all right? Just leave me alone,” I said angrily. I felt bad for yelling at him, but he didn’t know what I was going through. He couldn’t even conceive of it. Hunter looked at me, rolled his eyes and left to go play.

Days went by, then months, and soon my mother was back to the doctor for another appointment. She came home and told us the great news: She was allowed to stop her treatment. She was in remission for the second time. I began to feel like myself again.

Recess had just begun when I walked up to Hunter. He turned to me just as I tickled him in the stomach and said, “You’re it!” He gave me a huge smile and started to chase me. I had never laughed that much before. I was relieved. It was over; my mother was back.

“Ha! You can’t catch me!” I screamed. I ran until I couldn’t breathe. I bent down to catch my breath, and as I started to get up, my attention was again focused on the kickball field. There was another circle being formed, and in the middle was Angelina. I gathered up my strength and ran over.

“Leave her alone,” I hollered.

I quickly turned around. Mrs. Smith was standing behind me. “All of you inside,” she scolded. She looked at me and smiled. Then she started to follow the kids inside the school.

I looked at Angelina, smiled and started to walk away.

“My mother used to call me her little angel,” I heard a voice say quietly in a sweet whisper.

“My mother calls me Baby Bear. She had cancer, but she’s better now,” I said, turning around so I could face her.

She took her eyes off the ground and said, “My mother had cancer, too, but she died last spring.” I stared at her. Her eyes were plagued with the innocence only a young child has when she’s lost the only thing dear to her.

“Hey, would you like to play tag with me?” I asked with a smile on my face.

“No, that’s all right,” she said.

I started walking toward the sandbox. As I was looking at the playground to find Hunter, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I quickly turned around and saw Angelina with the biggest smile on her face. Her soft green eyes were no longer dark and empty, but instead filled with light and hope. She looked at me and said, “You’re it.”

Erin Gandia

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