By Noor Siddiqui
“Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget.” – G. Randolf
I did not want to be late for volleyball that day! Racing to my locker in the wide hallway, I shoved all my books into my raggedy old book bag, grabbed my sweatpants, and raced toward the gym. At least I knew the way. I recalled my first day, three years earlier, at Strath Haven Middle School in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. As the bell rang, I had lost my sense of direction and wandered through the ginormous school until accidentally finding the gym.
I joined my friends Elena, Su, and Hallene as Mr. Pittman, our coach, marched toward us like an angry commanding officer.
“All right, ladies, or should I say losers. We’ve barely won any games this year because, let’s face it, you all suck. Your defense is awful, and you’re pathetic and lazy about getting the ball. We can’t have that type of attitude on my team. Got it?”
I glanced at my friends, smiled, and telepathically conveyed: We’re going to win, no matter what, guys! They shrugged their shoulders and nonchalantly stared into space. I sighed, hoping that we would at least score better than we had last time.
Our volleyball team was really a signup-and-get-in-congrats-you-moron type deal, so we had a few bad apples on our team. Since sports should be fun, I focused on doing an awesome job and making the game enjoyable for everyone. After the coach finished an excruciatingly long speech stating that even the disabled kids on the team were useless, I gloomily walked with my friends to the activity bus. I looked at my slumped friends and yelled, “Hey guys, how about we sing a song in the bus to cheer us up? What do ya’ say?”
Looking exasperated, Elena muttered, “Why, would we do that? Noor, just sit down.”
“Seriously,” Su agreed.
As our bus headed for a neighboring school, I tried to recall my last good conversation with my friends. I often felt like a burden to them, and I was pained to know that sometimes I was too boring for them.
We tried our best, as commando coach hoarsely screamed, “WINNING IS EVERYTHING, DUMBASSES! GET THE BAAAALLL!” The more points the other team scored, the more his red face resembled a crossbreed between a rhino and a pig on steroids. (I could never stand that man.) Sad and angry about losing, we slowly boarded the bus.
I sat in the front row gazing out the window, ignoring my friends. They were in bad spirits right now, especially after the coach’s incessant yelling.
Looking at the raindrops trickling down the glass, I was entrapped in my world until someone carelessly thumped my shoulder.
“Aye, you. Aye, girl, what you think of today’s game?”
Tall with curly hair falling to her waist, Bully Girl was big, bulky, and strong enough to be in highschool. Probably an upperclassman, I thought. Her punch was proof enough of her hierarchy, no doubt.
“Uhh, it was kind of … well, we lost, I guess,” I replied with disappointment.
Bully Girl laughed and frowned at the same time, bouncing her curls marched and-fro, “What? You sayin’ we were bad?!” She punched my arm even harder.
What was wrong with this senior?
I winced, clutching my arm, “Ahhh, could you please not do that? It kind of … hurts.”
Bully Girl snickered, “What, you think that was hard? How ‘bout this!” Looking me right in the eye, she struck my right arm with such brute force that I yelped.
My friends snapped out of their thoughts and quickly assessed Bully Girl. Hallene looked terrified. Shocked, Su said, “You can’t do that.”
“Why not? It didn’t hurt. I know it didn’t!” The big, strong girl hit me again. The pain in my arm was throbbing.
I looked at all the girls gibbering away, unaware that I was being beaten. The coach sat in a corner, ticking a pen up and down his sheet.
Elena tapped the coach’s shoulder with urgent force, and I blurted out, determined to hold back tears, “Mr. Pittman, this girl just hit me many times!”
Barely looking up from his paper, he coldly replied, “So? Hit her back. Why are you telling me? Hit! Her! Back!” I couldn’t believe my ears, but I punched Bully Girl’s arm. Never had I mistrusted authority so wrongly. “You’re stronger than ya’ look, aren’t ya’?” She smacked me so hard that I slammed into the seat barrier. Elena hissed at the girl, and turned to me. “It’s okay, don’t worry. It’ll be okay. Ignore her. She’s not even worth it.”
I took a deep breath, sucked in the biggest puff of air I could muster, and squeezed my eyes. I couldn’t understand how or why someone would be so horrible when I had done nothing wrong. Even though my friends’ pacifying words soothed me, I felt like the loneliest girl on the planet. Also, I already dreaded encountering her again, especially if I was alone. With all my heart, I hoped that would never, ever happen. Of course, with bullying that’s never the case.
Two days later, returning from a club meeting, I stood at the top of steep steps to see if the late bus had arrived. As I started down the steps, a long leg appeared beneath my foot intending to send me tumbling to the bottom. I could have been badly injured had I not seen her leg. Bully Girl stood in front of me, sneering at my fear. As I realized that she took pleasure at the thought of seriously injuring me, my heart sank. I swallowed and walked around her.
“You fucking little piece of shit, don’t you just ignore me like that! Can’t even punch worth a damn,” Bully Girl screamed as she towered over me. I kept walking, drowning out her never ending profane words that would have shamed a pirate. I desperately looked around for anyone to help me, but I was all alone.
“Hah, what, you wanna’ fight now? COME AT IT! Why you look so damn dumb? SHITHEAD!” Bully Girl leveled herself with me and continued screaming, her friend shouting encouragement. She started pushing me toward the stairs. I’d never felt so hopeless.
“What’s your problem?! Get away from Noor, right now!” Was that … no it couldn’t be?
Elena’s face mirrored a lion ready to rip its enemy to shreds! Su’s anger glared through narrowed slits; sweet Hallene could have glared down an iceberg! Their backs to me, they shouted as viciously and vehemently as Bully Girl and her friend. I might have been watching people in anger management class practicing shout therapy, but this was the real thing.
I was speechless and could not grasp that the friends I had doubted were protecting me from Bully Girl. I felt remarkably surreal, as though floating in a world of dreams. I can only describe my sentiments as a mixture of relief and happiness boiled, mashed, and cooked in a warm pot of stew over a fire blazing at full power. Nothing in the world mattered more than what was happening before me. I slowly strolled away and sat on the grass, waiting for their fight to end. I shook uncontrollably because my doubts were shattered by the sudden appearance of my friends and their deep loyalty.
After what seemed like forever, Elena, Su, and Hallene joined me and joked that I was a baby for running away. I nervously smiled, still shaking, “Yeah, I know.” They happily reported that Bully Girl and her buddy got tired and walked off, making us the victors. They would never bother me again because of my friends’ combined strength.
My friends and I laid down on the cold, green grass gazing at the clouds in the crystal, clear sky. Everything meant to be said, words of gratitude and love, mirrored silently from the beautiful white ocean above. Elena, Su, and Hallene had been there for me when I desperately needed them, and I grinned as I thought about them forcing Bully Girland her friend to retreat. Their gesture spoke louder than the planet’s most raucous bird as I fully comprehended the deep nature of our friendship.
Noor Siddiqui is a Junior studying Literature with Teaching-Licensure at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, class of 2014. She is the Safe-Schools for All Intern at the Center for Diversity Education and Learning and part of the Muslim Student Association on campus. She loves to read, write, and explore other cultures as part of her hobbies and free time. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This piece is a part of No-Name Calling Week, during the week of January 23-27, 2013. No Name-Calling Week is an annual week of educational activities aimed at ending name calling of all kinds and providing schools with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying in their communities. Bullying is a widespread and serious problem that can happen anywhere and can cause serious and lasting harm. Bringing attention to bullying and finding methods to cope and prevent is the core value supported by No-Name Calling Week. Anyone who wants to work towards eliminating harmful name-calling, harassment and bullying in their school can be a part of No-Name Calling Week, whether you are a teacher, student, guidance counselor, coach, librarian, or bus driver. For more information, check out the No-Name Calling Week homepage at: http://www.nonamecallingweek.org/cgibin/