Another short story from the archives. Hopefully, a few new stories like Flying Lessons will be written and posted. In the meantime:
In fifth grade it seems as if girls and boys go through a stage where they pretend to hate each other. Or, at least, decide to not like each other, but Annie never really went through that stage. Of course, there were a few boys that could be annoying; there were others that still had gross habits like picking their nose, but the worst ones were the ones that were cute, had a cocky attitude, and teased unmercifully.
Sometime during that year, Jack became that one, the cute, cocky one: the one that could zero in on the one thing that a girl wanted to forget or hope that no one else noticed. And he did. In particular, he teased Laura, one of the girls in Annie’s class. Laura was the girl who got her growth spurt early so was taller than everyone else including Jack. She was bright, a class leader, and the self-appointed head cheerleader. In a sense she was the leader of the girls, and Jack, the leader of the boys. The two clashed sometimes, and often Jack and the other boys in the class teased Laura about her size.
Like Annie, Laura put up a good front about the teasing, which was meant in fun, but still hurt. Moreover, most days, she laughed it off, but if she was anything like Annie, she probably went home really upset some days. Finally, she had had enough teasing. The fact that the class had the rare indoor recess, which prevented excess energy to be run off, probably contributed to the girls’ decision to write Jack a coded letter, one that he would never, ever crack.
Annie, who had had more than her share of embarrassments and humiliations through the years, should have known better. Annie wanted to be liked by Laura, though, and didn’t speak up. Not to Laura, not to the other girls, and of course, not to the teacher because that would have been being a tattle-tale.
So during this indoor recess, Laura, Annie, and all the other girls sat together in the corner writing a coded letter to Jack. A simple substitution code was suggested by one of the girls. It was a little more complex, but easy enough to crack if the letter starts with “Dear Jack.” The first line was: “You are a rat fink,” which was one of the highest insults at the time. It was followed by a few other lines with similar mean things. As the girls wrote it, they giggled because once he got this note it would drive him crazy trying to figure it out. He wouldn’t, after all, and they would have gotten away with it.
Of course, he did figure it out, and he was crushed. Like Annie would have been in the same situation, he was hurt and humiliated. But also like Annie, he kept his head up and pretended. He was after all Jack! The teacher made the girls apologize, and they did, but the damage was done. It took a couple days for life in this fifth grade classroom to stabilize and normal boy-girl teasing to resume.
Annie always wanted to personally apologize for her part in the prank, but the opportunity never seemed to arise when she could speak only to Jack. She should have said something in Sunday school, but she didn’t. Then time passed, and life went on. Over the years, she never got to say that she was sorry.
Like Annie’s getting an F in arithmetic in front of the whole class in third grade, some things are not easily forgotten. Like Annie’s “gift” those things linger in the mind long after the event. So, long after this event, every so often, Annie still thinks about it, remembers the song he once sang to her and says, if only in her heart, “Jack, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”