Maybe I was silently disapproving and didn't say anything--this is the way I want to remember it. (These are the kind of games my memory is playing on me. Did I provoke it? Uncertain. Did I deserve it? Maybe. But was I guilty of the crime? No.)
It's eighth grade. Gym class.
The locker room is divided in two--the front room for those who belong to sports teams and have lockers (the popular, the loved), and the back room for those who do not (the unnoticed, the undeveloped). I change in the back, near the showers. (On an unlucky day, those who change in the back might return to find their clothes in the shower, soaked. Better the shower than the toilet, though.) We pull on our matching gym uniforms, silk-screened with our maroon school letters, ripe with weeks of sweat and fear.
From the front room, there's the smell of smoke. A lit cigarette. No--lit cigarettes.
This is where my memory falters. (Surely, I said something? I had a sharp tongue, strong opinions and little foresight. I want to believe I was silent, but it's unlikely.) Shoes untied, I leave the change room, smoke wafting out the door behind me. I join the class sitting cross-legged on the gymnasium floor and wait for direction.
I won't rat them out. Jenny B, who I love and admire, is amongst the smokers. (Only two short years before the change room divide, we would take my red wagon into the woods and pretend to run away. We would share a bed at her grandma's house in Crane Lake, squealing when the pet pig charged after us. We are friends, I think.)
I won't rat them out, but someone else will.
After class, I'm cornered. They are suspended from school and I am to blame. (Jenny B tries to defend me, but it's useless.) I am innocent, but there's no way to prove it. I'm the obvious suspect. I am the sitting duck. Me and my big mouth. Me and my strong opinions. Me and my complete lack of foresight.
What they don't understand is that I don't follow the rules because I'm a brown-noser--I follow the rules because I want to be different and it's the only way I know how. Their brand of rebellion is inconsequential to me.
Maybe the daily threats to beat me up start then. Maybe they start earlier. But after school, they begin to follow me in a pack, teeth bared and profanities echoing down the street. They finally have a reason to bite.
One night I decide to walk home from school and get caught up in flirting with Justin along the way. When I finally arrive shortly before dinner, my mom breathes a sigh of relief. She was certain I had been jumped and left in the ditch.