Brenda was a mean girl. We were thrown together because we were all Sunday School together. She was snooty but tolerated me the best she could in Sunday School because I was preferable to Mary Bragg, an overweight girl who constantly complained other girls were “talking” about her. We usually weren’t, because we’d already done that and moved on. I guess I was a mean girl wanna be.
At any rate, Though Brenda could tolerate me at Sunday School, it was a different story at school. Sometimes I tried to buddy up to her, only to be rebuffed when a real friend came along. The thing about Brenda was, she was mad about horses. I had a horse. From time to time, her yearning to ride a horse got the best of her and she’d ask to come ride my horse. I was would have played with a rattlesnake if it hadn’t bitten me too many times, so I was glad to have her. We doubled up on Ol’ Frosty and plod along being good friends as looming as the ride lasted.
Once in a great while, Brenda and her older sister Sandy, also a mean girl, the age of my older sister Phyllis, would invite Phyllis and me over. One Sarurday, we all climbed on the honeysuckle-covered fence in their backyard and slid all one long, glorious afternoon. I remember Phyllis asking if they were sure it was okay. Sandy answered , “Sure, we climb this fence all the time.” We rode that fence to the ground. The next day in Sunday School, Brenda was mad at me. It seems they’d gotten a “whuppin” for our afternoon’s shenanigans and Mr. Davis “wished he could get his hands on us!” I never cared to go back over.
Several years ago, I saw Brenda’s obituary in the paper. I wonder if she’ll talk to me in the unlikely event I meet up with her in heaven. I know for sure I won’t be swinging on the Pearly Gates with her.
Vernell Mullins and Jessie Hollins cornered me as I headed out of the schoolhouse after school one terrible day, cutting me off from the troop exiting the building. Backing me against me against the wall, they bent over and got right in my face. “We’re gonna pull your pants down and look at your tile.” (They pronounced it tile, but I know now they had to have meant tail) I was terrorized. They must have been at least sixteen. To have been singled out by them for such a horrific and shameful threat changed my life. It had never occurred to me before that I had any such thing to fear from them or anyone else. We were so modest at our house that we didn’t even refer to our private parts or answer from the outhouse. Thankfully, they had accosted me in a public place. I could hear their vicious laughter as I fled. My shame overwhelmed me. I obsessed over it but would have never told Mama, feeling I had somehow deserved it. I was quiet the rest of the day at home, dreading another such attack tomorrow.
The next day and every day thereafter, I gave them a wide berth, taking care never to get caught alone anywhere. I felt like prey, about to be run down any time. Coming in from school one afternoon, I got a biscuit and glass of milk as always, along with Mama’s usual admonition to change out of my school clothes and hang up my dress before I went out to play. Mama was having coffee with Miz Reagan when I came back through. “Oh did you hear the terrible news?” asked Miz Reagan. “Vernell Mullins died today. Her kidneys just shut down and she died! They thought she just had the flu……a young person like her. Isn’t that just the saddest thing?”
I was ecstatic! After the fear I’d been living with the past couple of weeks, news of Vernell’s death was a blessed relief. Then and there, I started praying for Jessie’s death, watching her hopefully for signs of developing illness over the next few days. Even eighty years later, knowing Vernell’s death was not a judgment from God, in one little six-year-old corner of my heart, I can still remember the macabre joy with which I received the news.