Juju sat at her table, no longer called a school desk, and stared across at the two giggling girls. It was the beginning of fifth grade and the year Harrison Lane tried a new concept in teaching…big open rooms with small tables for each kid all arranged together in a big L shape. Two teachers commanded the group of kids for two general periods a day, then the big split occurred. The students were shepherded off to math, english, and science classes according to aptitude scores and their skill level.
In fourth grade the groups had been called: High, Medium, and Low. Juju was in High, but even then she knew it was pretty demoralizing when the teacher yelled, “Low kids, get in the hall!” The “new concept” teaching of her fifth year changed the names of the groups to: 1, 2, and 3. Even the 3s figured out they were the old Lows…look around, yeah there is the kid that sits in the corner and picks his nose for sport…same group.
Susan and Terry sat there and giggled and pointed across the table at Juju most every day….she was tired of it. She didn’t like to tattle-tale, so she was going to have to take matters in her own hands. Terry was a 3, but Susan was a 1 with Juju in every class of the day….she should know better than to pick on people. Juju told them she knew they were talking about her..they didn’t try to hide it, they even pointed at her, said her name loud enough for her to hear.
Juju could have just walloped them, she was taller than every kid in her class, except Louis. Louis was a kid that would grow on to over 6’8″ and play college basketball…Juju liked the fact he was in her class. She would not be the tallest kid in the class picture this year. Juju decided that physically going after them was not the right tact, people would deem that unfair of her anyway. She decided to use the same weapon they were using, a verbal attack.
Every day for the next week, Juju would walk up behind the two girls in the crowded hall of Harrison Lane Elementary….she would bend down and whisper one word in their ear. She did this for five days in a row, Monday thru Friday….she noticed the taunting had stopped by the second day…but she threw in three more days just for good measure. Her plan, it seemed, had worked…she was feeling pretty good that Friday afternoon in math class for the 1s. Susan looked at her from across the room and had a funny smile on her face…a Cheshire cat kind of smile. Juju wondered what that was about?
The 3:05 bell sounded and math class was over, time to go and enjoy the weekend! Juju’s mother was waiting in the front drive of the school, she was especially excited because they were going sneaker shopping today…it was a good day! Mrs. Threadgill, the math teacher called out to Juju as she hit the door. She told her to go back to her homeroom to see Mrs. Dennard about something. Juju trotted off, not knowing what she was about to walk into…not knowing it had to do with that one single word she had been uttering into the ears of her two tormenting adversaries.
She walked into the large expanse of the homeroom and saw a strange site. There stood Mrs. Dennard, Terry, Susan, and their two mothers!! She walked over to the desk and Mrs. Dennard said they were all talking and concerned about something the two girls were saying that Juju had called them in the hall. Mrs. Dennard asked if Juju had said the word and she responded yes. She was admonished and made to apologize to the girls. When asked why she had said such a word, Juju related that the girls had been mocking her for being different…laughing at her daily. Susan and Terry denied the allegation and tearfully looked up at their respective mothers. Juju felt as if she were about to explode in tears….tears of anger. She loved Mrs. Dennard and couldn’t believe that she was siding with them! Juju was dismissed and walked with head held low to her mother’s car.
Juju sat down in the front seat and started to bawl. What is wrong, her mother asked?
Juju related the story…the ENTIRE story, it came flowing out of her in pace with the tears. Jewel became incensed and jumped out of the car and headed to the classroom. Juju’s mother entered the homeroom to find the teacher and two mothers still chatting. She went into a rage, berating the teacher for having this obviously planned meeting without filling her in…without having her present. Jewel was furious that she had been left sitting in the car while 3 adults ganged up on Juju. She left the three women standing there aghast as she exited the room and yelled back one parting shot. “And MY daughter has a right to use that word any damn time she wants to…it is her right!!”
Jewel came back to the car looking like she had flames sticking out the top of her head. Juju was thinking the anger was directed at her….for saying the word. Jewel looked at Juju and asked her if she wanted to go to Sears or the shoe store on Pipeline Road? Juju knew she was a “1” but she was having trouble processing all that had happened. Why was her mother looking at her with that weird look on her face….tears in her eyes and a smile. Juju had never seen that combination on a face before, it befuddled her.
As they pulled into the parking lot of Sears, Jewel asked her daughter if she knew what the word actually meant? The irony was that Juju did not know what it meant. She just knew it had been thrown in her direction before and the general consensus at the school was that it was the lowest thing you could call another kid. Her mother told Juju that it meant different from normal, not the usual.
They walked into the store to buy a new pair of black and white Keds “track” shoes..the ones that had the narrow heel and pointed up at the toe…just like Juju had seen on the Olympics. Juju reached for her mother’s hand and gave it a squeeze. A moment of thanks passed from daughter to mother. Juju laughed aloud and said, “that was a QUEER afternoon, wasn’t it?” She liked making her mother laugh…and deep down Juju was feeling pretty darn good. She was getting the greatest track shoes ever and she now had a new word that described herself perfectly.