(OR The Most Embarrassing Moment of My Childhood)
I get it, Amber P., that ultimately you were threatened that I was going to steal your BFF. I hope that in the 25 years since this has happened, you've learned how to value other people and treat them with respect. You certainly taught me a lesson on the matter.
I should have been suspicious when, out of the blue, Amber P. invited me to spend the night at her house. You see, Amber P. and I weren't really friends. We had a mutual friend, Kacey, who happened to be Amber P.'s best friend. In hindsight, I'm sure Kacey talked to me because she was a compassionate person and saw that I needed a friend. I didn't have a lot of those in elementary school, and spent many a recess walking the perimeter of the chain-link fence alone with my thoughts as I watched the other kids play. It wasn't every day that Kacey would break off from her clique and come talk to me, but it was enough to make me feel special. And that drove Amber P. crazy.
I was quick to accept Amber P.'s invitation. I thought she was pretty, and cool, and I was elated that someone like her wanted to hang out with me. I felt especially privileged once we actually got to her house—a new log cabin style home located on the lake just outside of town. It was a well-known fact to my child mind that if you lived on the lake, it meant you had money—and Amber P.'s home was a stiff reminder that she had a hell of a lot more of it than I did.
But you know what? After I was there a while, after we spent some time doing our hair in her giant bathroom mirror and having snacks, I felt comfortable. I felt okay. Maybe Amber P. was starting to see me as less of a threat and more of a friend. Maybe I wouldn't have to face the remainder of my recesses alone.
Some time late into the night, we retreated to her finished basement. I remember there being so much space that I could have easily gotten lost down there. We settled on her sectional couch, and she started some music. I later went on to develop an intense and passionate relationship with music, but that wouldn't happen for another year. This was my first time hearing Michael Jackson's Thriller, and Amber P. decided it would be fun to listen to it in the dark. Without telling me first.
Perhaps it's important to note that I have had a long-time fear of the dark, and it wasn't until I was in my 20's that I felt comfortable sleeping without some kind of nightlight. Also, I was raised in a very religious home, and at the age of this story, had been led to believe that things that went bump in the night were to be taken very seriously. After all, that's how the devil gets a foothold. But I do digress...
Amber P. flipped off the lights, and Michael sang on, and I got so completely freaked out that I screamed. Not just one sort-of scream, but panicked, erratic pleas as my arms flailed through the darkness. I begged her to turn on the lights, but she laughed in reply as I scrambled about, making a fool of myself all the while.
I somehow stumbled to the bottom of the staircase as the lights flashed back on. Amber P. was standing in the middle of the room, still laughing at me. My screams had turned to embarrassed whimpers, and I felt stupid for having shown that childish side of myself. I was just starting to understand that there was a definite social hierarchy at school, and my actions in Amber P.'s basement weren't going to help me get any more popular.
Too bad things didn't end there.
The lights remained on, and Amber P. and I settled into the sectional to talk about what all straight fifth-grade girls talk about: boys. My crush at the time was Dave B. I don't remember much about him, except that he had brownish-blond hair and sat in the desk facing mine. You see, our teacher had decided that instead of lining our desks in rows, it would be better to put us in groups of four, with our desks facing each other. I sat directly across from Dave B., and kitty-corner from Amber P. That gets important later.
As Amber P. and I talked, I learned that not only did she know Dave B. from school, but their families were friends. She seemed thrilled that I liked him, and encouraged my crush. It was, in fact, Amber P. who suggested that the best way to declare my love for him would be to write it on the back of one of her notebooks. But she didn't want me to merely write our first names—she was only satisfied once I'd penned out: Michelle Reeves hearts Dave B________.
Fast forward to school on Monday morning. I'm minding my own business, facing Dave B., kitty-corner from Amber P., when lo and behold, what does she pull out of her desk? Oh, just that little ol' notebook that happened to bear my penmanship on the back cover. And what did she do with it? You know what she did with it. Smile on her pretty little face, she handed it over to my crush—taking care to point out my darkest of secrets, which I myself had confessed in ink.
As it turned out, Dave B. didn't reciprocate my feelings.
Mortified, I lifted up the lid to my desk (I will ever be grateful for that desk lid, I can promise you that) and hid inside of it as much as possible for the remainder of the day. I didn't think to blame Amber P. at first for any of it. It was my fault I'd written it on the notebook, and in pen no less! As if having written it in pencil would have changed anything. I was honestly so surprised to see that notebook come out of her desk that it took a while for the whole thing to sink in. I don't think I told my parents what happened, as my mother was more inclined to one up misery than console it, but I do remember faking a tummy ache the next day in order to stay home from school.
In the end, Amber P. got what she wanted—I never spoke to her or Kacey again. But I got over it. Just like I've gotten over lots of other crappy stuff that's happened in my life. I have enough empathy to realize now, as an adult, that Amber P.'s behavior was learned, and that someone taught her how to be that manipulative. But that still doesn't excuse it.
Just because I understand why someone's acting like a bully doesn't give them permission to be a bully. By no means did I have an easy childhood, yet somehow I've grown up to be a kind, loving and conscientious woman. It's not fair to blame behavior on where you came from when you have a say in who you are and who you want to be.
As for Amber P.? Wherever she is, I wish her the best. After all, that's what I'd want in return.