We toss the word love around like it’s cardboard, as though it’s something to be used up and discarded, then brought to life again.We love the coffee, and the dog, and the couch, and the food, and Friday. And somehow, we still manage to believe that we have given enough meaning to the word to say it to each other…. I love you.
But what is it really?
She walked to school alone. Every day. By herself. She waited for the walking signals and crossed the streets just like she always did. Her backpack slung over her shoulder, her untied shoe laces dancing around her feet. This girl blended into a crowd well. There was nothing amazing about her. Nothing eye-catching. She was just a girl living her life. Her pig tails flew out behind her as she ran across the playground at her elementary school.
The whole school knew that she wasn’t the popular one. In fact if we are honest, she was the one that everyone picked on. Her freckled face and round glasses made sure of that. She was extremely tall for her age and really didn’t fit in. Whatever “fitting in” really means.
I overhear her talking to her only friend. The only other misfit in the school which happened to be a little boy about half her height. His hair is really thin and slicked back with I don’t know how much gel. I sit under the slide and listen to their conversation.
“So, how are you doing with school and everything? People treating you OK?” The little boy shrugs his shoulders and leans back against the base of the monkey bars. He starts to speak, “Well, you know I get made fun of a lot. It doesn’t usually bother me. I mean, sometimes it does, but mostly it doesn’t.” I see him squint into the sun and look up at the girl. I know that I should know their names, but I don’t. I don’t know their names at all. I don’t care about them enough to get their names. Their just weird people to me.
I listen to the girl’s reply. “Well, I’m always here for you. You know that, of course. I know it’s tough. I get comments on my freckles and glasses at least every day. I mean, all the time.” She glances at her feet, which are about 2 times bigger than anyone else in the school. The boy looks at her and says, “I always liked your freckles and your pigtails too. They go well with your glasses, you know.” He smiles real big at her and she laughs back. They say something about being glad that they are friends ,and then they are off doing something else together.
Maybe, after this conversation, I should care about them more. But I don’t. I don’t care about them. They are complete misfits. I crawl out from under the slide and shake the grass out of my clothes. It doesn’t matter what they feel. I am going to make them miserable anyway.
I hear the school bell and quickly run inside the building. I sit in my seat and take notes on what the teacher is talking about. I watch the girl from the corner of my eye. She’s so studious. The boy is too, but I’m more concentrated on the girl. Probably because she bugs me the most. The day drags on and on. I focus a little bit more on my school work, but am so glad when the clock turns 12:30. It’s lunchtime and I can hardly wait to eat!
Then I remember something. I don’t have a lunch, because sometimes my mom doesn’t pack me one. She is so depressed these days, and my dad was drunk this morning. I probably could have packed something, but I just wanted to get out of the house as fast as I could. Sometimes, if my dad knows I’m around…well, I just needed to get out of the house as quick as I could manage.
My stomach is yelling at me as I recall that I haven’t eaten real food for at least 2 days now. And what we do have in the house isn’t enough to keep me full. I hold my stomach and try to make it so no one can notice. I see the pigtail girl swinging her lunch box full of food. As she passes me, I trip her on her way out the door. Her lunch box goes flying and her glasses crush underneath her weight.
Her only misfit friend rushes to her side and helps her up. He collects her lunch that’s strewn all around her. He says something to make her smile and she shakes off the whole ordeal. She knows that it was me that tripped her. Whatever. I don’t care. I bully her all the time. We all sit at the picnic tables and I watch as the others eat their lunch.
I rest my head on the table. I will myself not to cry. I cannot cry about my parents. I cannot cry about my hunger. I cannot cry about anything, because I am tough. I am real tough. I stay like this for what seems like hours, but it must have only been 5 minutes.
I feel someone nudge my shoulder. I look up to see pigtail girl staring straight back at me. But it’s not a mean stare and without her glasses, I can tell the color of her eyes. Their pure blue. I’ve never seen eyes so pretty. My face shows no emotion, well maybe it shows a little annoyance. “Yeah, what do you want?” My words come out forceful, mean. She doesn’t flinch at my tone of voice.
She just calmly hands me her whole lunch and says to me, “I noticed that you didn’t have anything to eat. I just really want you to have something to eat today. Plus, my family is having a big dinner tonight, so I can wait. Would you like my lunch today?” She presses the lunch into my hands. I would refuse it, but my hunger is so great, and I know that tonight I will have nothing to eat. My parents will be drunk and depressed, maybe even abusive.
I hesitantly take the lunch from her hands and place it on the table in front of me. I feel her hug me from behind and say, “Thank you so much!” I just nod my head and slowly eat her lunch.
I hear the two misfits talking. The boy is speaking quietly, “Why did you give her your lunch? She is only ever mean to you.” Their is no judgment in the boy’s voice, just full curiosity. And, quite frankly, I’m curious too. I don’t know why she gave me her lunch. I hear her voice, but just barely. “Well, I wanted to love her. In my head, I always said I loved her, but I never did anything about it. That’s not love. Today, I loved her. I hope there is a way I can love her tomorrow too.”
The rest of their conversation is lost on me, because I am so taken aback by her words.
She called it love.
Someone loves me and I know it’s true–because she showed it. Tomorrow will be different for me. Tomorrow, I will know their names and I will apologize for being such a bully. Maybe, it isn’t too late for me to love.
Something jolts inside of me, and I know that it is never too late for anyone to love. Because love is a choice. A constant choice. A place where you decide if you will love them and what you will do to show it. It is not love until it is acted.
The girl with the pigtails taught me the biggest lesson that I have ever needed to learn. All because she loved me. She loved her enemy.