I was happily skipping down the hall after my alter-ego, Balboa, told Gina Palmeri, the beastly-basketball-playing-bully, where she could stick it. I just assumed that would be THAT, because in elementary school, all I’d had to do was mouth off to bullies to get them to leave me alone. Sadly, up in the high school big leagues, this wasn’t the case. My bravado didn’t do much but piss this particular bully off and compel her to rally her troops of other basketball-playing-bullies to rain down a season of holy hell on Balboa. They started linking arms to block my way each day down the Junior and Senior hallway, daring me to touch them in order to forcibly break through. That seemed unwise, even to Balboa, so I would have to stand there, looking at their smirking faces, heartpoundingly, ashamedly, till the bell would ring and they’d finally disperse. After about a week of this humiliation and a week’s worth of late slips to Ecology class, earning me detention, I decided to take the long way to Ecology. Surely they’ll just forget I ever existed, Balboa told herself, feeling less and less like Balboa every day.
But the Baller Bitches, failing at their Red Rover hallway game, chose a new venue for their torment – the cafeteria. The Juniors and Seniors got free periods, where they could choose to go to the cafeteria to chill with the other popular kids or to the library to study with the intellectual types. Needless to say, Gina Palmeri and her crew were sharing a single brain cell and therefore could be found only in the cafeteria on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which unfortunately happened to be my lunch period. (Btw, WTF is up with class times being called “periods?” Couldn’t they come up with a more dignified word? Didn’t adolescent girls have to suffer enough?! “I’ll be enjoying my Doritos while sitting in my lunch period today.” GROSS!) Anywho. My lunch period (blecch) on Tuesdays and Thursdays happened to fall just after my P.E. period (ew), so I was always sweaty, red-faced, and disheveled at lunch because who had the balls to actually get naked and shower amongst her peers in the 9th grade? Not THIS flat-chested, big booty beanpole.
So seeing as how there was a lunch monitor and they couldn’t get away with their human barricade routine, Gina Palmeri & Co. embarked on a verbal assault campaign, all aimed at my physical appearance, which was really SO helpful to a girl of my age and stature. One day I was the Jolly Red Giant (a double-edged zinger aimed at my blushing complexion and my gangly 5’10” frame). Next day, I had dirty dishwater hair (a reference to my at-home attempt at “frosting” my do). Another day, they’d point out the gargantuan pimple with its own ZIP code on my forehead, or the ketchup stain on my white uniform shirt, or my mismatched knee socks (one navy, one black – I did that stupid shit all the time), or my unshaven legs, or my booblessness, or basically any other embarrassing flaw a 14-year-old girl could pray to go unnoticed.
One day, I passed by the Juniors’ table with my lunch tray and decided I’d taken enough. Balboa could be a bitch, too, I thought, so maybe I’d just give Gina Palmeri a taste of her own strychnine. As the girls were cackling and laughing, this time because my uniform, kilt-like skirt was askew, I turned around and said, WAY too loudly: “Oh yeah, well, Gina Palmeri, you’re a FAT ASS! Why don’t you look in the mirror before making fun of someone else?”
It was like a record scratched in the noisy cafeteria. All heads turned to me and slowly, synchronically, over to Gina Palmeri, who had actual smoke pouring out of her ears. Her face was bright red, just like mine. Oddly, my comeback didn’t inspire a John Hughes-esque teen movie moment. You know, the moment when the nerd stands up to the asshole popular kid, and someone starts slow-clapping just before the whole cafeteria breaks out in wild applause?
Apart from the lack of applause or any noise except for crickets, my moment just didn’t feel as good as it was supposed to. I wasn’t smugly satisfied as I turned my back and staggered over to the Freshman table—I was ashamed.
Twenty minutes later, I went to the bathroom to finally fix my skirt, and as I walked in, I ran smack into Gina Palmeri. Without hesitation, she grabbed my arms and pushed me so hard into the wall that my head hit the towel dispenser. I ricocheted back, and found myself facing not only Gina but her baller BFF, Jennifer DeLuca.
“Now what’re you gonna’ do,” Gina sneered, with a strange, glazed look in her eyes. I was scared. More scared than I’d ever been in my life. I tried to summon Balboa, but she was rocking herself in the corner. I think it was because I had done something Balboa had never dreamed of doing–I had bullied someone BACK, and that wasn’t the same thing as standing up for myself. It put me in the wrong, and that made Balboa feel sorry, and weak, and helpless. I closed my eyes, swallowed, and swallowed my pride.
“Nothing,” I replied. “I’m not going to do anything.”
Gina started shrieking with delighted laughter, and just then, the bell rang. “You lucked out this time,” she called, as she and Jennifer, still cackling, walked out of the bathroom. I stayed behind, looking at myself in the mirror, just as I’d challenged Gina Palmeri to do. I didn’t like what I saw.
That day, when I got home from school, I tearfully told my mom all about the weeks of torment, about my sinking to Gina Palmeri’s level, and about my ill-timed trip to the bathroom. I realized that Balboa couldn’t do it on her own anymore—she needed help before something much more serious happened. My mom called the school, and all it took was time in the principal’s office for Gina and Jennifer to back down and look the other way whenever they saw me. I never found out if they actually learned a lesson after it was all said and done. I just know that I did.
I’m in a book! It’s a hilarious collection of parenting stories called I Still Just Want To Pee Alone! Two different ways to order in the top of the right-hand sidebar, on every single page of this blog! Check it out!
Skeered you’ll miss a new Big Top Family post? Subscribe here!