Last week, my daughter and I went to see a production of “The Hundred Dresses” at BYU. Last month, we read the book by Eleanor Estes for the mother/daughter book group at our city library.
The story is about bullying, and the conflict and regret Maddie feels for not standing up to defend Wanda from her friend. Maddie justifies her inaction in several ways–the victim never complained or cried, and Maddie had a genuine fear of becoming a target herself. But she always felt that participation in the bullying, while mostly that of a passive bystander, was wrong. Then Wanda moved away.
The play constructs an ending in which Maddie is able to apologize to and receive forgiveness from Wanda, but the book, like reality, lacks this neat resolution. Maddie is never able to apologize and make things right with Wanda. Not being able to apologize may be worse than admitting you are wrong. I know exactly how that feels.
When I was growing up, I desperately wanted to have friends and especially to have a best friend. I distinctly felt like a back up friend; someone other kids would hang out with only if their preferred friends were gone for the day or mad at them. I was the neutral agent, the peacemaker in minor playground disputes. But I was no one’s first choice, and was desperately unhappy because of that.
LaTosha and I exchanged Best Friends jewelry in 5th grade; it was the first time anyone wanted to share a necklace with me. That year, a new girl moved into our school. Her name was Jamie. Not many new people came to our little town, so a new kid in school was a unusual. I saw this as an opportunity to make a new friend. Jamie didn’t know that I had few friends; she had fewer friends in this school than I did. So it would be perfect if we became friends. And we did. Jamie, LaTosha, and I were friends. But three’s a crowd, and soon it was Jamie and LaTosha who were best friends, and I was back to being a bench warmer. It didn’t take long before Jamie started being mean to me, making the catty little comments that hurt long after the actual words were forgotten.
But it didn’t last forever. After a few months, Jamie’s family was moving again. Her last day at our school, she was especially mean to me. And I’d had it. I told her that she was ugly, that no one at our school had really liked her, and that she was FAT.
And then I got on the bus and left. I looked out the window and saw her, still on the asphalt outside the school, trying to scrub away tears and control the sobs. Less than a minute had passed, and already the heat of anger and flush of triumph had faded, and I was left with the stomach-turning sourness of shame. I would have apologized then, but it was too late. I never saw Jamie again.
Jamie was a cute little girl. She was plump, and it is a special kind of meanness for a skinny little girl to call a plump, unhappy little girl “fat.” And Jamie moved at least twice during that school year, from one insular small town in rural Texas to another.
It is impossible to avoid offending others in this world, just as it is impossible to avoid all hurt. But I never want to guilty of that malicious cruelty again. I avoid deliberately insulting anyone, because I do not want to find myself offensive.
The play continues at BYU this weekend.