I don’t remember all the events that led up to the great showdown between me and Amy Rainer in seventh grade. She had everyone under her thumb, terrified of getting on her bad side, and I wasn’t sure why. She wasn’t particularly cute, smart, talented, or fashionable. She didn’t wield any real power. She was a little gruff seeming, kind of loud, pimple-faced, and on the husky side.
She had a boyfriend, but he wasn’t particularly cool or sporty or anything. He was more like her assistant, kind of skinny, kind of quiet. He’d save her a seat, carry her books, buy her milkshakes at the McDonald’s across the street from school. Steve, I think his name was. Or maybe Scott.
She didn’t have friends so much as a group of kids who were scared of her always hanging around. But no one liked her. I knew that because they’d tell me so, in private, as if apologizing for their association with her. Like I’d be washing my hands in the bathroom and the girl beside me would say, “I’m not really friends with Amy I just hang out with her because I don’t want her to be mad at me.”
I was new at the school, a mid-year transfer student, but the other kids had come up together, and the roles were set. They had no choice, Amy was in charge of them and that’s just how it was.
So her pack would complain to me about her and the things she did but they never told her what they had to tell her: We don’t like you. You’re mean. I don’t want to be your boyfriend anymore. Get your own french fries. Don’t embarrass me in class. Don’t act like you’re better than I am.
So even though she wasn’t super-bright she wasn’t a dope either and she could see that her people were talking to me at lunchtime and recess and after school before we’d get on the busses home. Making friends. And after all I’d heard I was not making friends with her or paying any kind of tribute. I didn’t want any part of that whole dynamic. So I was surprised when one day she walked up to me and challenged me to a fight.
“A fight?” I said.
“Yeah, a fight,” she said. “If you think you’re so tough and you want to take me on then meet me behind the McDonald’s after school.” And she walked off dramatically.
I thought she was joking. I did not think I was so tough at all. As the child of a university professor and violin-playing physician, I’d never prioritized physical prowess. I’d never even seen anyone fight physically, and true to my liberal agnostic type people I was a pacifist. I was sure that if I showed up she and I could talk it out and chalk up to confusion whatever animosities we’d developed.
I showed up at the parking lot. Her entourage and even Steve was there, and they rallied around me, pep talking me to take her down. She never showed. I “won” by default. But I did not celebrate. I felt bad for Amy, whose fair weather friends had all treasoned.
The next day at school she and I acted like nothing had happened, even though the other kids wanted us to play roles around the drama. The Amy Rainer era was over but I would not take the seventh grade crown. I didn’t need to gloat or apologize. I just kept going, being myself, showing up, and hoping that maybe just maybe people around me might do the same. It’s more fun that way.