My Mosaic; Created From Life's Experiences
Not Just One 'Ah-ha!' Moment
Trying to pinpoint one eureka moment that influenced me so greatly my life changed course because of it is difficult. In my life I have experienced several moments of great clarity. Each arrived at through an event, mistake or contribution; lessons with an underlying purpose. Experiences grown from life and people encountered, each of them a small eureka moment gathered and carried with me. One of these was the first time I was challenged to take a stand against a threat and for myself.
My Old School
Fight or Flight
When I was 11 years-old, my mother moved my brother, sister and myself with her to a new state. I moved in with one aunt, my sister with another and my brother yet another because there was not room for all of us to live in one place. Meanwhile my mom would stay in between houses while looking for work. The area I moved into was predominantly African-American city that was rough and known for its violence. I was a blonde haired, green eyed little girl with no experience in any other culture or with any other race. Needless to say, being one of a handful of Caucasians in the school made me highly visible.
My first day of sixth grade began in the third month of the school year. After finishing my registration process in the office, the lady who had aided me asked Carla – a girl about my age, but much taller and very slim – who was helping in the office, to take me to my classroom, which Carla was in also. We walked through the cemented gray halls, the echoes of our footsteps bouncing off the walls and flying back at us with a sharp ‘slap!’ It was much different from the school I had come from. There were no upper or lower floors at my old school. It was one long red brick building with rows of windows facing east and west. Inside it had always been bright from the sun or the yellowish-blue glow from the flickering fluorescent lights that lined the hall ceilings. Outside was a blacktop with yellow lines for playing four-square or wall ball, and tether-ball poles whose chains, when ball-free, could be heard clinking softly against the shiny pole with the breeze. Surrounding the black top were lawns thick with soft dark and light green grass. Many times at recess after playing with my friends I would lie on my back on the grass and watch the birds fly overhead or the clouds pass slowly by. The smell of the lawn, the sound of the kids, and the feel of the gentle wind would nearly lull me to sleep, and I would have to fight hard to push myself up off of the lawn to go back into school and reawaken my mind. Now I found myself in a school where instead of grass surrounding the black top, a fence taller than any I had seen before encircled the school setting a clear boundary for the kids.
As Carla and I reached the top of the stairwell, she began talking to me. She commented on my hair, asked where I came from and if I had any brothers or sisters. I responded with nervous excitement; I had an older brother and sister but they lived somewhere else. Carla began casually talking about the classroom and how the teacher we had is a substitute - the third substitute. They had not had a regular teacher all year yet, and in her experience, that was not unusual. I looked at her as she spoke, and wondered how much experience an 11 year-old girl could have? Okay, maybe Carla was 12. She did look more mature now that she was closer to me. Or it could be the way she talked; with such knowledge. She walked with confidence too; straight upright, arms swinging further backward than forward and her feet establishing a firm direction which carried the rest of her along with no awkwardness and a objective.
We reached the end of the hall and stood facing a closed door on the right side of the hall. It was a big solid wooden door with an old round doorknob on the outside. There was no window in the door, which struck me as odd, although I didn’t know why. Carla looked at me and smiled while her left hand reached for the doorknob which she very quietly and slowly turned. At the same moment I felt her right hand suddenly on my back pushing me forward. As she did this, she pulled the door open to allow the smallest of cracks and her right hand, now on the back of my head, was pushing my face toward the opening. Her mouth was by my ear now. I felt her breath before I heard her words. “See that white girl in there?” she whispered. I did not answer, but did the slightest of nods. Carla’s right hand was still on the back of my head, and I knew she would feel my answer without much effort. “Make friends with her and I will hurt you.” Then her hand was suddenly off of my head and on my back, the door opened to its fullest width and I – the new kid – was tumbling into the classroom.
The Power of Critical Thinking
I remember sitting at my desk pondering my situation. What should I do? After realizing that Carla was not looking to become friends but instead trying to figure me out, I knew I had to stay on my toes. The interest in whether I had siblings was certainly to ascertain whether I had back-up, and I – in my anxiousness to make a new friend – had given away the answer. Her comments about my hair were not compliments, rather judgments being made about me and my outward appearance. I kept looking over at the girl Carla had told me to stay away from. During roll call I had found out her name was Jeanie. She was about my height, skinny and she looked like she was trembling. She reminded me of a Chihuahua; helpless and shaking at the thought of, well…everything. It was at that moment I had a awareness that could decide my fate and future at the school. If I made friends with Jeanie, I would be hurt. But, if I did not make friends with Jeanie, I would surely get hurt. It was obvious. If I rolled over, I would be just like Jeanie; sitting in my desk quivering with the uncertainty of what each day would bring me.
The lunch bell rang, and the classroom emptied. I got up out of my seat and made my way over to Jeanie. She remained sitting at her seat while pulling her lunch out from inside the desk. It was clear she spent all of her lunch time and quite possibly her entire school day in this spot. Jeanie was now looking up at me through the corner of her eye. “Hi.” I said. “My name is Shellie.”
A Lesson Taught by Accident
To be honest, I do not remember much of what happened after Jeanie and I became friends, except I just went about my day like every other 6th grader. I never got beat up. As a matter of fact, Carla and some other girls used to bring their boom box to school and play music during lunch for dancing, and I would join them. It became my opinion that Carla just wanted to rule the school and did so effectively with intimidation, but never did I see her actually fight anyone. One time she gave a book report by singing the song Fantasy by Earth, Wind & Fire and the current substitute teacher did not try to stop her. I remember how nervous the teacher looked during Carla’s ‘report’ and thought for sure that Carla must have threatened to hurt her if she taught us. Carla by accident taught me many things; tolerance, respect and in my case, kids are kids no matter what school you go to, you just have to take the time to learn about where you are.
This experience of learning that everything new can be scary; states, schools, people, but not allowing fear to run you, is one of those pieces – eureka pieces - I have carried. And at some fortuitous moment in my life, each unique, colorful and special piece will form a beautiful mosaic representing one grand moment of clarity.