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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Valentine for Darlene

When my children were young and in grammar school, I would sit down with them near Valentine's Day and double check to make sure they had not forgotten anyone on their Valentines list and that everyone in their classes would receive a valentine.  

I would tell them how very important it was that no one was overlooked or left out.  This may seem strange to some.  But the reason I would do this was because of a little girl named Darlene who will reside in my memory forever.

Darlene was an ugly little girl.  I say this now, not to demean her as we did then, but to describe her as we thought of her.

She was fat.  She had brown hair that was never combed.  She wore clothes with holes.  The soles of her shoes were separated from the rest of her shoes so that when she sat at her desk you could see her toes.

My parents had moved into a new home and I had to change schools and I was new to the fourth grade class.  I knew no one on that first day.  When I sat down at my desk, I heard all the boys laugh.  And when I dropped my pencil and the plump little girl next to me handed it back, I heard them laugh again.

At recess one of the boys came up to me and filled me in.  He told me if Darlene had touched one of his pencils he would have thrown it away; that the cooties from her hair could jump at least as far as my desk and only the most unlucky person in the world would be caught sitting next to her.

I saw her on the playground, standing alone, watching the other girls as they stood in bunches and talked.  A few of them would cut sideways glances at Darlene, then whisper into another girls ear.  Darlene would turn her head away and pretend she didn't see.  Once she turned and looked at me.

When I think of that moment now, when our eyes met, I wonder what would have happened if I had walked over to her and spoken to her?  But I didn't do that.  I looked the other way and found someone else to talk to .

And when we went back inside, I slid my desk away from hers.  And I didn't speak to her.  I don't think I ever spoke to her.  But I did join the others in the class who made fun of her, who ridiculed her, until any self-esteem and confidence that she had were totally gone.

When she sat down at an activity table, the children at that table would slide their chairs to the opposite end so that all the chairs were bunched at one end with Darlene at the other.  And the class saw to it that she always ate lunch alone even though she was sitting in the middle of us.

On Valentine's Day, I threw her valentine away.  I didn't give her one.  Neither did anyone else.  I remember her sitting at her desk with her empty valentine bag while everyone else opened their valentines.  And we all thought it was funny.

This continued throughout the year and the next year, and the next.  Year after year.  I can't remember if she ever had a friend in school.

Looking back on this as an adult, I have often wished that I could go back in time to that playground long ago and reach out to Darlene and write her a thousand valentines.

Such wishes are to no avail.

So, the valentine that I hope I have given Darlene has been to teach my children the lessons I have learned; to respect everyone;  don't believe everything someone tells you about another person; to treat other people the way they would like to be treated; to speak to people on the playground; to slide your desk toward people, not away from them; and to give everyone a valentine.

Happy valentine's day, Darlene.

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