Her middle name was Rose,
and she reminded me of one.
Small and fragile,
like a petal that would tear if too tightly pulled,
she was a flower.
The thorns were never hers, though -
they were put there by the barbs of other students’
words, the ones who
taunted her for being different.
Clara Rose was special.
She combined words into one sentence
that you would never dream of ever putting together;
she had a habit of scrunching up her nose
to keep her glasses on, and her
voice was unlike any that I have ever heard.
They laughed at her, as kids do when
they do not understand a person.
They laughed and the cruelty of junior-highers
is a yet unrivaled form of inhumanity.
But Clara did not hate – she seemed
incapable of it – and instead she stuck with us.
Once, in eighth grade, we were
practicing throwing and catching a baseball in gym class
and Clara was, of course, in our group.
My friends and I tried our hardest
to teach Clara how to catch a ball but it was hopeless -
she cringed in fear every time the ball came near.
Nevertheless, we kept trying, my softball-playing friends
utilizing every ounce of their skill to help her.
I remember the gym teacher standing
a distance away, watching.
After class, she called us into her office.
Said, “Thank you” and handed
us a piece of candy.
She meant it in kindness but I remember
not eating the candy, that we all
threw it away, that we did not want any reward
for showing compassion to Clara
other than the smiles and laughter
of a rose learning how to bloom.
Clara became a familiar shadow by our side,
the puppy at our heels that we could always count on
to be with us. Every time we moved up a grade,
she was with us, never in our
classes but always at our lunch table,
our field trip group, our
team in gym class.
The only time I ever went to the principal’s office
was because of Clara.
A group of girls who sat near us
in the school cafeteria took every second they
weren’t chewing on food to chew on us.
My friends and I ignored their barbs aimed at us,
but when they took to telling Clara
to bark for them like a dog, we had had enough.
We asked a supervisor if we could
change seats because the girls
were bullying Clara, and somehow, I still cannot
remember exactly how, we were
gathered into Mr. White’s office. A bald man
with an extraordinarily round face
shining with sweat, he was the assistant principal.
I remember clearly that his response
to our defense for Clara was to say, “Well,
the other girls were in here crying,” as if
their tears somehow made us to be the villains.
Clara walked the halls of my school for four years.
Sometime in my freshman year
of high school, she skipped up to me
and told me that she was moving.
The next week, she was gone.
I don’t think many people realized that she was no
longer with us – the ones who noticed didn’t care.
I don’t even know if Clara missed us,
if she was truly capable of realizing we were no longer
But my friends and I, we stood in our circle
in the mornings and we remembered
the rose petaled girl with
mischievous brown eyes
and we gathered a bouquet
of memories in our hands.