What I regret most about being a mean girl.
Those words are both blog post title and personal confession in the wake of a conversation with an old friend at our 45th class reunion.
"Do you remember Katya Luwamala?" he asked as he sat down beside me.
"Very well," I replied.
"Do you remember when Katya was sent home the first week of school?" my friend asked.
I shook my head. "No."
"She wore a jumpsuit to school. No one would even notice it now, but apparently it was taboo in 1965." He paused. "You know, the girls in our class weren't very nice."
"They ostracized her from then on. She was so different with her white-blond hair, her strange clothes, and lack of social skills."
"She picked her nose and ate her boogers, too. Looking back, I wonder if she had high functioning autism. She was so smart, she couldn't relate to other kids. But you should know something." I took a deep breath. "I was one of the mean girls."
He gave me a quizzical look. "You?"
I told him how Katya had been placed in my mother's third grade classroom in the small, midwestern town where we lived. I was in a different section of the same grade, enduring a difficult school year among classmates who kept their distance because I was weirdly creative, poorly coordinated, and the daughter of the strictest teacher in the building. Mom encouraged a friendship between Katya and me the summer after third grade, and we played together often. She was unlike any friend I'd ever had–highly imaginative, well-traveled, brilliant, and a little odd. We spent hours dressing up and acting out the adventures she narrated. I loved playing with her.
"I was barely above Katya in the social pecking order. I was her only friend, but when I had played with her after that, I was ostracized, too. So I abandoned her. I even let the mean girls talk me into asking her why she picked her boogers. You won't believe what she told me."
"She said that when she was sixmis she became very sick. So sick she almost died. She could only eat one thing. Her boogers. And she still had to eat them to stay alive."
My friend burst out laughing, and I joined him.
"That story was brilliant. I went back and told the mean girls, of which I was now one, and they believed every word. I hope she found some satisfaction in duping us."
"I don't think so." He shook his head. "In the mornings, I often saw her crying in the corner of the north entrance before school. She was miserable. I think that's why her family moved the next summer and never came back. Do you know where they went?"
His words broke my heart. He didn't know they confirmed what I regret most about being a mean girl–I made her life miserable because she was different.
I have searched for her online many times. But I'm not sure how to spell her name, and my mother can't remember either. She will never know how much I regret abandoning her. She will never hear me apologize for my weakness.
What I regret most about being a mean girl is knowing God has forgiven my childhood indiscretion, but I will never know if Katya has done the same.
When I think of her, I ask God to lavish His healing love on her, to make His Son real to her, to affirm that He made her brilliant and odd and imaginative in His image. Then I pray for a new generation of children to be more accepting of the differences among them so they will not hurt others or carry the regrets of causing others pain with them for the rest of their lives.
Katya, if you ever stumble upon this blog post, please know that I am truly sorry.
Jolene Philo is the author of the Different Dream series for parents of kids with special needs. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences around the country. She's also the creator and host of the Different Dream website. Sharing Love Abundantly With Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities, which she is co-authoring with Dr. Gary Chapman, will be released August 6, 2019 and is available for preorder now on Amazon.