Her name was Rebecca Rollins, and to this day she is still quite possibly the scariest person I have ever met. I grew up in a very small resort town in Southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains. Every one pretty much knew everyone and nobody’s business was their own. Rebecca had moved into my neighborhood when I was in 8th grade and made an impression right from the start. She was a tough girl and she and her brother were trouble with a capital “Holy Shit Stay the Hell Away From Those Two!” Her brother was a master pyromaniac and had been caught on a number of occasions for setting fires to trashcans, or various parts of people homes. You know, porches, garages, and fences. Anything with wood was an object of desire for him.
One night I was going to take a shower and looked out the bathroom window to see flames dancing in the beveled glass. I ran out and told my mom and thankfully she was able to put the trashcan that was on fire out before any real damage had been done. The trashcan had been pushed up against our neighbor’s house. It was not a matter of who did it, because everyone knew. I’m not really sure what happened to Rebecca’s brother, but I do know the cops were involved and all of a sudden the fires stopped.
Rebecca was a whole different problem. She liked to fight. Well, she moved to the right town. In my town there were always two sides to a conflict: attacker and victim. Guess which one Rebecca was? She had bragged to us neighborhood kids once that every time she won a fight, her mother would bake her a cake. How’s that for family values? We all just stared at her and I reminded myself to not ever piss Rebecca off. A few weeks later, Rebecca got into a fistfight with another girl who also had quite the reputation for being a bad ass. The other girl was a junior in high school. Rebecca was in the 8th grade. Rebecca won. This did not bode well for the rest of us. She used her new sense of power well and reminded us daily just who the Alpha in the neighborhood was.
I was lucky enough to stay off of Rebecca’s radar for a number of months. She was busy beating up other girls and I was busy playing with my own friends. Until one fateful day I had gotten into a stupid girl argument with my friend Carol. Carol and I were on the bus and we were being nasty to one another. It was a verbal argument and we hadn’t even raised our voices. My friend Teresa was there as well and did her best to stay neutral and let Carol and I work it out. But what I didn’t take into account was the X factor. Rebecca must have decided she was hungry for cake and I was going to be her next victim. I had grown fast and at 5’8”, I was a good 2 to 3 inches taller than Rebecca. You may have thought that this would deter her. Nope. The bigger the conquest, the more dangerous her reputation grew and I was about to add to that reputation. As Carol and I were talking back and forth between one another Rebecca leaned in and told me point blank that I needed to shut up and at my bus stop she was going to kick my ass. I am a dead woman, was all I could think. I’m too young to die. I haven’t even written a will. Who will I leave all my cassettes and friendship bracelets to?
The bus pulled up to my stop and true to her word, Rebecca followed me off the bus. All the other kids followed her. When did everybody move into my neighborhood? How could the bus driver let this go down? There was obviously going to be a fight. Or in this case, a murder. I started walking down the street but Rebecca didn’t let me get too far. Couldn’t I even die on the land my family owned? No, the fight was going to go down in front of my friend Teresa’s house. Rebecca stood her ground and I was doing my best to not cry right there in front of my entire school.
“I’m going to kick your ass.” She told me.
“I’m not going to fight you,” I said, pulling myself up to my full height. “This is between me and Carol. It’s none of your business.”
“It’s my business now,” she said, and I could tell by the look in her eyes that she actually believed this. I just stood there looking at her and looking at the crowd of kids gathered around us, when I noticed Carol. Carol was fine with this going down. She was really going to let this happen. I couldn’t believe it. That’s it! No more friendship bracelets for Carol. She was officially out of the circle of trust.
“This isn’t going to happen. I’m not going to be the reason you go home and eat cake tonight,” I told her, and then Teresa and I went into Teresa’s house. On our way in I heard Rebecca call me all sorts of names: Chicken, Bitch, Wimp. She let me know loud and clear that she was planning on finishing this, and I knew she meant it. Once inside Teresa’s house I broke down into tears. I was terrified because I had to face Rebecca on the bus the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. I had a serious target on my back and I was going to have to deal with this eventually.
Nothing really happened for a few weeks but Rebecca made sure to give me daily reminders of her Alpha status. Then one day I was coming in from recess and all the kids were supposed to be outside. I had asked if I could use the restroom and one of the teachers told me I could. I went inside the building and opened the door to the girl’s bathroom and my stomach knotted up so fast I thought I was going to vomit. Rebecca and two of her friends had a girl named Connie backed up against the wall. Connie was one of the two black students at my school, and in my town, that was enough to make her a target of constant harassment. Connie was also the foster child of my cousin Mark, who was a minister at the Calvary Chapel. I hadn’t been willing to fight Rebecca for myself, but Connie was family.
Connie’s eyes were terrified. When she saw me she looked at me like I was a glass of water and she had been wandering the desert for weeks. I swallowed the bile that had now accumulated in the back of my throat and realized I had to face the dragon. I walked across the girl’s bathroom and stepped between Connie and Rebecca’s goons. If Connie was going to take a beating I was going to take one along side her. I looked down at Rebecca and summoned my inner Clint Eastwood. “I heard there was a fight in here. I love fights,” I said, giving her the crazy eyes. I just stood there, praying my bluff would work and she would think I was actually crazy enough to go through with this.
Nope. She called, and raised. “Are you really going to protect this N—-r?”
She didn’t just say that. Did she? My fake bravado wasn’t necessary any more. I was enraged. “Don’t you EVER call her that!” I yelled. “She’s my cousin!”
Rebecca must have seen something change in my eyes, because the strangest thing happened. She stood there for a second looking at me, and then she backed up. She told her friends they were leaving and then she just walked out of the bathroom. Once I was able to catch my breath I looked over at my cousin Connie and she was in tears. “Stacy, I was so scared,” she said, hugging me tight. That made two of us.
Later that afternoon as I rode the bus, I kept one eye on Rebecca for the entire ride. She never even glanced in my direction that day or any other. She never bothered me again. Word got out about what had happened in the girls bathroom that day and the target on Connie’s back seemed to disappear. The other kids stopped picking on her and neither one of us heard the N-word uttered in our presence again. All I was missing now was some cake.
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