I thought Clifton wanted to kill me.
When the elementary school bus dropped us off the first day, I jumped off and skipped my way towards my trailer. Thoughts of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and afternoon cartoons went through my mind as I shook off the stress of my second-grade classroom. My school was one of the best in San Jose, but sometimes it was hard to keep up with all the rules.
“GET THE GIRLS!”
The loud voice startled me, and I turned around to see who yelled. It was Clifton, the boy who lived on the next street over in our trailer park. He had three boys standing behind him. At his command, they took off after us, the girls who were walking home in pairs or alone like me.
Clifton and two of the boys caught up to me easily, and they made a semi-circle that had me trapped. They took turns stomping the ground in front of me, telling me how they were going to hurt me bad.
Thankfully, an older woman came out of the trailer in front of us. She yelled at the boys and they stepped away from me, giving me the chance to break free and run towards home. When the woman went back inside, Clifton picked up a rock and hurled it towards me. It hit my ankle with a loud crack.
“WE’LL GET YOU NEXT TIME!” Clifton called after me once I reached the safety of my trailer.
Once inside, I looked for my dad and told him what the boys were doing. He shrugged it off and told me boys will be boys. My mother had a similar reaction when she came home from work.
“They probably did it because they like you,” my mother offered to try to make me feel better.
It didn’t make me feel better, not at all. She didn’t see the look in Clifton’s eyes as he stomped his foot in front of me. He looked angry and crazy. How was I supposed to go to school the next day or any other day with Clifton waiting to pounce?
Despite begging my parents to stay home, I walked back to the bus stop the next morning with dread in my heart and my little legs shaking. Clifton was already there waiting with his friends. When they started running after me, I burst into tears and pleaded with them to leave me alone. They claimed to be after all the girls, but I got the worst of it.
The process repeated on the way home and again the next morning. I was so terrified I stopped eating. My stomach knotted up at the first mention of Clifton and his friends.
My dad finally got tired of it and walked me to the bus stop the day after that. Clifton’s eyes widened in shock at the sight of him. I almost enjoyed seeing Clifton look like that after being so mean to me. My father told him in no uncertain terms to leave me and all the other girls alone.
“Yes sir,” Clifton said in a quiet voice.
My dad was my hero.
After about two weeks of walking home in relative peace, one of Clifton’s guy friends came and walked down my street beside me. I stood frozen in fear, wondering whether the bullying would start all over again. The boy and I stood facing each other for a few seconds before he spoke.
“Clifton likes you,” the boy said as he ran away.
He might as well have detonated a bomb in the middle of the street. Clifton liked me? The boy who threw things at me and chased me home every day “liked” me? I ran the rest of the way home as fast as I could. It scared me to think Clifton would pay any attention to me, negative or positive. Why couldn’t he just go away?
The next morning, Clifton was in front of my trailer to walk me to the bus stop. He walked me home that afternoon, holding my hand when we were about halfway there. I didn’t speak a word to him, too scared Clifton might change back into the monster who scared me if I didn’t let him like me.
One day he walked me home and asked to see behind our trailer. When I showed him, he kissed me on the lips. It became a regular thing whether I wanted to or not. We kissed even more than we talked. I was afraid to say the wrong thing in case he and his friends started chasing me again. It was easier to kiss Clifton than run for my life away from him.
A few weeks later at recess, a girl I’d never seen before came up to me on the playground.
“You know, Clifton doesn’t love you anymore,” she informed me.
With my heart in my throat, I started crying right in front of her. Did this mean Clifton would start chasing me again? Had I done something to make him mad? I had to take the bus home in a few short hours. Would Clifton be waiting for me with rocks in his hand? The thought was terrifying, and I leaned over the pavement and threw up my recently eaten lunch in front of the little girl.
“Why are you crying?” she asked me.
“My… my stomach hurts,” I answered. “I have to go to the nurse.”
A few minutes later I was in the nurse’s office laying on a cot at the back of the room. I thought my plan was genius. If I was sick, my mom would have to pick me up, and I wouldn’t have to take the bus home. I didn’t stop to think about what I would do for the rest of my elementary school years, but at least I was temporarily safe.
“No temperature,” the nurse declared as she eyed me suspiciously. I prayed she wouldn’t send me back to class. If I had to work up a few extra tears for her benefit, so be it.
“My stomach hurts,” I told her for the hundredth time. The nurse finally called my mother to come to get me. She came from work, and she didn’t look happy about having to leave. I kept quiet as she drove me home and then went straight to my room to lie down. My mother followed me.
“I was talking to the nurse back there,” my mom said as she sat on my bed. “She told me a couple of the kids said Clifton broke up with you. Is that why you’re so upset?”
I turned my head towards the wall. There was nothing my mother could say to make me feel better. I was a goner anyway as soon as Clifton saw me next.
My parents made me go back to the bus stop the next day, not believing my claims I was still sick. Clifton stood there in a circle with the other boys. He looked at me but said nothing and turned back to his friends.
I took it as a good sign.
Sometimes I still think of Clifton. He was the first boy I ever kissed even though I didn’t want him to kiss me. I wish I could say he was the last.