Jason was a five foot walking terror with black hair and Gap clothing. Quiet, unassuming, non-brand name clothing wearing, stringy hair me made the perfect victim.
We were in the seventh grade hallway—I had just come from getting my food in the cafeteria and was on my way to lunch in my Language Arts teacher’s classroom; we were reading Hatchet in class that month and I wanted to get ahead. Jason was coming from our math classroom, having been forced to stay after class to pay penance for an inappropriate comment to the teacher.
“Hey, lice-head,” he called as he came towards me.
I had tried to pass off my fourth grade lice incident as an allergic reaction to a new shampoo, but my classmates couldn’t let it go. The nickname followed me out of elementary school and right on up to junior high.
Jason moved so that he was right in front of me. “Why don’t you ever wash your hair?”
I did wash my hair. But it didn’t matter what I said. I clutched my lunch tray closer to my chest. The hallway was completely empty. No one was coming to save me.
“Why don’t you answer me?”
I shook my head. “I wash it every other day.”
“Maybe if you washed it more, you wouldn’t have lice head,” he retorted.
“That was in fourth grade.”
Jason looked me up and down. I had nightmarish visions of him hitting the bottom of my lunch tray and sending my food flying everywhere, a la some TGIF show. I took a step backwards as he fluffed his hair.
“You know how you could have nice hair? Like mine?”
I didn’t answer.
The bottle came out of nowhere—a tiny white Paul Mitchell salon sample bottle. Jason opened the cap and squeezed the shampoo all over my head. I froze as the liquid oozed down my head, onto my shoulders, my backpack, my lunch tray. My lip trembled, but I refused to let him see me cry. Jason dropped the bottle onto my lunch tray and sauntered past me towards the cafeteria. I threw my food away and spent the next ten minutes scrubbing shampoo from my hair and clothes. The shampoo burned my eyes as I tried to shove my head under the short sink. I cried, unsure if it was from the burning or the anger.
When I arrived in the Language Arts classroom, fifteen minutes later to my lunch spot than normal, the teacher asked me why I was soaking wet. I buried my face in my book instead of answering, because an answer would only bring bullying worse than a shampoo bath. Ironically, one of the first lines of Hatchet I read that day was: “He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work.”
I smiled, tied my wet hair back with a pencil, and leaned back to finish my book.