first published by joell on November 5, 2007
This is a story about my school-age friend we’ll call “Randi.”
I’ve thought a lot about Randi in the 30+ years since we were best friends. I’ve wondered what motivated her, about what drove her to do the things she did and I’ve wondered why we were friends. Probably, she was the only girl in my class with horses at her house and that certainly made a difference for me. Horses are what connected us. This week I met with some really brilliant people using horses to make a difference in the lives of
battered women and I asked myself a lot of questions about what real change is all about. I wondered, what did Randi need?
Maybe Randi lashed out because her parents were hard on her and maybe it was because the nuns blamed her (usually correctly) for any misbehavior. Nonetheless, Randi beat the heck out of me regularly. She pulled my hair, punched me in the shoulder, she knuckled me in the thigh to give me a charley-horse. Her favorite trick was to grab my wrist during the quiet part of mass and start pulling. When I pulled back she’d let go and caused my skinny elbow to hit the wood pews – BANG! I was mortified and she laughed out loud – every time.
Randi was literally, a red-headed stepchild. She was big and clumsy and had zits. Her body matured too soon. She had “female issues” before the rest of us knew what they were. She was loud and spoke her mind to the nuns at school, to the boys in the class and to me.
I adored her. I followed her everywhere. I stayed at her house. I found some way to get the nuns to let us sit together – the bad girl with the studious one. I was small, skinny, boyish and awkward. I never spoke my mind and I almost always did what I was told.
I was Randi’s constant companion for three years. From age 9 to about 11 we were inseparable. Other girls would ask me why I put up with her being so mean to me and I didn’t know how to answer. Finally, about age 11 I’d had enough and started to hang around another crowd. She befriended the new girl in school who was even smaller and sweeter than I was and we drifted apart.
I remember when we were 13 and everybody knew that Randi was into all kinds of trouble. Everybody knew Randi’s parents were strict and there were all kinds of terrible consequences to her actions. Her house was right across the street from the school. When the nuns called home we winced to see her mom’s angry face as she strode across the street, over the playground and up to where Randi was waiting in Sr. Dorothea’s cold office.
I can’t remember if Randi and I went to the same high school. I think we did. We had grown completely apart by then. I didn’t think about her, except fleetingly for a long time. I would see her parents around and when I would ask her mother would just roll her eyes and say “you know Randi” and leave it at that.
Probably five years after high school, I got a letter, sent to my parents’ house from Randi. She wrote from the women’s penitentiary. She was doing time for passing bad checks. She was passing bad checks to fund her heroin addiction. Her letter was humble and sweet and her handwriting still looked like I remembered it in grade school. I was shaken and shocked. We were girls in a white, California suburb in Catholic School. I wasn’t supposed to know anyone in prison!
Three weeks after getting the letter, I made arrangements to go and visit . She made no attempt to hide the tracks on her arms and I couldn’t help but stare at them. She didn’t make any excuses about what she had made with her life nor did she seem surprised. She was resigned and tired (at 23). We chatted, we giggled. We talked about our shared passion for horses. We had nothing else in common. We hugged, I left and drove silently the two hours home.
I never heard from her again. No letters, no more invites to visit her in prison. She’s not the kind of old acquaintance that you can Google and find out what Alumni Association she’s part of or what PTA’s she might be running. You can’t expect to find her on Facebook. She’s not on LinkedIN.
I, like most at the battered end of an abusive relationship, remember Randi as generous, funny and bold. I remember how badly I felt about the way her parents treated her compared to her younger brother and sister. I remember thinking that the nuns blamed her for everything until she just didn’t care anymore.
I don’t remember Randi being good at anything. She wasn’t a good student or a good athlete or talented at sewing or art. She was good at shocking people and that’s how she drew the attention she must have needed. Randi’s way of having some control over her life was to shock people into paying attention. That was how she got her feeling of accomplishment.
What could have helped? What kind of adult mentor would have helped flesh out Randi’s talents and given her something to be proud of? Who made Randi feel special? Who loved her?
Would Square Pegs have been able to help ? Or would her behaviors frustrated the instructors, her weight make us unlikely to put her on a horse? I’d like to think that we could have given her a space to be helpful, to reward her generosity and her outspokenness.
It’s important to note that, even by today’s standards, Randi wouldn’t have qualified for any special classes except some counseling – maybe. She didn’t have a learning disability, she wasn’t poor, wouldn’t have been considered at risk until after her second arrest. Nobody would write us a grant to help the Randi’s of the world. But she had a heart that was unloved and unappreciated. And society got what it had coming from her.
Today, Square Pegs is loving our way toward changing the way people see themselves.
This one’s for you Randi, where ever you are.