Saturday, March 31, 2007


The day before my oldest daughter came home from school,crying with tears as big as raindrops on her flushed cheeks. I immediately asked her what was wrong and tried to make a quick search from the top of her head to the tips of her toes lest she had hurt herself somewhere at school. I never know how to expect her to come home when the bell rings from primary school..sometimes its with a scraped knee,others with a scratched arm, and on a few occasions with a bruised head. Ive come to the conclusion that school is definitely not the safest place for kids!

After making double sure that nothing physically was wrong with her, I focused my attention to what she was trying to tell me as she continued crying (sobbing actually is a better word to use) and through intervals of taking broken gasps of air in and wiping her nose and tears on her fleece covered arm, I managed to understand the reason behind her sadness. There had been a large disagreement between her and her other three close girlfriends which resulted in all of them saying that they were no ones friends anymore. The fourth grade friendships were all over!!! It may seen quite humorous from our adult side of seeing things,but children live these problems as seriously as we do when we realize that our close friend has also let us down.

So, my daughter kept crying about what she would do now without any of her true friends by her her, school had no meaning anymore and had lost its importance. As I was sitting and observing my daughter, trying to comfort her as best as I could, many memories from my years at school slowly flashed back. When I do think back during my years at primary school and during junior high school, along with the memories that always make me grin and feel nostalgia, a certain face always comes to my mind and fills me with mixed feelings of sadness,guilt and amazement.

I remember seventh grade very well. This was the year that I first started menstruating, where friendships began to take on new meaning, where there was a lot of insecurity and competition between different groups of students and everyone was tyring to fit in somewhere but only few of us really knew where it was we wanted to fit in with. Darell was a classmate of mine. Since my last name began with a N and his with an L , Darell and I always sat in rows that were next to each other and I always had a clear view of him during class. Darrel was a genuine other words he was an American Indian. I remember that he had once given a presentation of genuine Indian artifacts during a history lesson and everyone had been impressed. This was the only time that Darrel had made a presentation in school...and if i do remember correctly, the last as well. You see, Darrel had been unfortunate enough when he was barely five years old,to be trapped in his house when fire broke out. Though his mother had managed to save his younger sister, she couldn't rescue him and the result of this was that Darrel had severe burns on over 95% of his body.

I remember the dark skinned boy who instead of having dark hair on his head, had bits and pieces of hairs sticking out on his severely scarred head. He always used to wear long sleeved shirts and even though all of the students knew why, there was always a handful of kids that would make fun of him despite his problem. I remember gazing at Darrel as he used to sit at his desk. He would always rock back and forth and rub his hands together,as if he were trying to keep warm. A smile was always formed on his lips but it was his defense mechanism because the true fact was that Darrel was completely isolated from all of us...including myself.

There were many times that I had decided to go up to him and talk...just to have a silly conversation...but always something stopped me. The deep scars and badly deformed facial features was not something that we could get used to easily. Darrel kept himself well hidden during our breaks at school and many times was the topic of discussion among the other students. Even now,almost 35 years after, I still feel the same sadness when I think about him. I do think though that I feel more a sense of guilt than anything else for not having ever taken the step that I should have to approach him. I was a coward compared to Darrel. Darrel was the courageous one. He lived and experienced, day in and day out, all the difficulties of being a modern day Quasimodo and did it with the utmost sense of dignity. I wish I could say the same for myself and my classmates.

The second year of high school was better for Darrel though. He had found a group of friends who had also been 'outcasted' from the majority of students. He started wearing a jockey hat to school and even began wearing short sleeved shirts when the weather started getting warmer. He and I again sat in adjoining rows in class and i even managed to start up a small conversation with him during our french lesson. Then suddenly, a few weeks before the end of the school year and while most of us were anxiously awaiting to finish eighth grade and go to High School, Darrel disappeared from school. He never came again. We had never seen any member of his family coming to school and rumour had it that Darrel had been living in a foster parent home after being abandoned by his family after the fire. We never learned the truth and our teachers never did tell us.

I am quite hard on myself still about Darrel. I believe, taking into consideration the person that I am, I should have taken the extra step to reach out to someone who had such a great need for it. Don't get me wrong though...I don't believe that Darrel needed me as much as how much I needed him. People who have such inner strength are a good source of learning for all of us. I consider myself weaker than him at that given point in my life..he proved this to me on a daily basis. When we were all busy worrying about 'who liked who' and what 'he said to her' issues, there was someone who was worrying about just making it through the day.

As i held my daughter in my arms the other day and tried to comfort her and tell her that tomorrow would be a better day and that she would once again make peace with all her good friends, my thoughts drifted towards Darrel and I wondered how many times he had felt the same way too.

My last remembrance of Darrel though is not one filled with sadness. It was the last time that I had spoken with him. I remember the smile on his face as I made a funny comment about our French teacher again. The smile on his lips wasn't the same smile that had kept him company when he was alone, rocking back and forth, lost in his own thoughts. It was not like that at all. I remember the warm Indian smile on his dark skinned face...remembering that always brings a smile on my own lips as well...

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