by Maria Schulz
I was talking to my girls the other day when my younger daughter asked me, “Who were your enemies in middle school?”
Honestly, I didn’t remember having any enemies. It’s not that I was the most popular kid at school, and I wasn’t the least popular, but I kind of blended into the woodwork. I had a few friends and the rest were people I considered friendly. No enemies in sight.
At first I replied, “I didn’t have any,” but that was before I remembered my tortured childhood and CYO bowling.
Let me preface this by saying that I have never had any fashion sense whatsoever. My parents embraced the doctrine of benign neglect and there were many times that I believed I was being raised by wolves. Also, I relied on Catholic school uniforms as my major wardrobe staple, which is never something you see on the catwalk in Paris.
The fact that my brothers scoffed at anything too “girly” made me a prime target for girls who were blessed with a keen eye for beautiful clothes, accessories, and all things fashion related.
I never wanted to be a fashion designer, supermodel or glamorous actress. When I would play house, my future careers had me traveling all over the world, saving children who needed me. I usually wore my Ladybug or Raggedy Anne & Andy tee shirts and no-name jeans. If it was summer, I wore shorts and walked around barefoot. Nothing stopped me from adopting doll “children” from many different continents.
My “adopted” kids included the African beauty my father got me from the United Nations. Her name was Malachi and she was decked out in traditional orange and yellow peasant garb with a jaunty matching hat. I learned a lot about her country because I wanted to understand her. She struggled to fit in but all of my other dolls embraced her and helped out.
Rosa, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl, came from Spain, was dressed in a sleeveless pink lace dress and could sing songs thanks to the mini record in her back. When I asked my mother to translate the songs, she said they were nonsense songs. One of the lines was “the cat runs over the horse shed and the cow eats grass with the moon.” I never held it against her that she made no sense. She sometimes struggled to speak English, but I always understood her.
Then there was Susie, a life-sized, second-hand, All-American who came to me with her black hair cut down to a nub, wearing a yarmulke, a red-and white-striped dress and black shoes. During Passover, I let Susie say the lines “what makes this night different from all other nights?” Sometimes, to make Susie feel better about herself, I would put a blonde wig on her and dress her in one of my old party dresses. She was always very grateful.
I was perfectly happy staying in my bedroom and playing with my dolls, but my parents were alarmed by my lack of desire for outside stimulation. I think they feared that I was going to be one of those reclusive hoarders who never move out or marry, live in a house so full of junk that they are in constant peril of dying in an avalanche, and gives out pennies on Halloween.
To save me from a life where the authorities would one day find my half-eaten corpse along with all 189 feral cats and dogs that I had “rescued,” my parents signed me up for CYO Bowling.
I wanted to try gymnastics but my Dad wanted me to bowl. “This way, I can help you,” he said. “This is something we can enjoy together.” So, since money was tight and I was amazed that my parents were signing me up for anything, I went along.
At 9 years old, I could barely lift the lightest ball, which infuriated my father. Normally, his avalanche of rage syndrome amused me since it was directed at my brothers. But now, I had him all to myself and there was no one to deflect the yelling.
“You’re not tiny! There’s no reason you can’t throw a 10-pound ball!” Dad said.
Well, of course there were lots of reasons I couldn’t. I was cursed with absolutely no upper body strength and even less hand-eye coordination. It was the perfect storm for a weekly lesson that included shouting, recriminations, and lots of tears—for both of us.
Of course, my father was NOT my enemy, which gives you an idea of how supportive my CYO team was going to be.
My team captain, Linda, was the big sister of one of my classmates. She was a pretty, tall 8th-grader with short brown hair, a perfect face, and great clothes. I was sure we would get along because she was my older brother’s girlfriend. I was wrong.
From Day 1, whenever Linda saw me, her smile vanished. When I went up to bowl, she would cross her arms and scowl. “Throw the ball straight!” she would yell, just as I released it.
Miracle of miracles, it went straight—to the gutter. This would happen frame after frame, until I wished I could just disappear and she looked like she wanted to beat me to death with my 8-lb. ball.
My other teammates, Nadine and Maura, didn’t really care, but Linda was so into it that she would call me names, yell at me, and threaten me. It started as insults about my bowling and eventually devolved into comments about my hair, my clothes, and my weight. This resulted in scores of 19, 23, and my high game of 44.
I didn’t know what to do to make Linda stop hating me, short of raising my average to 300. Since that was as likely to happen as me twitching my nose and making all the pins fall (a la Bewitched), I had no choice but to sit there and suck it up.
During my first stellar season, my bowling average hovered somewhere around a 19. Nadine had an average of about 75 so she was a star by my standards, and Maura, with her 110 average, found me mildly amusing. But Linda, who had a 130 average, was furious.
“We’re gonna end up in last place thanks to you,” she liked to say.
I asked my brother to intervene and he tried. Unfortunately, this put him in the situation of having to listen to her litany of my crimes against CYO bowling in general and her in particular.
“She says you’re not trying,” Louie remarked.
“I am trying,” I replied. “I’m just not succeeding.”
Luckily, my brother broke up with Linda and I didn’t have to be nice to her anymore. It was just as well, because I’m sure she never forgave me for the team landing in last place. We were the ones who got a trophy of a girl throwing a ball through her legs.
The next year was uneventful and even fun. I started to get really good at bowling and my teammates didn’t hate me as a result. Everything was great…until the sixth grade. That’s when I discovered that Linda was Miss Congeniality compared with the newest mean girl in my life.
Lee Anne was a 7th grader with beautiful long brown hair, big brown eyes and very cool clothes. She was sporting bell-bottoms and velour when I was rocking my 3rd cousin’s too-small, hand-me-down overalls.
This of course was reason enough to make Lee Anne despise me.
As I’ve mentioned in blogs past, I also had a Jimmy “J.J.” Walker tee-shirt with his smiling face and the words DY-NO-MITE emblazoned across it. This was perhaps the most unfortunate Christmas gift I ever got from my Aunt Nellie.
But since it was new and clean, my mother insisted that I wear it. I combined that gem with a truly horrendous pair of orange and purple striped pants for a look that screamed GOLF COURSE. It was just a matter of time before I became Lee Anne’s number one target.
She had a gaggle of friends that I referred to as “The Moronettes.” They clung to Lee Anne like barnacles on a cruise ship, hoping some of her glamour would rub off on them. They were three marginally pretty girls who copied everything Lee Anne did, laughed at all of her jokes, and began teasing me with a vengeance because they believed it would please Lee Anne. Lucky for them, it did.
As a lowly 6th grader, I realized that there was not much I could do to stop the escalating teasing. My parents weren’t going to let me stay home since they were paying for this, and I never told them about any of it. I had no choice but to sit there and smile, laughing when they scored a funny shot (hey, they were funny), and biding my time. I secretly wished I could be like Carrie at the Prom and make them all burst into flames.
Of course, Sister Clara wasn’t about to let me borrow any books on telekinetics from the Catholic school library, so I was running out of options.
When Lee Anne started calling me “The Good Times Blimp,” I knew I was going to have to hit her to make it stop or they would destroy me. I had plenty of practice watching people tease one another, since my brother Joey was a master at it. If they gave out black belts for teasing, Joey would have been the equivalent of Bruce Lee.
I sat there and weighed my options. I was at least 30 lbs. heavier then Lee Anne and I knew how to throw a punch. My brothers had taught me well, and since I didn’t have to worry about scuffing my nail polish or tearing my clothes, I knew I could strike hard and fast. I was certain I could take her, and possibly snap her in two. The problem was, I was not sure how the larger, less girly Moronettes would respond.
And that’s when fate intervened and my Guardian Angel appeared.
Okay, so it wasn’t an angel. It was a tall, blonde beauty with big blue eyes and groovy clothes. She was a fellow 6th grader, but her street cred was high because she was blessed with natural good looks, older sisters and a great wardrobe.
“Hey, why don’t you stop bothering her? She’s not doing anything to you,” the pretty girl said.
“Who do you think you’re talking to,” Lee Anne said, as she and the Moronettes stood up.
The pretty girl stood up too. “I’m talking to you. And you. And you. And you,” she said, as she poked her finger in their chests.
Lee Anne looked dazed. It was if the universe had suddenly been turned upside down.
“What do you care?” Lee Anne stammered. “We’re not bothering you.”
“You’re bothering her, and it’s bothering me. Leave her alone. Let her bowl. Go find someone else to haunt.”
Lee Anne tried to reason with her. “Look at her! She’s fat! She wears terrible clothes! Don’t you want to tease her?”
“She looks okay to me. But you’re rotten.” The girl replied. She walked over to me and stuck out her hand. “I’m Maureen. Let’s be friends.”
Lee Anne and the Moronettes gave up and walked away.
“Thanks,” I said. “That was nice of you.”
“It was no big deal,” Maureen replied.
“I was going to hit her,” I said.
“Oh too bad. I’m sorry I stopped you.”
We laughed and bowled, and by the end of the 6th grade, we were inseparable.
I guess I’m pretty lucky that my childhood “enemies” helped me find one of my dearest childhood friends. If my daughters are even half as lucky as I was, they will be truly blessed.
One of my favorite things to do after bowling was to walk to the bakery a few doors away. Maureen and I would buy freshly baked French Crullers and then walk all over Bayside while we munched. She taught me about clothes and hair and I taught her about food and fun. It was a great collaboration.
So, Hungry Lifers…do you have a story to share about your enemies? Frenemies? Why does that word crack me up? Please post a comment below. Thanks!