There was an unhappy girl in my class sometime during junior high; I'm going to call her Sarah for the purposes of this story. I don't remember if it was grade seven, eight or nine, but I do remember that most of the other kids didn't like her. At the time people thought she was plain, though now I realize that she was actually quite pretty; she probably grew up to be a knockout, if there's any justice in the universe. She had long, dark, greasy hair and wore drab clothing. She was quiet and sullen. Some days she smelled a little funky. Many of the other kids bullied her. I ignored her, for the most part; I didn't know her well and reaching out wasn't terribly appealing, given her disposition. And to be honest, making friends with her would have had social consequences for me; junior high cliques are unforgiving, and when you're not part of the popular crowd already, you quickly learn that you don't do anything to jeopardize your precarious status.
Sarah sat behind me in Language Arts class. One day, she started kicking my desk during a lecture. I tried to ignore it, but she kept at it for several minutes, until finally I spun around in my desk and shouted "Will you please stop that?"
The teacher immediately sent her to the principal's office, and as she walked past my desk I could see her starting to cry.
Technically, we should both have gotten in trouble - her for instigating the disruption, me for talking out of turn in class. But I was one of the top students in the school and liked by the teachers. She had no such insulation. I immediately felt like a first-class heel. I could have tried to quietly signal her to stop, I could have ignored her, I could have waited until after class to ask her "Hey, what did you want in there?" Instead, I lost my temper and got her in trouble when what she probably needed was a friend.
If life were an episode of Degrassi, I would have approached her in the hall later on to apologize. We would have become friends. But in truth, my memory of Sarah ends with the look on her face as she resigned herself to a scolding. I don't even remember if we went to the same high school.
I hope Sarah had an easier time in high school. I hope that she's happy and healthy and enjoying a wonderful life. And if she ever reads this, I hope she'll accept an apology that's over thirty years overdue.