Rhonda tried to be a rebel even as early as the fourth grade. She was a loner, wore daring clothes, and didn't give a flip about school rules. She was the only girl I knew who got taken to the office to be paddled, just like the boys.
She may have been wild, but Rhonda had a sense of pride and dignity and she lent it to others if she was able.
One time during P.E. the class was playing softball. A little girl named Trina was appointed captain of the team by the coach that day. The rule was if you were the captain, you could choose yourself to be the pitcher. Actually, there was no choice—convention demanded that you be the pitcher if you were the captain.
But Trina was truly unsuited to the job. She threw too high or too low and sometimes she didn't even get it across the plate. She walked every one of the opposing team, which I happened to be on. I have to admit that I enjoyed the nice leisurely stroll around the bases with the assurance of an easy victory.
However, Rhonda refused to be walked. She swung wildly at the first pitch that actually made it over the plate.
“Hey!” we yelled in alarm. “Don't mess it up!"
If she struck out we'd be a little closer to having to field the ball. And heavens, if she got a hit, there was no telling how many of us who were on base would be thrown out before the ball was out of play! (We weren’t that good either).
"Don't do that again!" we admonished.
But she stared us all down and swung again, reaching high above her head in an attempt to connect. In the dugout we stomped our feet and gnashed our teeth. The score was eighty-seven to nothing, but we knew once we got out in the field, the tide of misfortune could quickly turn and take us down.
Another pitch. Rhonda stepped over the home plate to swing, and this time she connected. With a sigh of relief, we watched her make it to first base and no one was thrown out, and so we continued the leisurely slaughter.
Now that I am grown, I think I understand what happened.
Rhonda felt embarrassed for Trina. The little pitcher who couldn't was probably miserable, but she was trapped by convention. For a brief moment, Rhonda turned it into a competitive game with doubt as to the outcome. She may have been batting against Trina, but she was really offering her a shred of dignity while the rest of us hooted with celebration and/or derision.
As Rhonda grew into her teen years, she continued to get in trouble for not doing what people thought she should do. She wore tight, ragged jeans, and went out with equally restless boys.
One day she was riding on the back of a motorcycle with some fellow. I'm sure she wasn't being careful. She fell off, hit her unprotected head on the asphalt, and was dead in an instant. I didn't know about it until I saw her picture in the paper.
I really don't know much about her--only the things I've just written. I don't know where she lived, who her folks were, or even where she was buried.
I hope somebody still remembers her, though. Her defiance may have gotten her in trouble, but that's what made her stand alone against the crowd. It's what led her to be nice to young humiliated girls.
I like to imagine that her defiance would have sparked a fire in her to become something wonderful as an adult. Actually, she was something wonderful anyway.