October 4, 2007
By Sarah Glover
Age 10 at the time
Mark Grady disfigured my back for life. Mark Grady. Even after thirty-odd years, the name still makes me cringe in agony. Mark Grady -- a sadist, a scoundrel and a bully. I loved him. Desperately.
Fifth grade. For me boys were nothing but chimps with less fur. Dirty nails. Dirty necks. No redeemable qualities. Except for Mark Grady, curse his lanky, green-eyed soul.
It all started innocently in Mrs. Cotoia's class.
"Should men learn how to cook and clean?" she asked. Mrs. Cotoia was a feminist. She wore cool bell bottoms and hoop earrings. She looked like she should have a theme song.
We wide-eyed girls nodded rapidly.
The boys grumbled -- the few that were paying attention at all. Except Mark Grady. He held up his hand. His clean, sculptured hand connected to his white oxford-shirted arm which led to his perfect shoulders. He smiled. I felt my heart move to my throat and beat so loudly I thought it might pop out onto my desk and lay there quivering its way to him in a frantic slimy trail. Bump, bump. Lurch. Bump, bump. Lurch.
"Mrs. Cotoia," he said wistfully. "Women are supposed to take care of men. I mean, I don't see why we need to do that when it's not our job. That's what my dad says."
My teacher's lips pursed so, her face appeared inside out. His face remained angelic. I imagined a room full of aunts squeezing that face till it turned blue.
"Are you crazy?" I shouted, coming to the aid of my teacher, intent to strike a blow for women everywhere. "Who'd want to take care of you? You better learn how to cook or else you're going to starve and your house is going pile up with junk and nobody's gonna clean it. You think we're on this earth just to serve you?" My face burned and fire filled my eyes. Mrs. Cotoia beamed. Mark Grady's hand descended, his eyes narrowing. Recess was only a breath away. Vengeance simmered in his stare.
Outside on the playground, I grabbed my best friend, Elise's hand, determined to move as far from my enemy as possible. The swings seemed the safest bet. They would offer visibility and a quick method of escape if necessary. Elise took the seat next to me and I adjusted my wrap-skirt. We pumped our legs in unison until we were soaring high up into the sky. The wind felt good on my bare legs. I watched it blow the dirt and rocks below our feet into swirling clumps.
"You know," shouted Elise, "You're probably in love."
"With Mark Grady. Even with the yelling - the way you drool over him in class. It's love. Definitely. Right?"
"Shhhhh!" I pumped my legs a few more times to calm my frantic heart. Within minutes, I had confessed to her the deepest and most passionate secrets of my heart.
Then I heard laughing. I looked up. Mark Grady was leaning against the school, laughing. He had heard everything. I just knew it! Mortification flooded my veins. I slung low in the swing to hide my face from his sight. I slipped backwards; the swing caught my knees as I cringed with horror.
"Please, please God, don't let him have heard!"
On the downswing, the entire length of my back raked across the dirt and rocks below tearing the flesh down my spine like a giant cheese grater. My skirt flung up over my head exposing my bottom. The pain that stabbed like knives through my skin was nothing compared to the horror of having my underwear on display for the world to see. The world and Mark Grady. I screamed. The entire playground turned. I couldn't right myself. I flailed like a beached whale. My back scraped across the rocks again. I roared. Somehow, I flung my body over my knees and landed with a crash onto the dirt, skinning my hands and knees.
In the blur of the next few moments, a crowd of eager students, thrilled at the sight of that much blood, surrounded me. I was sobbing now, big gooey globs of snot and tears smeared with the dirt on my knees.
"What happened? What happened?" yelled Mrs. Cotoia's voice. She kneeled down next to me. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!"
Her tone made me howl. Girls cringed in wide-eyed alarm. Boys sniggered. Elise was hyperventilating.
Mrs. Cotoia composed herself and tried to gather me in her arms. "What happened? Did you fall?"
I was crying too much to answer. My pigtails were glued to my cheeks.
"What happened?" Mrs. Cotoia repeated sternly.
"It's not her fault," cried Elise in my defense. "She wants Mark Grady to kiss her and marry her and have babies with her and doesn't want him to know so she fell back on her swing so he wouldn't see her face then her back scraped against the rocks and that's why she's bleeding!"
A scandalous hush blanketed the playground. My life was over. I could fall into the blood and snot-filled dirt and curl up and die. They could put flowers over my body where other ostracized children could come and pay their respects, like some Lourdes for losers.
Eventually, bodies drifted away, giggling and sniggering. Mrs. Cotoia lifted me in her arms. "We need to get you to the nurse," she whispered. My back burned with each step as we trudged the long stretch back to school alone.
"There is one thing you need to know."
I looked up into her kind eyes, wiping my nose with my arm. "What?"
I followed her gaze to where Mark Grady sat with his friends on a picnic table tossing a softball into the air and roaring in laughter.
"Scars can happen anywhere. Inside and out. And both can hurt."
My back stung terribly as I watched him sit there, smug and cruel. I sniffed. "You're wrong. The scars on the inside hurt . . . more."