Lydia was in Mrs. Spencer’s fourth grade class with me. Nobody spoke to her. Not even me. I wanted to, but I was afraid of her. She didn’t have eye lashes or eyebrows and her skin was super smooth, like it was made of plastic. And she wore a wig. It wasn’t a wig for a ten year old girl, either. It was one of those wigs for a mom or maybe even a grandma because it was really big and puffy. No other girls had hair like that when they were ten, curled with hot rollers and hair sprayed into a single, big helmet shape. Because of the wig, she looked a lot older than she really was. But because she was really white and skinny, she also looked much younger than she really was. I heard one of the other girls say that Lydia had Leukemia. It was some kind of blood cancer and it made all of her hair fall out. I wanted to talk to her, but I didn’t want to be the only one. So I didn’t. I just stared like everybody else. Boys were really mean to her and called her “Bug Eyes” at recess or sometimes “Buggy”, for short. Her eyes did sort of bug out, but she couldn’t help it. I mean, if you get a disease that makes your hair fall completely out — even your eye lashes — your eyes probably just bug out totally on their own. She sat in the front seat, on the row nearest the window. She never looked backward toward the class. She just kept her bugged out eyes on the teacher or the chalkboard. If she would have turned to her right and looked back one seat, she would have seen me. Maybe I would have smiled at her. Maybe I would have just looked down and pretended I didn’t see her. But she never turned, so I never had to decide what to do. That was kind of a relief.
One day at recess, I was playing near the bars with Sonya, my best friend. It was our favorite place to play and talk. We usually just jumped rope or swung on the bars. That day, it was very hot, so we were just standing around, wishing the bell would ring soon so we could go inside and cool down. Suddenly, there was a horrible, loud screech from the girl’s bathroom. Then, there was an even louder scream followed by a lot of laughing and screaming. I looked across the playground and froze. My heart sunk a little bit in my chest. There was Lydia, running out of the bathroom. Bald. Totally and completely bald. Ronnie was running around with her wig in his hand, waving it like a stupid flag and laughing. Lydia was holding her head in her hands, trying to cover up her white head somehow and running all wobbly like she was dizzy. I don’t think she knew where to go to hide her head. Lydia clumsily ran and the playground went silent. Everyone stared and all we could hear was Lydia screaming and crying and that stupid boy, Ronnie, laughing and waving the wig like an idiot. The more I watched, the more my stomach hurt. Out of nowhere, Mr. Reed, the P.E. coach, came running and grabbed Lydia and gave her a little hug and then walked with his arm around her to the office. She had her head buried in his side and he was patting her shoulder in an awkward way. His face was very red and it almost looked like he was going to cry in a minute. Ronnie had stopped waving the wig as soon as Mr. Reed came outside. In fact, he threw it straight back toward the dirt pile near the back fence. Part of me really wanted to run and get the wig and take it to Mr. Reed. But I really didn’t want to touch it. It looked so fake and crunchy. The other part of me wanted to run over and kick Ronnie in the privates.
Lydia never came back to school after that day. Ronnie wasn’t at school for more than a week afterward, either. When he did come back, he sat at his desk with his head hanging really low. His hair was gone. You could tell it had been all chopped off. And not just with scissors either, but with buzzers. I wondered if his Dad did it as a punishment for him stealing Lydia’s wig. It was a pretty good punishment, actually. He looked sad and sorry.
Our seats got moved around the next week and it was like Lydia had never been there. Mrs. Spencer never said a single word to the class about what happened at recess. No one ever spoke of Lydia or her bald head, either. But I remembered her for a long, long time. I used to fall asleep thinking about Lydia. I was so ashamed that I never tried to be her friend and it gave me a hard, sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach. It must have been really lonely to be the only girl in class who had to wear an old lady wig. I made a promise one night to God, that no matter what, even if everyone else in the whole school laughed at me, if there was every another person like Lydia, I would be her friend. No matter what.
From “Little Girls Remember” (a work in progress) by Carol Kristensen