Protecting Nora

October is National Bully Prevention Month. Find ways to work together to stop bullying and cyberbullying by increasing awareness of the prevalence and impact of bullying on all children of all ages.

Below is my story. I encourage you to share yours too. Join the movement! 

Photo Credit: Krissy Collins

Photo Credit: Krissy Collins

Her name was Nora. She was short, with a tiny waist, and her hair was rich black with frizzy, curly locks cut in the shape of a mullet. A frullet. She smelled of cigarettes and neglect, and the clothes she dressed in were the same few on rotation every other day or three. Her pants were sealed taut as if she had been dipped into white chocolate lava from the candy factory, stained with what appeared to be bits of brown caramel smeared throughout, spontaneously placed. You're  so dirty, they’d say and my eyes would blaze hot from holding back the tears.  I’ll fight for you, Nora, I wanted to tell her, making a pact with myself that I would. I would fight for her and I’d tell them all where they could stuff their dumbhead comments.

5th grade was turning out to be a doozy. Middle School was supposed to be exciting with new faces, coke machines and big lockers. Instead everyone was on display with passers-by holding tomatoes and rotten eggs, waiting for that perfect awkward moment to point, release, and deliver. Kind of like the time I held a cat and my eyes swelled shut, and the next morning at school Bobby, from Mrs. Snell’s class, laughed and told me I looked like a fire ant had jumped up and bitten me. It’s allergies, I griped, and I held my face low the rest of the day. 

I consider Nora and I wonder, is this how you feel Nora...do you feel low? Because I watch you as you hide your eyes, I watch you turn your body inward as if to shield yourself from the razor sharp words, each letter entering slowly through the canal of your ear making its way to the bottom of your heart, tearing the muscle as it travels. What will be left of you when it’s all said and done? What happens to a girl when the heart is shredded so fine that nothing remains of it? A heartless girl turned against the world, revenge her only true companion. A heartless girl so thirsty for love, she’ll give her body away just to feel the touch of desire. A heartless girl so dead already, that she’s left to question her meaningless existence and so she takes her life, because why not? 

The bell rings and here comes Nora, sliding into her desk with her buddy brand sneakers, late as usual. Our jackets are put away, except for hers. It remains atop her back, the oversized winter coat aiming to hide the short black shirt lying beneath, exposing the bottom of her belly, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t hide and everyone sees. And the insults, they blare in my ears, and my stomach feels sick. I stand to my feet and I tell them to back off and to shut up. The room is speechless. Looking her way I find her glance--I’ll fight for you, Nora, I say quietly with my eyes, and she smiles embarrassed and gracious as if she knows. 

I sit awaiting the long bus ride home, and I am pensive. I utter not a word. How could I? This was a part of me now. It had been all along, but now the act was accomplished and it was irreversible. I had spoken and I was alone, but I was proud, and so I smiled. Protecting Nora would not improve my popularity status or my chances of winning over Jonathan, the 5th grade dreamboat. I knew that. But even an 11 year old girl knows there are some things you fight for no matter the cost. There are some moments no man can hinder, no authority can stop, no amount of likes or friends or accolades can prevent. And you rest there, in the midst of that peace, because it’s where you belong, it’s what you were created for. To bring order to chaos, to make wrong things right. 

That afternoon I grabbed a big black trash bag and I packed it full of clothes from my closet, new and old. I gave them to Nora the next day in the dark empty hallway outside our morning class. These are for you. They should fit. I want you to have them. Flinging her arms around me,  she laughed giddy with a thank you so loud Mrs. Snell had to shut her door. 

I don’t have many memories of Nora after those days. I don’t recall any other moments of defense or disturbing snubs or slurs. We remained friends throughout middle school, and I still look back on our class yearbook reminiscing on the memories and the notes we exchanged.

I think of her often and wonder of her life, where she is, and how she’s doing. Is she married with kids, a house and a pet...and is she happy? Will she ever know that I have a daughter who I call Norah, and that I think of her almost everyday when I look on the face of my baby girl? Will she ever know that years later I would meet Jesus after a long past of mishaps and mess-ups, that I would feel unworthy of the call, but that He would bring her and those 5th grade memories to mind? And He would say to me, Krissy, I will use you. Just like I used you then, I will use you now. Will she ever know how grateful I am for her life? How the Lord brings her to my thoughts again and again because that’s how much he cares for her. That while I may have blessed her with material possessions and a voice of safety, she blessed me more by her spirit of joy and gratitude in the midst of her very real poverty and suffering. 

It’s a funny thing, this life. You grow older and wiser and you look back realizing, all the things that ever really mattered were these moments. The ones where you stood for something that went beyond yourself and your own comfort. Nora was my friend. But she was more than that. She was a human life, a soul, and she was worth the cost of a sparkly reputation, a homecoming crown, or being seen on the arm of the cutest boy in town. A risky moment in time then, but an avenue of God’s voice now. I’ll take it. 

A risky move for a 5th grader. A risky move, I think, for anyone. But the theme of my life for quite some time has been, are you willing to look a little foolish for a greater cause? And now my question for you is…are you?

Photo Credit: Krissy Collins; Phenix City Middle School, 1994

Photo Credit: Krissy Collins; Phenix City Middle School, 1994