I mean, I’m still cool of course, but for a fifth grader, I was really cool. I was one of those girls who knew how to dress, who knew what to say, who knew which boys to like, and who knew which girls to . . . pick on. I was tall, blonde, and my very cool friends were like a fifth grade version of Veronica’s friends in Heathers. So, anyway, me and Colleen and Monica ruled the bus stop. We determined who got on the bus first, last, and the order in between. But anyway, the point of all this is I want to talk about a girl named Listie.
Listie. Bizarre name. Bizarre girl. She was younger than all of us, I think only in third grade, and she was sort of screwed in the head. She would have these, like, chronic panic attacks if she wasn’t allowed to be the first one to get onto the bus. I think she was afraid she might end up sitting with a boy or something. And she really dressed bad. She would wear stuff that was popular last year, or things just wouldn’t match. We couldn’t believe it.
So mocking Listie was fun. We’d laugh at her clothes, laugh at her name, tell her the stickers on her folders were uncool, laugh at her strawberry shortcake socks. We’d push her to the back of the line, hoping to incite a panic attack, and wait for her to scowl and her face to crinkle and mimic her, flailing our arms and pretending to cry. She would shut her eyes and try to ignore us, her face scrunched into an ugly pout.
But then one day she showed up at the bus stop and walked up to the front, right in front of me. She refused to move, so Colleen and I grabbed both of her arms and pulled her to the back of the line. “That’s where you belong,” we informed her and did our usual mockery of her panic attack. But this time she started to cry for real! She started to cry and – get this – she shoved me! With both arms, she just shoved me with everything she had. I can still feel her hands on my shoulders.
“Oooooooooh!” Colleen giggled. “Listie’s pissed! Listie Pistie! Pistie Listie!” Then, just as I was preparing myself for battle, Listie turned and walked away, without looking back. She started walking down the street, away from the bus stop, her Strawberry Shortcake backpack sliding off her shoulders and falling into the middle of the street. We could still hear her crying. “Ooooooh, Listie’s scared of Missy. Listie’s too stupid to – “
“Maybe we should go after her,” Monica suggested, noticing Listie was almost to the bridge, which we were always told never to cross alone. Monica had a point. And something about the sight of the backpack scared me, something about the way it was lying there, abandoned and forgotten, in the street. Something about it.
We didn’t go after her. The bus came and we got on. The driver didn’t even see the backpack, which I looked at from my seat in the back row until it was out of sight. From the back row, since we, as fifth graders, also had full claim to the back seats in the bus.
Listie never came back to the bus stop after that. I don’t know what happened to her that day. No one would talk about it, and her family moved very soon afterwards. She’s alive and everything though. I know because I saw her once, years later. At least I think it was her. At the food court in the mall. She was sitting there with her parents wearing really dorky clothes and not eating the food they had gotten for her. We looked at each other. She looked right at me. I looked away. Then I walked away, and didn’t look back again. But I can still feel her eyes on my back.