There was a weird girl in my high school who we all called The Bird. We called her that because
of her nervous, birdlike movements and the way she would hunch her shoulders toward her ears as if
she was hoping her head would disappear into her body. She had sallow skin that looked as if it had
never felt the sun, and there was usually a blotchy red rash in the middle of her forehead. She had fine
black hair on her arms long enough to comb, and she wore clothes that had been out of fashion since
Shirley Temple was singing “The Good Ship Lollipop.” She was also the object of such contempt and
such cruel ridicule, that it shames me to this day to think I was a part of it, even tacitly.
Oh, I was never one to say anything to her face. I wasn’t that brave. I’d wait until she hurried by
with her books held tightly to her chest and join in the chorus of birdcalls with the other guys. She was
always good for a laugh. And it’s important when you’re a teenager to join the laughter, lest the
laughter turn on you.
I remember one day when the Bird was surrounded by three of four suburban-variety bullies
who had stopped her in the corridor between classes. They were flapping their arms and screeching in
her ear. She was terrified. Her eyes darted in panic. A couple of her books fell to the floor. When she
stooped to pick them up, the guys bent over her in a circle, closing in, screeching, screeching.
Then this girl came out of nowhere. I’d never seen such anger in a girl before. She went up to
the leader of the tormentors and ripped into him with a hot fury. “Stop it!” she shouted. “Can’t you see
what you’re doing?” The guys backed off, stunned.
Then the girl went over to The Bird and put her arm around her shoulder and walked her to class.
I thought about The Bird when I read heard about Nathan Faris, the little boy who shot a
classmate and killed himself after being the target of teasing by the kids in his school. I thought of how I...