It’s funny how your world can crumble all around you in a seeming instant; except it’s not. Granted, I was the sort of child who needed a mature, experienced hand; I was stubborn and hot-tempered, but if my family had held, if my grandmother Hamilton hadn’t died when she did, if my great aunt Katherine hadn’t developed Alzheimer’s maybe things would be different, maybe I could have cultivated my strengths and reigned in my neurosis, the shored up the places where I am weak, gained the confidence that comes with security, but that’s not what happened.
Children are closer to our animal nature. When you get a group of them together they tend to form packs. Like wolves, they can sense fear and weakness and like chickens they can be easily worked into a sort of blood frenzy. In any group of people, children included, the dominant 5% will assert themselves, including the 1% of the dominant 5% who are not only of higher dominance, but have an element of sadism about them.
F.T. Burns Middle School was a stark contrast to Sutherland Elementary. Whereas Sutherland had been a W.P.A. project, red brick and no air conditioning, radiator heat in the winter, cafeteria in the basement, built on an old Civil War battlefield graced with enormous old trees; Burns was a brand new building designed to accommodate the most modern theories of open learning concepts. Carpeted and air conditioned, it was built in a former cornfield clinging to the edge of town where students were warned every morning over the P.A. system not to cut through the remaining cornfield to get to school because the farmer who owned it might shoot you.
I came to Burns timid and cowed by the bullies at Sutherland, teachers in the fourth and fifth grades and two students who singled me out for torment in sixth. I had a lot of fear and no self confidence. In a later era I might have been diagnosed with Asperger’s, so poorly do I read social clues. I was a weird kid, bookish, awkward and overweight, with an underlying neediness that could quickly turn pathetic when any sort of kindness was shown me. I was, in short, an ideal target.
In the center of Burns was the open cafeteria on a wide expanse of white tile and off the cafeteria were restrooms. The very first day at Burns I went into the girls’ restroom. There was a crowd of about fifteen girls gathered around the stalls and in the corner, under the Kotex machine, was a girl being beat down by two other girls. The one girl, skinny, with long dark hair, was cowering on the floor, her arm raised to try and protect her face while the other arm tried to protect her stomach as two girls just pounded her with fists. It was like a scene out of Carrie.
I left, in shock, before the bloody tampons started flying, but to see the violence I had always feared would manifest at Sutherland, the violence I was experiencing routinely at home, here in the flesh, just further drove my fear and made me determined not to stand out in any way.
That was my introduction to Pam Proffitt, who, along with her best friend and constant companion, Karen Sparks, pretty much ruled the school with Pamela Louise Proffitt unquestionably the Alpha Female of the group.
Pam had blond hair and pale skin with deeply dimpled cheeks that when combined with tiny, round blue eyes and an upturned nose that gave her face a somewhat porcine cast. She lived in an established upscale neighborhood with an in-ground pool in her backyard. She had a curvy figure, compact figure that bordered on blowsy when stuffed into tight jeans and strained button down shirts but the body of a twenty-five year old woman on a twelve-year-old girl proved irresistible to the hormone surging boys of F. T. Burns Middle School. Karen Sparks was taller and slimmer but still well developed but while Pam looked a little like Charlene Tilton, Karen looked more like a black haired, light-eyed Kristy McNichol with her fresh freckled face and, like Kristy McNichol, always destined for second banana status.
I was in English class with Pam Proffitt one year. I was very good at English, generally, I loved to read and I liked to write, my only failing being a difficulty in exercises that involved filling in missing words from pre-written paragraphs. We had been instructed to write several “scenes” representing different eras in American History. I remember Pam Proffitt turning in her report. It was nicely done up in a plastic report cover and inside were colorful book illustrations.
“Where did these come from?” the English Teacher asked her and Pam, whose adopted parents were a teacher and a successful car salesman.
“My mom bought me a set of encyclopedias to cut up for school projects,” Pam said.
You could see the cross look fleet across her face, English teachers being generally opposed to the destruction of books, and Pam ended up getting a C on the project.
I was jealous of Pam’s confidence on display as she and Karen Sparks did The Hustle at the school’s talent contest.
I pretty well stayed under Pam Proffitt’s radar and if she even looked at me it was with contempt, but I still hated her. I hated the fear she instilled. I hated her arrogance and meanness. I hated her privilege and her deep supply of ingrained ignorance. I hated everything about her. When we got our Eight Grade Yearbooks, the one where I’d unwisely tried to trim my own bangs before Picture Day and where the photographer had me pose sidewise so my already large breasts looked even bigger, I erased Pam Proffitt’s features from her yearbook photo with an eraser and drew in those of a pig instead.
F. T. Burns was a feeder into Apollo High School which was another cutting edge school, open concept, made up of five interlocking rings with a floating library up above. Our eighth grade class had already visited Apollo and chosen our classes for Freshman year. I had signed up for Russian, having a wild crush on Illya Kuriakin. Given that I eventually turned out to be nearly as bad at foreign languages as I am at math, it was probably for the greater good that my mother divorced my first stepdad and moved in with the second and I ended up attending Owensboro High School instead.
With that I parted ways with Pam Proffitt and didn’t think of her again until my Sophomore year of high school. I was dating the proverbial big, dumb, Pollack, one who was criminally inclined at that, but he was tall and blonde and looked like Bowser from Sha Na Na so I was into him. We were visiting some friends of his who had just had a baby and were living in subsidized housing on West 4th Street and there was a girl I knew from Burns, Sandy Morrison.
“Do you remember how popular Pam Proffitt was in middle school?” She asked and I replied that I did.
“Well, she’s not at all popular in high school,” Sandy claimed, “She sits in the cafeteria wearing skirts and no underwear and flashes guys. She’s just nasty,” and Sandy had high standards for nasty as she had just confided in me that she had just undergone initiation into “the most popular club at school,” by having sex with every member of the “club” but that was Apollo’s concern, not mine.
I didn’t think of Pam Proffitt again, with or without underwear, until my Senior year in high school when I was in Legion Park on a Sunday and saw her riding and grinning next to Jimmie Sapp in his ’67 Chevelle Super Sport when just days before he had been laying next to me, rubbing my tummy because I felt ill and I balled up my fist and hit a tree so hard I’m surprised something didn’t break. Or maybe something did.