Late elementary school was dreadful.
Junior high school was dreadful.
Are you detecting a theme?
I wasn't cool enough to run fully with the 'it' crowd but I was fully sassy enough to point out the social injustices replete within the middle grades of my schooling career.
My insights were not always appreciated.
I often found myself on the firing end of an angry fifth or sixth grade mob, defending the cause of the underdog.
And before you go thinking I was all noble, that underdog was often me.
I just couldn't seem to keep my mouth shut when it came to the playground melodramas and soap operas. I felt practically compelled to speak out against the histrionic opposition to truth, justice and the American way.
Several of my more influential classmates did not appreciated my adroit acumen.
So while I was a something of a darling to the disenfranchised, the freckled, braced and flat-chested, I was an irritating oracle to the popular, prominent and pubescent.
And I paid for that.
School for me in those years was a round of conflict and controversy, speckled with intervals of rejection and disdain. Ah, youth.
My mother had been a popular girl, raised in the deep South and fully versed in how to beautifully fit in socially. My insistence on verbal combat was a puzzlement to her. My father didn't even try to pretend to understand the inner workings and labyrinthine intrigues of pre-teen girls. Send a man to the moon, no problem for my father. Trying to navigate me through junior high social issues proved more mysterious than rocketing to the heavens.
But it was in one of those seasons of conflict, in one of the low valleys of my Unpopular Winter, that my father did something for me, something that helped heal my heart and face another day on the school bus.
I don't remember now what the specifics of the event were, but I know that it had been yet another rough day in the social jungle. I had come home in tears, bearing some literal and soul bruises. I gave my mom the short story and went to my pink and white gingham bedroom to stare at the ceiling and poke around on my hurts some more. As the afternoon faded to early evening, my father arrived home from the office, the sound of his dress shoes on the entry tile hearlding his arrival. After a few minutes, there was a soft knock on my bedroom door. My father entered my room, a small box in his hand. And in that box was a gold heart, dainty and shimmering. He held it out to me, helped me thread that kernel of precious metal onto a gold chain and fasten it around my neck. He was a man of few words at that time in his life, fewer when it came to emotion. I don't really remember him saying much of anything as he offered his gift.
But I do remember, after he left my room, after he told me he hoped tomorrow was a better day, I do remember the feel of that cool spot of metal on my aching throat. I do remember the sound the charm made as I ran it up and down the chain. And I remember, very clearly, being so grateful to have a tangible symbol of my father's love.
I still wear that puffy little gold heart from time to time. It's stayed with me for all these years. My father has now become a man who can voice his love, his dreams, his legacy. I've become a little tougher when challenging the crowd and have learned to discern a little better which causes to uphold. And for all I know, it was my mother who had already purchased that little heart, secreting it in a drawer, waiting for an opportune time. Or maybe not.
But I do know this.
When I put on that little gold heart, that little symbol of compassion and understanding from a daddy to a daughter, given on a tough day, I'm reminded again that more than approval, more than popularity, more than comfort, more than clean floors, polished nails and coiffed hair, more than any of that, I want to have a heart of gold.
A heart of gold.