The plum tree seemed to mock me. Even after Jennifer had come and gone, changing forever my perception of 'cool' it still remained there, just beyond me, stationary and silent. There was nothing I could do now, it was over, and I faced a year of loneliness.
I sat in Mrs. Meyer's third grade classroom remembering the events that had happened only a few months before. It was winter then, November, but the leaves were just beginning to fall from their homes on the branches. Then, as now, I sat at my desk staring out the second story window, lost in thought. The classroom was full; full of children, full of colors, and full of defection. Everyone kept their distance from me, afraid they would catch the disease of my strangeness. Afraid that somehow, if they got too close, my eccentric clothes, hideous glasses, and stringy hair would turn them into freaks too. And so I sat alone, daydreaming.
I pictured the Chinese plum tree in the midst of spring, bursting with fruit begging to be picked. All the children made a game of it, to see who could capture the most plums. Rocks were being thrown at the fruit, limbs were being shaken, and the plums were falling like rain. And then, in my mind, I saw it: the largest, juiciest, sweetest plum high up on the top branch. I knew that this was my chance for acceptance. I put every ounce of determination in my soul to work on this one task. My scrawny arms shook as I inched my way higher, higher; and then finally I clutched my hand around the swollen fruit and victoriously made my way back down to the ground. Everyone welcomed me with cheers and shouts of approval.
But my euphoria was soon shattered by my teacher's voice.
"Class," she said, "we have a new student. This is Jennifer."
She was a slightly chubby girl whose curly blonde hair puffed out on all sides of her head, untamed and unadorned. Her face was pleasant enough, but her eyes held apprehension and fear. I thought at first that we could be friends, but that idea was crushed at once by my classmates.
"Look at her hair!" Someone said loudly and mercilessly.
"She looks like a poodle!" another chimed in.
The fear in Jennifer's eyes turned at once to anguish and hopelessness as she made her way to her seat and put her head down on her desk, cushioned by her arms.
The rest of class passed by slowly. I shifted my gaze constantly between the plum tree outside with its shivering leaves and the girl who I knew already. I knew her because she was just like me. I knew why she kept her head down, how it felt to be so disappointed and disgusted with yourself that you didn't want anyone to ever see you. And how you try, then, to be someone else. Someone who is accepted and loved and appreciated, someone who is liked, because only the real you can be hated. That fake and eerie image you project, that hollow shell others see can never feel hate or understand loneliness. It is a chameleon. It changes and morphs into whatever people want to see, while the real you remains inside, safe and protected. That is why the ridicule hurts so much. You have let the real you out of its shell and it is tender and ripe for the assault. You have failed.
Yes, I knew her very heart, and yet that plum tree lay just outside the window. That promise of spring and the children who would love me when I climbed all the way to the top and captured that most perfect of plums. The prize seemed worth it, then. Now, I'm not so sure. Because of that plum tree, that promise of acceptance, I shunned Jennifer too. She left the school only a week later because she felt too alone, too defeated and broken.
And now here I sit, months later, in the same desk, looking out the same window at the same tree with the same feeling of loneliness in my soul. Nothing has changed, if anything, things have only gotten worse. My days are filled with regret and thoughts of what could have been. Could we have become good friends, Jennifer and I? Now I will never know.
"Time for recess everyone!" Mrs. Meyer said, "Let's enjoy the nice spring air!"
I made my way out to the playground and watched as everyone fought for plums. When they had gone I stooped to pick one up from the ground. I tore back the golden-orange peel and took a small and bitter bite.