A cap full of coals

I had an unhealthy friendship in junior high, a girl called Kate. I think I was fascinated by her ability to wield popularity as power over peers. Like the kid with the fancy fruit roll up who can take the fruit cup kid out with a glance.

Kate’s voice commanded dominance as she led her new fall flock past the fresh-faced recruit. They huddled then backed away to watch Kate offer Amy a piece of her fruit roll. She let Amy wear a visor just like hers from her parents’ golf club. It suited Kate, but swallowed Amy. Golf also suited Kate, an independent sport meant for seeking her own best score in all things. Sometimes she’d pull her nut-brown hair into a ponytail that crested the back of the visor making it bob perfectly up and down with her skip steps. She was so happy in authority. Amy was flattered by Kate’s attention, so the next day, Amy showed up in an all-Kate outfit. Kate sized up her mini American Girl doll’s sincere imitation with curiosity followed by disdain. To Amy’s shock, Kate pointed from the scuffed up shoes to the less-bouncy ponytail, and her team of sheep bahhhhed in Amy’s direction.

That year Kate and I ended up in all of the same classes together, so I got to watch her work. Her suddenly warm demeanor toward me should have been an alert that I was her next conquest to befriend and then dump, but it didn’t. I guess I should be glad that Twitter didn’t exist yet.

Her big switch from visors to baseball caps should have warned us all that she was changing her tactics, but it didn’t. Kate daily pulled two names from that baseball cap. Literal names, literal hat. One to hate and one to be best friends with. The first time my name was chosen, I felt beloved, selected, listened to, friended. I was the one with the fruit roll up friend now. People noticed me. Boys said hello. That was the best day of junior high. The next day was the worst. Surprised again, I was suddenly in Amy’s shoes. I looked down and I looked the same as yesterday, felt the same, but today her herd of mockers joined in bleating unison as I sunk in deflating humiliation. I don’t know why, but I was surprised that she didn’t care. Why should she? She didn’t know me. She didn’t know how her sociopathic study left the names from that hat feeling.

What did I feel then? Believe it or not, pity. Pity for the girl who must not know love, who must not feel pain, who befuddled me with her cruelty.

Befriending is hard when you can’t tell the captives from the captors. The Kates from the Kellys. The Georges from the Johns.

Our world can be confusing, painful on the daily, people needing love, needing hope, needing friends. Perhaps confusion could be surprise in disguise. It might mean seeing the strange for what it is and choosing the unexpected. It’s choosing to wave hello to Kate and her cronies and smiling back at their stuck-out tongues.

It’s like that part in the message Jesus gave where he said to pour hot coals on the heads of enemies. It took many years and so many sermons to realize that coal was fuel for fires for making food, for feeding families, for survival, for life. Jesus said to give life to enemies, helping them live, befuddling them with grace, surprising them one baseball cap full of coal at a time.

STEPHANIE PLATTER is a teacher, writer, film critic, and coffee lover who is so grateful for her kindred spirits, you all know who you are.

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