I was thirteen years old the day I was ambushed in a school kitchen. I was sitting out in the courtyard area of my elementary/middle school and had just finished eating lunch. I was about to walk back to my classroom to set up my stuff a little early (as I often did in those days), when suddenly I heard a voice say "Claira? Can we talk to you for a second?" I turned around and saw the woman who served the hot lunches and her daughter looking at me through the window. I nodded and walked into the kitchen where I was escorted to the pantry area at the back. What followed was something that can only be described as an ambush.
The daughter of the woman who had called me over sat down on a small stool. Let's call her Tina. I'm pretty sure she sat down so she could be more on my level, but Tina was already shorter than me to begin with, so when she sat down I just felt like I was towering over her. I stood there with my hands in my jacket pockets, which was something I'd started doing to keep me from biting my nails when I was nervous. Something about this already seemed weird, and it only got weirder when Tina opened her mouth.
She started to tell me how awfully I was treating her sister (who we'll call Leslie) and how I was always sticking up for her when a boy in the class above us (who we'll call Sam) treated her badly. I waited until she was done talking, and then said that, from what I had witnessed, Leslie was the one mistreating Sam, and every time I was "sticking up for" Sam, it was with good reason. Tina rolled her eyes and said something about how I needed to start treating Leslie better because I was being a bully. I knew Tina didn't have the full story, and I knew that she probably never would, so I took a deep breath and said, "Okay, can I leave now?" Tina rolled her eyes (again), said "sure, Claira" and then left before I did. When the door opened, I could see Leslie sitting outside, seemingly oblivious to what had just happened.
Sam and I hadn't always been the best of friends. We met when I was seven and he was eight, and we've stayed in touch over the years, but there have been moments in our friendship where we really haven't gotten along. But I knew that Leslie wasn't treating him well, and while I don't remember the details of it anymore, I do know that what was happening really wasn't okay. I knew things about Sam that Leslie didn't know, and I also knew things about Leslie that Sam didn't know. It could be said that I was stuck in the middle of these two people, but I wasn't impartial. I knew one of my friends wasn't being treated well, and I had talked to Leslie about it. I knew that I wasn't being mean to Leslie, and I knew that something was really off about my interaction with Tina. So I did what I always did when something felt weird at school: I left the kitchen, and went straight towards the playground where my mom was sitting and watching her students.*
I sat down next to her and told her what had just happened. I have never seen my mom get that quiet in the face of anger before, but I remember that she took out her phone. I didn't learn this until a few years later, but my mom went up to Tina and told her that she couldn't trap me in a kitchen and talk to me that way without her around, and also that she should have known better because she was older. An ambush like that never happened again.
Doing the right thing isn't always going to be appreciated, and sometimes the right thing is going to look like the bad thing to the bad people. Sometimes the "right thing" doesn't even feel like a big deal. Me being nice to Sam and not letting Leslie teat him unfairly didn't seem like a "right vs. wrong" situation, it just felt like the decent thing to do. Later that same day, when I was talking to my mom again, I told her that even though the interaction with Tina didn't seem like a big deal, it had left me feeling really bad. My mom looked at me and said it was probably because someone had tried to take my power away. Tina may have sat below me so I was standing above her, but her words and the way she said my name at the end made me feel so small she could have squashed me with her pinky toe.
There are few moments in my life where I have felt small, but that one day in the school kitchen was definitely one of those moments. This story is just one example of a time when someone made me feel small, but since that day I've learned that even though people may make you feel small, that doesn't mean you actually are. When people do things to other people and make them feel like they have no value in the world, that makes them the small ones. When people try to squash you down, know that they are actually lifting you up higher. Know that you are the one who will fly into the world stronger, and know that you are the one who will build everyone else up because you know what it feels like to be knocked down.
*quick side note: I've noticed that whenever I tell stories from my elementary school days, there always seems to be a moment where I mention that I went to find my mom. Apparently this happened more than I had thought. Okay, back to the story...