Tuesday, October 05, 2004

I saw the smelly kid

from school today in a gas station near the town where I grew up. I took a ride out there today because I needed to get reservations for this haunted corn field/pumpkin picking thingy that I take my lil nieces and nephews to every year.

So I pull into this gas station and start pumping gas. My cell phone goes off, and it's my boss and he's bitching and moaning because my server went down at work and the assembly line is down and it is costing $15,000 every 45 seconds and I need to tell him how to fix it NOW!

I'm trying to talk him through the breakdown, and the gas station attendant starts yelling at me over the intercom that you are not allowed to use cell phones while pumping gas. I hold up my hand to say "just a minute", and click, my pump shuts off.


I reach inside my truck and grab my purse, and head inside. When I get to the counter, I can't believe it. It is her. The smelly kid.

There were three kids in her family, all a year apart, and they all smelled to the high heavens. They didn't brush their hair, teeth, and it looked like they wore the same clothes over and over without washing them. I realize calling her "the smelly kid" sounds extremely mean, but it is the truth. They smelled bad enough that it could make you gag. Seriously. Your eyes would tear up if you were around them long enough, especially once they got a bit older, like junior high age.

I got the worst of it then because my last name was right before their last name. I had to suffer through those first seating charts in school every year sitting right in front of her, except for the glorious third grade when she was put into a different class then I. Junior high was worse because although I didn't have her in class all day anymore, her locker was right next to mine.

I suffered in silence all those years, as my upbringing would never allow me to join in with the kids that taunted the smelly family. One day in 8th grade, the smelly kid opened her locker and found a wrapped package. She opened it, and inside was a bar of soap and deodorant.

There were kids nearby laughing, and she just dropped the package and ran. I think I was experiencing some form of guilt, because while I felt incredibly sorry for her, I was also hoping to hell that she got the hint. When I got home I told my parents what happened in school that day.

I just didn't understand why she didn't take a bath. My Father explained to me that perhaps her family couldn't afford water, or maybe didn't even have water. After the way I had grown up, I couldn't even imagine someone living in those types of conditions. My Dad could, as he was raised dirt poor, and sometimes even food was a luxury his family couldn't afford.

He asked what her name was, and the color drained out of his face when I told him. He knew her Father, and was his boss. While her Father wasn't in management like my Dad, he still made a good wage and should have been able to provide things like water and soap and clean clothes.

My Dad thought maybe something was wrong, and I guess he had a little talk with smelly kid's Dad. Now my Father is not the type to come off as domineering or condescending. He is the most empathetic and charitable person I know, more then likely because of the manner in which he was raised. The Dad did not appreciate it, and told my Father to mind his own business.

It seems that while there were smelly kids at school, the Dad was the smelly co-worker at work. Perhaps it was just a matter of upbringing, and they weren't raised to value personal hygiene. I still to this day don't understand the situation.

After my Father's talk with her Dad, I got the distinct impression that her Father told her about it. She was hostile to me and gave me dirty looks all the time. My Dad said her Dad was really upset, so maybe he took it out on her. I guess I'll never know.

In the middle of 8th grade the school finally intervened and took it upon their selves to talk to the smelly kid's parents. I don't know if they threatened to take them away or what, but they weren't quite as ripe after that. Sure, they still came to school looking disheveled and I still don't think they ever brushed their hair, but at least your eyes didn't water when you were around them.

I didn't see smelly kid after 8th grade. Their family didn't move or anything, so maybe she quit school. At the time I never gave it a second thought, but I find myself wondering what happened now.

Now I was face to face with smelly kid again, 17 years later. So there I was, feeling total yuppie guilt. I was almost ashamed that my vehicle probably cost more then the house smelly kid grew up in.

My boss is screaming, "*Insert last name* are you there? Are YOU THERE?" I just kind of stand there probably looking surprised and guilty all at the same time. I backed away from the counter and finished telling the boss what he needed to do.

"Umm...My pump shut off," was about all I could manage to say. She looked at me like I was some kind of insect. "You were talking on your phone. That is a safety issue, so I turned it off." "Umm...ok, can you turn it back on now?" I asked. "No." she said. Just that. No.

She still looks like she doesn't wash or brush her hair, but I couldn't smell any penetrating odors coming off of her. Her front teeth were rotting, and I felt all kinds of sympathy mixed with guilt and annoyance.

"Why not?" I asked. "Because even fancy people like you have to follow the rules. That'll be $2.97" I opened up my purse and said, "I'm not...I mean...Oh, forget it. Can I get a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights too?" "Can I see some ID?" she asked, and she wasn't being flattering. She was trying to give me the hardest time she could.

I muttered forget it and gave her $3.00. I put the three pennies in the little need a penny take a penny thing and she kind of snorted. With that, I turned around and walked out.

I didn't want to leave though. I wanted to explain to her how I had worked my ass off for what I have. I wanted to tell her how I worked 50 hours a week and did 16 credit hours a semester to graduate college, all while practically raising my sister's three kids. My life had not been easy since high school. Not by a long shot.

Why did I feel this need? I have no clue. I've never in my life felt embarrassed by what I have achieved, so why now? Was it because she didn't seem to have accomplished much? If I think that, am I a snob? Maybe she has lots of love and is happy with her life, who knows?

I guess it just seems unfair how some people always win and some are just destined to lose. I am such a blessed person. No matter what curve ball life has thrown me, it has always been for the best, and I have always landed perfectly on both feet, better off then I was before. Is that where the guilt comes in?

I try to tell myself that it shouldn't, because my life could have taken some severe detours down some dark alleys if I hadn't made the right choices. A lot of those choices were not the easy road, more like an straight uphill battle carrying a two hundred weight on my back. I got to the top of those hills though, and I shouldn't feel ashamed of that. Ever.

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