Katie held the phone in her hand with trepidation, but she was determined that this time she would go through with it; she would dial the number, and not hang up. With shaking fingers she pushed the buttons, and steadfastly, resolutely, waited until someone answered.
“Hello,” said a pleasant male voice.
Inwardly terrified, she responded, “Hello… is this Jaime Kingston?”
“Yes?” came the questioning voice on the other end.
“I’m… please… don’t hang up. My name is Katie Haines. This isn’t a prank call. I’m calling because we knew each other in junior high, and I suppose I’m a bit nervous.”
“Did we now?” Jaime sounded amused and curious. “But I don’t recall knowing anyone named Katie Haines.”
“No,” Katie answered timidly. “You wouldn’t. My name has changed several times, even my first name.”
Now Jaime sounded even more interested. “Oh, I love a mystery, let me guess. Is this Donna Bailey?”
“No, Donna was a cheerleader. I wasn’t part of that crowd.” Katie was feeling less afraid now that they were actually talking. “Did you lose track of Donna? I always thought you two would get married.”
Jaime laughed. “No, we went to different colleges and her family moved out of state.”
“So you weren’t part of that crowd, huh? You sure I knew you?”
“Oh yes, you knew me quite well. You spoke to me every day. And you talked to others about me.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. Then, “I know who you are, who you must be…”
“Yes?” Katie questioned.
“You’re Gloria Zimmerman, aren’t you?”
Katie let out the breath she hadn’t known she was holding. “So you do remember me.”
“Remember you? I can’t forget you. Every time I run into a story about bullying, every time I hear of another child who took their life because they couldn’t stand it anymore, I think of you, and wonder if you… turned out okay, if you survived.”
“Yes, I survived quite well, thank you. After I went through several years of therapy and finally figured out I wasn’t a piece of garbage, yeah, I turned out fine. And to be honest, I wouldn’t go back and change it if I could.”
Jaime’s gasp could be clearly heard. “Why?”
“Because it taught me a lot; because what I went through, as Nietzsche so aptly put it, made me stronger. It made me who I am, and I like who I am now, five decades later. But that doesn’t mean I would wish the same on any other kid.”
“Then why? I mean, I’m very happy things worked out for you, you have no idea. But why call me now, if not to ream me a new one?”
“Because I have to know why; I have to know why you did what you did. You were the most popular boy in school. Why did you need to harass me like you did?”
“Harass is a pretty polite word for what we did to you. We must have made your life a living hell.” There was a pause, and Katie waited silently. “I didn’t start it, you know. That’s small comfort, I’m sure, but I’d like you to know that.”
“I do know that. I know exactly where and when it did start, if not with whom. But what I want to know is, why you didn’t stop it? You had the power, you could have stepped in and stopped it just like that. Yet you embraced it, took it on as a cause, and everyone was soon following your lead. So please, tell me, why did you do that?”
“The truth? The God’s honest truth? I was a coward.” There was another pause. “People think that because you’re a big shot you must be sure of yourself, confident, unafraid. That’s utter BS. I was afraid. Yes, everyone followed me. But I also followed everyone else. I was afraid to be different; afraid to stand up for what was right. But it tore me up even then, and it’s something I’ve regretted all my life. I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve that. We were wrong.”
Now it was Katie’s turn to be surprised. Softly she spoke into the phone, “I never knew. Of all the things I’ve imagined, I don’t think I ever thought of it that way.”
“You might be interested to know I give speeches against bullying at schools now, several times a year. And I tell them my story; our story.”
“That’s… that’s very nice to know. I was so afraid to call, but now I’m glad I did.”
“Your number is blocked. But I would love for us to keep in touch, and maybe you would join me at some of my talks?”
“I would like that.”
She gave him her number, and they spoke easily about shared memories. They promised to talk again, and to get together. When she ended the call, Katie felt better than she had in a long time. Understanding didn’t change what happened, but it went a long way toward changing one’s perception of it.
Andy Stiles pushed his chair away from the story he was editing. It was a very good one. In fact, it had a real ring of truth. More than that, Andy could relate. He remembered the harsh words, the hurtful remarks, the shunning. Suddenly, he knew what he had to do. He slid his chair back to the desk and brought up People Search. He typed in a name and was very surprised to find the person he was looking for with no problem. The name was the same, the age was right, and the address was even close to his home town.
With the same trepidation mixed with determination that Katie felt, he dialed the number. “Hello,” said a female voice.
“Hello, I’m looking for Wendy Schwartz.”
“That’s me, who is this?”
“This is Andy Stiles… and I’m calling to apologize.”