I got in the middle of a situation this morning that involved a tiny and hooded fifth grade girl. Her proper name was Arianna, but I took to calling her Vavoom five years ago when I first heard her voice. She reminded me of an old-time cartoon character – Vavoom – who could blow holes through mountains with one yell. My Vavoom had a voice like that and because she could be loud, she got the last word often enough.
If I had allowed myself favorites, she would have counted as one.
Before school, I saw her facing off with another neighborhood girl who stood outside the playground fence. Vavoom got heated and delivered her signature sound blast. Ayesha backed up several paces. Both girls came away with diamond-shaped rust imprints on their faces from pressing against the chain link. That’s how in-your-face this encounter had become.
I knew Ayesha some. Tough kid who had no fear of fighting for her causes. Once challenged, she would come back – with friends – to even things up. As she turned to go, I considered prospects: Would she gather a crew and arrange a “business meeting” on the back end of the day?
Meanwhile, I checked in with Vavoom. She admitted right away that she stirred up this mess. She wanted to clean things up. With only a handful of pertinent details, I arranged a face-to-face between her and Ayesha. We would go to the other girl’s school and nip things before they got ugly. I hoped to have this one in the bag to prevent a blow back.
Before we had walked three blocks, however, I got a call from the other school. Had I seen Ayesha? She had walked on campus and then departed. The principal there had called the girl’s home. No luck. My whole gut tightened. Now what?
We turned around and started back. Then, two blocks from school, Vavoom pulled up short. Ayesha and her two big sisters stepped onto the sidewalk, blocking our way. I made as if to stand between the two sides, but Ayesha’s sisters asked me to stand down. “We’ve got this.”
I stepped aside.
Ayesha spoke. She was tired of fighting. Tired of yelling. Fed up with all of it. Vavoom said the same. They went back and forth with a succession of blunt statements redefining boundaries and re-setting rules of engagement. “We stick to that and we done. Here and now.”
Just like that! Clean, clear, and complete. And, in that moment, I hardly recognized Vavoom. Who was this little titan taking care of business – fierce and poised without a principal’s meddling?
After the girls parted. Vavoom and I began walking back. Then, she stopped to make a request:
“In a month, I’m gone from this school. Vavoom is great and all. You been calling me that all these years. But could you start calling me Arianna? That’s my real name.”
How fast the loud and feisty fighter grew up. A little ten year old stating her needs? Right there, I saw a big soul rise up inside a tiny body to be seen and counted.
Days quicken when you reach my age. Blink and you miss big stuff. Likewise, change comes quick and cuts deep. I said not one more word as we walked up the back steps through the school doors, watched over by kindly sunshine, blessed by a single cloud as it drifted out and away.