Rhonda was a noble rebel even as early as the fourth grade. She was a loner, wore daring clothes, and didn’t give a flip about school rules. She was the only girl I knew in our West Texas community who got taken to the office to be paddled, just like the boys.
But she was more than a rebel. Rhonda had a sense of pride and dignity and she lent it to others when she could.
One time during P.E. our class was playing softball out in the fields of mostly red dirt. A little girl named Trina was appointed captain of the team by the coach that day. Now, the rule was that the captain was automatically the pitcher. There was no choice and most of the time that was okay because it gave all of us a chance to fill a coveted role.
But Trina was unsuited to the job. She threw too high or too low and sometimes she couldn’t even get it to the plate. Yet she persisted, walking every one of the opposing team, which I happened to be on. I have to admit that I enjoyed the stroll around the bases with the assurance of an easy victory rather than an embarrassing loss, which was what normally happened.
However, Rhonda was also on our team and she refused to be walked. She swung wildly at the first pitch that actually made it over the plate.
“Hey!” we yelled in alarm. “Don’t mess it up!”
If she struck out we’d be a little closer to having to field the ball. And heavens, if she got a hit, there was no telling how many of us who were on base would be thrown out before the ball was out of play!
“Don’t do that again!” we admonished.
But she stared us all down, wiped the sweat from her brow and swung again, reaching high above her head in an attempt to connect. In the dugout we stomped our feet and gnashed our teeth. The score was eighty-seven to nothing, but if we had to take the field, the tide of misfortune could quickly turn and take us down.
Another pitch. Rhonda stepped over the home plate to swing, and this time she connected. We screamed as we watched her scramble toward first base, and then sighed with relief when she made it. No one else was thrown out and so we continued the leisurely slaughter….
I’ve thought about that game a lot over the years and now that I am grown, I think I understand what happened.
Rhonda felt embarrassed for Trina. The little pitcher who couldn’t was probably miserable but she was trapped by convention. For a brief moment, Rhonda turned it into a competitive game with doubt as to the outcome. By making it a true contest she offered Trina a modicum of dignity while the rest of us hooted with celebration and/or derision.
As Rhonda grew into her teen years, she continued to get in trouble for not doing what people thought she should do. She wore tight, ragged jeans, and went out with equally restless boys.
One day she was in an accident while riding on the back of a motorcycle. I’m sure she wasn’t being careful. She fell off, hit her unprotected head on the asphalt, and was dead in an instant. I didn’t know about it until I saw her picture in the paper.
I really don’t know anything else about her–only what I’ve just written. I don’t know where she lived, who her folks were, or where she was buried. I hope somebody still remembers her, though. Her defiance got her in trouble at times but it’s what made her stand alone against the crowd as she lent some dignity to a young humiliated girl.
I like to imagine that her defiance would have sparked a fire in her to become something wonderful as an adult. But really, she was already wonderful.