By Sylvia Nablo de Vasquez
It was grade eight, and I was the class scapegoat. People become scapegoats for any number of reasons; for me, it was that I was new to the school and very naive. I was brainy, much too trusting, bad at sports, didn’t care about wearing the latest styles and couldn’t afford them even if I had. Quite simply, I didn’t know how to be cool.
The only kids who were nice to me were so because they wanted something. In one case, it was a science project in which I did all the work and my partner shared the good grade. It was a miserable year.
It was winter in Regina, Sask., Canada, and gym class was held inside. We were playing basketball, and I played it as poorly as I did any other sport. I didn’t know the rules, and nobody explained them. If I somehow managed to get my hands on the ball, inevitably the referee would call “Traveling!” Then the ball would go to the other team, though I didn’t know what I had done wrong.
I liked sports, even though I wasn’t good at them, so I’d eagerly run up and down the court with my team. One day, I found myself at the other team’s basket across the hoop from my teammate, class jock Kelly Serge.
Kelly and I hadn’t held a single conversation the whole year. The class jock had no reason to talk to the class scapegoat. I never imagined he was any different from the kids who had been humiliating me all year, so I waited for him to make the easy shot.
He didn’t. Instead, he tossed the ball to me.
I caught it, stunned. Then I got myself together and willed myself to make the basket. I threw the ball. Too high. Kelly caught it on the other side. I was so disappointed, but again I waited for him to make the shot. The class looked on as he again tossed the ball to me.
I couldn’t believe it. True, he didn’t need to prove his skill, but he knew that being nice to me wouldn’t increase his popularity. I was determined to do better this time. I eyed the basket, felt the ball in my hands, and sent it up. It went in. Kelly grabbed the ball under the basket, gave me a grin of approval, and threw the ball back into play. It was such a little thing. Kelly gave me two chances to make a basket when he could’ve easily gotten the points himself. He risked embarrassing himself and losing the game. For me, a lonely 13-year-old, it was everything.
Kelly and I never became friends, but now, 19 years later, I still wish I could tell him: “Kelly, from the bottom of my heart, thanks.”