I grew up fifteen minutes outside Nashville, Tennessee in a small town called Hendersonville. My memories are filled with riding bikes through cornfields to get to elementary school, building forts in the woods, playing soccer every day, and hanging out in a tight-knit community.
I’ve been looking back on my life and a memory that happened in Hendersonville sticks out as being relevant to the bigger story that I’ll be sharing later.
My younger brother had a big project he had to do in the second grade and decided to make it out of Legos.
He must’ve spent forty hours on the thing and it truly was a masterpiece when he finished. Actually, when he debuted it to the family, I believe all of us stood up and clapped for him.
When the day came to bring it to school, Mom warmed up the mini-van and we piled in and off we went. For any of you who have ever transported a finished Lego set, it’s not the easiest thing to do in the world.
We got to school and my sister opened the sliding van door for us and we carefully stepped out into the carpool lane. My third-grade sweaty, little fingers nervously clutched onto one side of the flimsy board while my brother was grasping onto the other. Somehow, we managed to get it to his classroom perfectly despite the crowds that were forming around us and everyone wanting to see and touch it.
A few days later, and with a grade of over 100, it was time to take it home. He asked me at lunch if I could help him and I promised I would - I’d just have to leave my class as fast I could and help him walk it to the bus.
We surprisingly made it through the chaotic hallways and onto the bus with all the Legos still intact. We managed to get over each speedbump, each turn, and nearly each bus stop – until we had about only 100 more yards to go.
We could see our driveway in the distance and were feeling like we were actually going make it there, but then we saw our fifth-grade neighbor stand up from his seat and make his way towards us down the bus aisle. He stopped right by my brother’s side as we were sitting down anxiously awaiting our stop and stared directly down at his project.
Then he began making fun of it.
And then - he did the unthinkable.
Our neighbor tucked all of his right fingers into a fist then hit the Lego board from the bottom.
And the Legos erupted everywhere like a volcano.
To this day, I still can hear them hitting the tin roof of that bus. They proceeded to fall down on our little bodies as I kept my eyes shut. I could feel each and every one of them hit me on their way down.
A shower of Legos.
My brother was mortified; tears welled up in his eyes and his face turned beet red.
And, I – I had tears in my eyes, but I wasn't sad...I was officially pissed.
And a silence came over the entire bus.
The bus finally came to a stop, the doors slowly opened and we stepped off – the fifth-grade boy, my brother, my sister, then me.
I had been reading this book in school right around this time about a little girl who was getting picked on because she was black by this terrible little white racist girl. The black girl ended up getting her revenge on the white girl finally after school one day and only after her bus left sight, so that she wouldn’t get in trouble with the school. I remembered in class thinking, “Smart girl!”
Now, it was my turn to be a smart girl.
I waited for the bus to go over the hill while watching my brother run into the house with my sister. He had thrown down the Lego base on the driveway with only a few remaining pieces still attached. The rest of the Legos were left on the bus because we didn’t have time to pick any of them up.
For those of you who have never lived in the South, some neighborhoods have some pretty long driveways. Fortunately for me, the boy who picked on my brother had a driveway that was about half an acre long.
As soon as the bus was out of sight, I threw down my backpack and walked up behind the boy - and then my soccer-playing abilities were put to good use.
I started kicking his ass.
Literally and figuratively.
While crying my eyes out.
A third-grade girl kicking a fifth-grade boy’s ass.
I could not believe he just did that to my brother. I just couldn’t believe anyone could be that mean.
And quite honestly, I couldn’t believe what I was doing – the guy scared me to death. He had picked on me before, but I never did anything back to him. This was the only time I had finally done something – and it was shocking to both him and me.
We both didn’t know what to do.
And for the record, I wasn’t the type of little girl to do this. I think I got my name written on the chalkboard twice in my life.
After I became exhausted from kicking his butt, I turned around and walked home. By the time I walked up the steps of the front porch, my parents were patiently waiting there holding the door wide open for me and told me to, “Get in the house.” Then they walked outside to meet the boy’s parents at our bus stop.
I remember slinking behind the dining room curtains and hiding myself there while crying my eyes out. I was watching our parents talk to each other at the bus stop. And my entire body was still shaking – I couldn’t believe everything that had just happened.
After surprisingly a short period of time, my mom and dad began making their way back to the house, walked through the front door, and called my name.
I came out from behind the curtains very slowly and proceeded over to them, with my head down.
Then, they did something completely unexpected – they started laughing.
“Just don’t kick his butt again,” my Dad said and patted me on the head.
And with that, I ran up the steps to my bedroom, continued crying and said sorry a million times into my pillow.
Looking back, it seems even at a young age, there’s something inside of me that is forced to stand up for others.
And I don’t know whether that’s in my blood, how I’ve been raised, or maybe it’s both...
But, it’s who I am.
I’ve also found out for some odd reason, it’s much easier to stand up for others, more so than just standing up for myself – because it no longer is only about me.
It’s about something much bigger than me.
Later in life (which you’re about to read), I was the one holding a Lego board, not my brother.
And this time my board was my career and the Legos are my life’s purpose - that I had diligently constructed over the course of my lifetime.
The fist of my bully was the launch of a sexual harassment investigation.
And my dreams are still laying on the ground, 10 years later.
Side note, I’m friends with that fifth-grader today and he has turned out to be a great man.
Here’s to all the brave ones
who have put their heart on the line
for something bigger than themselves.