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High Noon at St. Teresa's Elementary School

The puddle splashed against my legs, the filthy water dripping down my knee-socks. In front of me stood Charlie Miller, the perpetrator of the offense. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand, smirking with satisfaction.

It was a tradition at St. Teresa's Elementary School in Plimmerton, New Zealand for the boys to torment the girls as much as possible within the first few days of a new school year. It was a sort of display of physical domination and machismo that sent out the message: We are the boys (we play rugby and wage pea-shooter wars); you are girls (you play hopscotch and cry when you get dirty). For the most part it was correct. Boys in New Zealand were tough and brave, girls tried to be demure and pretty.

Secure in the knowledge of his imminent victory, Charlie Miller eagerly awaited my expected maudlin blubbering and tears. Leaning casually on the bars of the jungle gym, he was the picture of confidence: calm, assured, relaxed. My right hook sent him reeling backwards, causing the satisfied grin to vanish from his brutish face. As his pudgy bottom scraped along the concrete of the playground, he cried out in pain and embarrassment. All activity in the school yard froze as if it had been paused by an invisible remote control

Charlie slowly heaved himself off the ground, a bright red welt that would later become a nasty yellow-black bruise appearing slowly on his face. Undaunted by his tough reputation, I stood proudly, my hair ribbon only slightly askew. We faced each other like gunslingers at high noon, each cautiously anticipating the other's move.

The battle of the sexes had come to this show-down. I was determined to win, not only for myself, but for the dozen or so of my female classmates who stared transfixed in their identical green plaid jumpers. Never again would a girl at St. Teresa's back down in the face of male aggression. From this day forward, running in the school yard, playing on the netball court, hanging upside-down from the monkey bars, we would be equal.

Charlie's fierce expression could not pop the balloon of new-found confidence swelling inside me; I had bettered the mystique of his invulnerability; I was no longer scared of him.

Walking slowly away from the rapidly forming crowd, Charlie puffed up his scrawny chest. "What's everyone standing around for? Let's go play some rugby."

I watched him walk away, somewhat relieved that I had escaped with my limbs fully intact. Suddenly he stopped, turning to face me once again. "Hey hot shot, you want to come?" he inquired to my complete amazement.

"Sure," I said, in the most confident tone my six-year-old voice could muster. "Let's go."

I headed towards the rugby field, the mud on my knee-socks hardening in the sun of the warm afternoon. I was dirty, but I didn't cry; I was a girl, but I didn't play hopscotch. As Charlie Miller looked at me with unabashed respect I discovered what I should have already known: I was his equal and I always would be.

Heather McCready

Note: If anyone knows Ms. McCready's address or e-mail, the authors would appreciate your providing it to us.


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