Every Valentine’s Day I remember my friend Michael McLeod and how a simple act of kindness changed my life.
It happened in second-grade, our teacher at Grapeland Elementary School, Mrs. Paulette Chapman, asked us to create our own Valentines. She gave us enough paper for 21 notes – one for every pupil. I embellished mine with red roses and wrote, “I love you” on each one.
I was unaware of one girl's campaign to keep me from getting any cards. The year before, that same girl had persuaded the other girls in my first-grade class not to play with me during recess.
She continued that crusade into the second grade. To this day, I don't know why. There was no confrontation, fight, or tensions between us. I’m not sure we ever really talked. Still, that pretty little girl with curly brown hair and the perfect dusting of freckles made sure I was picked last for any team or group activity, wasn’t invited to parties, and was miserable every day.
Making matters worse, I was a tall, gangly girl with a bad haircut, struggling to find out where I fit.
My saving grace that year was a little red-headed boy with a big heart, Michael McLeod.
Michael was a real friend. He played with me during recess. When I cried because of their treatment he would tell me to ‘ignore those girls.’
When Michael got wind of the plan to leave me without a Valentine, he decided to rescue me. Michael made 21 cards for me – one for everyone else in the class. He saved me from humiliation.
After that, things didn’t seem so bad. I learned to rise above the actions of others and appreciate what I had – a true friend.
It was Michael’s kindness, friendship, and acceptance that gave me the strength and courage to just be myself, despite what others thought or did.
I learned something, too, from the mean girl: Not everyone will like you and that's OK. Someone else will.
The next year, the mean girl moved away. Things returned to normal and everyone in class was again my friend.
To this day, Michael and I remain friends. He’s a corrections officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He and his wife, Sabrina – his high school sweetheart, have two kids and live in Grapeland.
He might not remember how he rescued me, but I'll never forget it. He stood up for me when no one else would, giving me time, and a safe place, to work through the pain and emerge stronger than ever.
Thank you, Michael, for a Valentine's Day I will forever cherish.