Her name was Melinda. She was the worst player on the softball field and the only kid in class who didn’t have to take the weekly spelling test. Melinda was special. That’s what people like her were called back then. The kind that can’t keep up with the other kids, whether on the sports field or in the classroom. She didn’t talk much and she borrowed books from the purple bin at our school library. We all knew what that meant. Melinda was reading at a third grade level and we were in sixth grade by then. 

It was during an art lesson that I noticed a crayon called “fire-engine red” matched the color of her hair. The style and texture was like the yarn on a Raggedy Ann doll. Melinda may have lagged in intelligence, but she was hardly inconspicuous. 

 I don’t recall ever having a conversation with her. Except on the ball field. That’s where I not only talked to Melinda, I yelled at her. We all did. Every time she walked toward the plate, the entire team hurled our best, most inspirational words toward Melinda who always batted last in the lineup. In case you don’t know, that’s the batting order equivalent of reading from the purple book bin. 

It always seemed Melinda was at bat when the game was on the line. So our yelling persisted. Perhaps the emotional intelligence of adolescence had us kids thinking she could do something wildly out of proportion with her ability. Occasionally, she would actually hit the ball. But, running was another weakness so she was always thrown out. Having her on the team was a liability, a gimmie, a sure out. She was an anchor, the kind of kid that’s last to be picked, last in line, last in any order of things beyond just batting.

  Now that I have kids of my own, this last stuff strikes a chord that pulls my heartstrings. Thankfully, I do remember most of us accepting Melinda despite her deficiencies. We all attended her birthday parties back when people invited everybody in the class to have cake and ice cream at their house. I guess this made us friends of some sort. Like the kind that comes from experiencing childhood together. 

 I can’t recall if we won or lost the games when Melinda was on my team. But, I do remember her smile. Even when she struck out. Even when she barely played because first and last batters in the lineup have different number of times at bat. I still see her mom gathering up belongings after the games, and Melinda waving goodbye as if we were real friends rather than just classmates or players on the same team of circumstance. 

It’s been decades since this time and sometimes Melinda will pop in my mind. I wonder what became of her? I wonder if her hair is still as red?  I wonder what happens to all the Melinda’s of the world, the ones picked last, who remain last, while all the others grow up and move forward.  

Mostly, I wonder why I wonder this at all? I have no explanation, except that the wondering feels a little like wandering back to a time that was rather wonderful. I miss it and I pray for all the Melinda’s making their way in the world. They might be last, but they’re also first in ways only some  will understand. 

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