My first big memory of Konnie was becoming her roomie at drill camp the summer before my sophomore year. I recognized her from school, but had never talked to her.
In all honesty, she sort of scared me. She had a total of eleven piercings between her two ears, was a transfer student (rumors were rampant as to why), a foster child (ditto), and it seemed a foregone fact to everyone that she'd been involved with drugs.
I have no idea if the drugs part was true, but as the months went on and we became friends, I was never aware of her doing anything shady like that, although it wouldn't surprise me to find out it was true. We'd been in P.E. together our freshman year. She'd looked rather Goth back then and hung out with friends who were less than savory (the type that hung out at "Stoner Wall" and were very open about their drug use). Not that any of those things are guarantees, but it's a good possibility.
That first day as roomies when we changed clothes, I noticed a little sticker on her upper arm. "What's that for?" I asked. She shrugged, avoided the question, and finally mumbled something about liking stickers. Odd, I thought.
For the next three years, Konnie and I gradually became good friends. We ended up being a major part of the drill team leadership, so we choreographed routines, ran practices, and of course spent hours and hours together in the bus, at competitions, at games, and so on.
Because of the sticker incident, I kept an eye out and noticed that she always, always had her left arm covered. In the locker room, she kept her t-shirt draped over it as she got dressed until something else covered it. She never wore just a leotard on top for practices. She always wore a shirt, too.
Most of our costumes had sleeves. One didn't, but we did have a band worn on one arm, and our director insisted that we wear it on the left: the same arm Konnie always covered. While the rest of us used one another to help tie on the bands, our director was always the one who tied on Konnie's, as if there were some secret only the two of them shared.
No one else seemed aware of it, but by the time our senior year rolled around, I was desperate to know her secret. Did Konnie have some funky birth mark she was ashamed of? A scar? Maybe she came from an abusive family, and it was a cigarette burn.
I did my best to sneak a peek in the locker room and elsewhere, but man, she was good at hiding that thing. If I tried to ask about it, she'd change the subject. It took months and months of diligence on my part, but I finally caught a glimpse of her secret: a little green shield tattoo about the size of a dime.
That's it? A tiny little tattoo?
I couldn't figure out what the big deal was. At least, I couldn't until I sat back and thought through what I knew about Konnie. She'd let all but two or three of her ear piercings grow back in. She attended seminary. She stopped wearing freaky black makeup and immodest clothes. She no longer hung around the Stoner Wall kids. She went to church. She studied and did homework and didn't skip classes anymore.
In short, she was turning her life around and trying really hard to fit into a mold she hadn't ever put herself in before.
I think she was terrified that if the friends in her new world knew about the tattoo, that they'd judge her and turn away.
That made me sad. It also made me wonder if she was right. And that made me sad.
I don't think I ever told Konnie that I knew about her tattoo, and I kept her secret from the rest of the team. The tattoo didn't make a snit of difference in how I felt about her. While watching her cover it up make me sad, it also made me respect her. That act was a symbol of where she'd been and where she hoped to go.
The last time I saw Konnie was at my bridal shower. She was a new mom of a darling little tow-headed girl. I've tried looking her up since but without luck. I hope she's doing well.
Josi's post here reminded me of Konnie's secret and made me want to write about her. Thanks, Josi.
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