We’d known each other since junior high, so I looked forward to seeing some of my old classmates at my friend Diane’s wedding. “Even Sheila Reardon’s promised to fly in,” she told me over the phone one afternoon.
Sheila Reardon? The name sent me back to 1971. I was a seventh grader again, dialing the combination to my locker. Up ahead a girl stepped awkwardly into the hall, her thick-framed glasses peeking out over an armful of books. Sheila Reardon looked down at the floor as she limped past a group of boys.
“Hey, Sheila,” a boy named John sneered. Sheila tried to ignore him. John hobbled up beside her in a cruel imitation of her walk. His friends cackled. My stomach tightened. Leave her alone! I wanted to scream, but the words would not come. I put on my jacket, ashamed of myself. I’d seen what happened to people who stuck up for Sheila. They got laughed at too. Some girls—girls like Diane, who were confident and smart—were brave enough to risk the name-calling, but not me.
“I wonder if Sheila will remember me,” I said to Diane, half-hoping she wouldn’t. I’d never forgiven myself for not standing up for her that day. I hung up the phone, remembering another afternoon in seventh grade. This time I sat in the auditorium watching our end-of-the-year talent show, wishing I had the courage to get up onstage too. But talent shows aren’t for people like me, I thought, or for people like—
“Sheila Reardon!” the principal announced from the stage. Gasps sounded all over the auditorium as Sheila walked slowly to center stage, carrying a microphone. I felt my own face go red, anticipating Sheila’s humiliation. Please don’t let them laugh at her.
The piano introduction began. Sheila raised her microphone. “Born free, as free as the wind blows…” she sang. I sat up. Could that strong, clear voice really be Sheila’s? I sneaked a glance at my classmates—did they understand the remarkable thing that was happening on the stage? Sheila was standing in the spotlight! The girl who was mocked if she spoke a single word in the cafeteria was singing to a packed auditorium. “Born free to follow your heart,” Sheila sang, and held that last note.
Sheila moved away, but I’d never forgotten her talent show triumph. I promised myself I would tell her what an impression she had made on me way back then. Not that it will do any good now, I thought as I got ready for the wedding. After all, I hadn’t helped her when she needed it.
At the wedding reception, I got my chance to talk to Sheila. I felt awkward bringing up that day in the hall. As it turned out, Sheila had no recollection of the incident. “It’s time you forgot about it too, Andrea,” she said kindly. Her eyes brightened when I mentioned the talent show. “I was sure people would laugh at me,” Sheila declared, “especially John and his friends, and I was afraid. But I wanted to sing. And you know who was the first person to stand up and applaud when I finished? John—the boy who teased me the most!”
Sheila and I exchanged addresses and promised to keep in touch. I was happy I’d told her how bad I felt. But I wished I could find a way to make it up to her.
Then I got a letter from Sheila. She thanked me for reminding her of her long-ago performance. “I never guessed I inspired anyone that day,” she said. “I want you to know you’ve inspired me too.” Sheila had worked as a health-care aide for years and was now thinking of changing careers. “My dream is to work with deaf people,” she went on, “but that would mean going back to school and school doesn’t bring back the best memories. Now I know that if I could get up on that stage back the, I can tackle this challenge today. Thanks to you.”
I tucked the letter away for safe-keeping. God gave me a second chance, and I had come through with flying colors. I could put my regret behind me. Thanks to Sheila.