by Karen Hall

There is a God, and He is just and merciful and, best of all, vindictive.

I know this because of a newspaper article I just received from my mother. Clipped from my small hometown newspaper, it's an announcement that Mr. and Mrs. Dabney Nelson have become the proud new owners of Buy Low Bulding Supply. And a photo of the Nelsons, Dabney and Vicky. Mrs. Nelson (please don't let her have any relatives reading this) is short and stout and, frankly, looks not unlike Winnie the Pooh's friend Piglet. To my enormous delight.

See, Vicky Nelson used to be Viki Greene, when we were growing up together, going to the same elementary and high schools. Back then, Viki was slim and pretty and perky and all the guys (and half the girls) made fools of themselves over her. And Viki had but a single purpose in the first eighteen years of her life -- to make my life a living hell.

Viki and her little band of followers set out to make sure that I was never elected to a class office, never invited to a party. and never asked out on a date. The local military school threw a kink into that last effort, but Viki simply declared it uncool to date those guys. (In fact, Viki informed everyone that since I'd never kissed anyone other than a "Hargrave Guy," I was still officially unkissed.)

My every morning would start with some pithy, scathingly original comment from Viki, like "Who cut your hair?" Whereby everyone would be informed that hair was to be today's subject of Karen Hall ridicule.

Since Viki was the Queen of the School, the only way I got to participate in anything was when the teachers made the choice. One day the homeroom teacher was recruiting senior girls for the Miss Pittsylvania County contest, and she included me. My initial glee was short-lived, when from across the room I heard Viki's voice: "What is she going to do for talent? Bleach her hair?" (For some reason, my hair was eternally causing Viki stress.)

Now. Let me pause to explain that my hair's natural color is about a shade duller than mole fur. Having decided that this was an oversight -- a condition a benevolent God would not willing inflict on anyone -- I have been shamelessly dyeing it since the seventh grade. Just so you won't think I'm trying to slide anything past you...

Viki was right about one thing. I didn't have a talent. I couldn't have sung "Feelings" at gunpoint. I couldn't tap dance or twirl a flaming baton, and the only musical instrument I could play was the stereo. I had been blessed with the gifts of being able to construct a well-turned phrase or an above-average metaphor, but it's darned hard to turn those skills into a stage act.

I finally decided that with a flashy enough costume and dim enough lighting, I could pull off something that I could call interpretive movement. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that on the night of the contest, the record got stuck. Or that Viki won.

I pause now to mention that I am a nice Christian girl. Okay, maybe not. But I aspire to be a nice Christian girl. Well...okay. But there is some ill-defined link between me and Christianity, to the point that the principles by which I govern my life do not include rubbing the noses of high school enemies in my current success. But how else do I tell the end of the story?

The facts are these: I grew up to become a successful TV writer/producer almost entirely because of Viki -- revenge being the world's greatest motivator. I am invited to more parties than I have time to attend, and I have many interesting friends, none of whom care what color my hair is if left to its own devices. And I wouldn't trade places with Viki for all the peroxide in Beverly Hills.

(My therapist tells me that the vast majority of her high-achieving clients were unpopular in high school. The good news is that we're all apparently running the world now. The bad news is that we're spending a fortune on therapy. The really bad news is that the popular-in-high-school-types have created a torrent of obsessively motivated people with deep-seeded emotional problems, who are now running the world. And we wonder why it's such a mess...)

The bottom line is that God has compensated me for my high school years, many times over. But never so much as when He prompted my mother to send me that clipping.

On second thought, I hope Vicky/Viki does have a relative reading this. I hope someone sends her a copy. And Viki, if you do happen to be reading this, I just have one question:

Who cut your hair?