Written by: Susan (Age 50)

I was not an attractive child. Not too many people have the luxury of being absolutely gorgeous from birth to adulthood unless their names are Brad, George, Angelina, or Taylor. I didn’t look as if I would live in the hobbit shire either. Everything would have been okay, if I wouldn’t have been chubby and intelligent. When you are in grade school and middle school those two traits combined equal outcast.

Most days I would walk to school since I only lived a block or so away. The distance was just enough time to daydream about being famous and not living in a hick town. Unfortunately, there were two schools in my neighborhood. I went to the Catholic one and most of the other kids went to the public school.

For the most part, no one bothered me. Occasionally I would hear, “Hey fatty!” or “It’s ugs!” I won’t lie to you. Those nicknames hurt. On this particular day, however, I was greeted with something else.

Three boys from the public middle school were headed directly for me. I kept my head down and just kept walking. All of a sudden, they were gathered around me. “Hey, fats! How ya doin’?” “Fine. I have to get to school.” “What’s your hurry?”

Before I could reply, one of them grabbed my book bag and tossed it to his friend. This round of keep away went on for a bit. Somehow, I managed to catch my bag midair. Annoyed at the disruption of their game, the oldest and biggest of the group proceeded to kick me in the shins and then punch me in the stomach. His friends started to laugh. As I blinked back the tears and fought against the pain, I heard, “See ya tomorrow!”

Scrambling I grabbed my bag and headed off to school. While I was in class, I didn’t have time to dwell on the morning incident. However, as the day went on, my anxiety started to grow. What if I see them on my way home? Am I going to get beaten up again? Is this going to last forever?

To avoid facing these jerks, I took another route home. It was a little longer but at least it was peaceful. I decided that this would be my morning walk as well. I guess I could count this as another problem solved. If this new direction took a little longer, then so be it. I hoped my parents wouldn’t notice the slight difference in my arrival time from school in the afternoons. I really wanted to keep this to myself.

Of course, like Lemony Snicket, I was going to experience another series of unfortunate events. Most of the boys in my class didn’t like me. I guess I didn’t really know how much they didn’t care for me. It was around this time that I started to get beat up regularly in the schoolyard.

I was never one to back down from a fight. Although I knew I would get my ass kicked, I didn’t just let these kids pound on me. Occasionally, I got a few good shots in. Luckily for me, a teacher interrupted one of these sessions and gave the boy detention. After that incident, I could look forward to recess without that gnawing pit in my stomach.

For whatever reason, one of the popular crowd decided they didn’t like me. Unfortunately for me, I was in almost every class with this guy. One time someone passed me a note from this kid before I left school for the day. I decided to read it on my way home.

It was a very long time ago but I remember the gist of it. This boy said that everyone hated me and wished I would die. Closing out this missive were the signatures of my classmates. I couldn’t believe my eyes! There were a couple of inconspicuous names missing from the list. Those particular individuals happened to be my friends.

Did everyone feel this way about me? My heart sank. I could feel the hot, wet stinging tears behind my eyelids. When I came home, I immediately locked myself in my bedroom. At the dinner table, my parents asked me what was going on. I really didn’t want to tell them but I could no longer deal with the burden of trying to keep everything inside. I showed them the note.

My parents were livid! They called the convent and demanded to speak to Sister Catherine, the principal of the school. After a muffled conversation, I had found out that my mom and dad were going to see her the very next day to present her with the note.

I begged them not to do it. I could only imagine the repercussions that would come from them doing what they thought was best for me. Whatever transpired in that meeting resulted in a round of questioning and detentions for all of the guilty parties. I expected retribution but instead I was met with indifference. I was ignored but I could still feel the dislike bubbling near the surface.

The months wore on and finally summer rolled around. I looked forward to its glorious freedom. While I enjoyed swimming in my pool and playing endless baseball games with my friends a curious thing was happening. I grew taller. My face and body became less round. By the time September reared its ugly head, I appeared to be a totally different person.

Of course, my old tormentors didn’t know what to make of this “new and improved” me. The fat moniker was no longer applicable. They still didn’t like me but I didn’t care. I had started acquiring a new found confidence. It was around this time that I also discovered my sarcastic sense of humor.

Someone would call me ugly and I would fire back a retort. Suddenly, people started laughing. The tables were turned. They weren’t laughing at me; they were laughing at what I said. My classmates also started to realize that maybe I did have some redeeming qualities.

This was a turning point for me. I didn’t need to be popular and I didn’t need the approval of everyone. I forged my own path and started to become my own person.

While I remember the painful times of my youth, I do not dwell on them. To those of you who are reading this essay and are feeling like you will never fit in or things won’t get better, I am here to tell you that they will. The pain that you are feeling today will lessen.

What I am saying is not bullshit or something that I read in a book by a self-help guru.  I am speaking from personal experience. Everyone has a light from within. With that light also comes a choice. Choose to be YOU! Embrace your idiosyncrasies and your eccentricities. You never know what they will lead to. You could be the next philosopher, scientist, musician, politician, teacher or artist that changes the world for the better. Don’t be hard on yourself. Life is much too short to live with pain and regret.

The world is an adventure. Treat it as such, shutdown the idiots and allow yourself to experience all that life has to offer. You are worth it.

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