As a child, I dreaded the beginning of the school year. My stomach churned and my eyes would burn with bitter tears. I despised school like few others. This is because I was one of the most picked on kids in the class.
I went to a small, Catholic school in suburbia, and following the teachings of Jesus (love others, be kind and compassionate) should have been practiced by its students, but it was a far cry from any sort of accepting, nurturing environment. I was known as “The Retard’s Sister” because my brother had some mental challenges. My lunch was stolen frequently, and few would speak to me for fear of becoming “retarded” by association. If someone was assigned to sit next to me in class, he or she would move his or her desk as far away from me as possible. In retrospect, my brother probably should have been in a special needs environment, and I am not sure why he wasn’t. But I only had two “friends.” One was an actual friend, Karen, and still hung out with me at school. After a couple of years, the other (Liz) only spoke to me on the phone; at school, she made fun of me and my brother.
When I wasn’t at my hell on earth, I hung out with the neighborhood kids. I wasn’t weird or different there. In fact, at their schools, some of them were awkward, too. One of the boys, Mikey, was kind of popular. Four years younger than me, blond, blue eyes, kinda wild, athletic… But ages didn’t matter on our block. We played together, wrote and performed skits for the neighborhood, shared school stories. I fit in there. I didn’t fit in at school.
It was like that until 7th grade. Then my parents made the switch from private to public school. No one knew me or my brother. I made friends, and while I wasn’t one of the cool kids, I had a huge chunk of friends. In high school, my world opened up even more. If I was picked on, I fought back. If I saw someone else picked on, I stood up for him or her, because I knew what it was like to come home in tears, humiliated, ashamed, and wishing that I didn’t exist. I didn’t hate school, I didn’t dread it, and I may not have been insanely popular, I was known for being a nice person, and didn’t give a damn what clique you were in. And if anyone dared say anything about my brother, you’d get more than an earful from me about it.
And you still will.
On a side note, I’m happy to report that some of the people who did pick on my brother have apologized as adults for doing so. And Liz, the “friend” I referred to earlier, contacted me on Facebook, to tell me how “different” and “good” I looked… well, I denied her friend request.
And now, as an adult, working on a college campus… the first day of school brings about completely different feelings. Helping lost students, giving out free highlighters, rulers, pencils and pens, providing directions and advice around the school… it gives me a feeling of pride to be able to help ease their tensions. I haven’t forgotten how hard it is to be a teenager just yet.
Prompt from The Daily Post.