Friendship

So, what do you know? It turns out that I do in fact still remember how to hit the “publish” button. It’s been a month since my last post. I guess you can say I’ve had blogging writer’s block. I’ve been dealing with an unpredictable mood lately. I’ve been able to write, just not blog. But, today, I finally had the urge to write a post. Actually, the urge just cropped up on me about an hour ago. I hope this will be the beginning of my return to the blogosphere, but I’m not putting the cart before the horse just yet (I’ve always wanted to find a reason to use that phrase). Either way, though, I’m not planning on leaving this awesome universe of fellow bloggers anytime soon.

Now that I got that bit out, I guess I’ll just jump on into the heart of my post. Today’s urge to write can go back to this morning. I had therapy this morning, and it left me feeling quite low. Therapy is often a pleasant experience and I feel replenished sort of speak when I leave my psychologist’s office. However, today was a difficult session and quite emotional. It had to do with some issues I’ve been feeling inside lately, that have left me unhappy and feeling lonely. I know I’m not technically alone, but emotionally, I’ve felt it. I had a wonderful night this last Friday. For the first time in four years, I hung out with a couple of family members and watched a movie here at home and we ate take-out and drank Starbucks (something I hadn’t drank since 2008). It was a fun night and I was proud of myself for finally not saying, “No” to their request to hangout. It was like it was before my life falling into pieces, which I’m now trying to put back together. These family members understand how things are for me, though, and I appreciate them never giving up on me, like some of my friends have done. Once I was no longer fun to be around, they suddenly disappeared. I don’t blame them, but it still hurts.

So, the weekend started nicely. However, my mood started dropping slowly by Sunday night, and I couldn’t shake it. Part of it was due to anxiety, I know. But, something else was getting me and by the time I was trying to go to sleep, I was in tears. A sense of loneliness was once again taking over me inside. I tried praying through it, and I guess it helped since I fell asleep right afterwards. But, when I woke up it was still there, and it continued on into my therapist’s office.

After difficult sessions, I usually come home and not say anything. Even saying hi to my mom is difficult ‘cause it can feel exhausting to open my mouth and force the words to come out. So, when I came home I went into our family room for some alone time. I walked into the kitchen a short time later for some water, when she asked me how things went. I just answered, “Fine”, before walking back out of the room. However, I had to go back in there again about ten minutes later and she asked again, “Are you sure things went ok today?” This time I got upset and snapped at her, “I said it was fine!” I left the room once again, until I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted comfort and my anger wasn’t bringing me comfort. So, I walked back in the kitchen and when I saw my mom standing there, I went up to her and just hugged her. She asked me if I was ok, and I just started crying. I couldn’t say anything, and just cried. She then said, “It’s not ok, is it?” I didn’t want to talk with her about therapy, so I just kept it simple and she understood. She knew I wasn’t really mad at her, I just took it out on her, but thankfully that had been rectified now. And, it is then where the friendship side of this post comes into play.

I decided I’d log into a game that I play and just mess around in a world of fantasy, rather than my frustrating real world. When I logged in, I saw a good friend of mine was online too, which brought an immediate smile to my face. I always look forward to seeing and chatting with this person online and it helped to see her. She’s a beautiful person and I feel blessed that God has placed her in my life. We didn’t stay online long, but later on in the evening, came back and played some more. After we logged off tonight, I realized that spending time with her made me feel better. The feelings are still there, but they seem a little better now after hanging out and talking with her.

It was then, that I began thinking about friendship and how important it is in our lives. I started reflecting on past friendships of mine and how some have come and gone, while others have never left since the day they began. I’m not sure how that comes to be with some friendships lasting forever, while some do not, but I know my friendship with the aforementioned person will be a lasting one. I hope she feels the same way. Considering the world of constant connectivity through the Internet, such a concept isn’t impossible anymore.

However, I got to thinking about three friendships in particular that came, thrived and ended due to loss of such contact. The Internet can have its cons, but I think the connection of friendship is a major pro. The three friendships I’m thinking about are people who impacted my life in a positive way growing up, but since then have faded.

My Fantasy Twin

Third through sixth grade was a special time due to one particular friend. She was someone who loved fantasy and make-believe just as much as me. We’d play with one another often during recess and lunchtime breaks. Our imaginations guided us through a world of pretend that only we could see. We each formed the world around us, and in a Bridge to Terabithia sort of way, we fed off one another’s imaginations and could see what the other was seeing. It was fabulous, and she was the only friend whom I have ever had that was able to go into this world with me. But, then, came the end of sixth grade.

Her father got a new job in another state, and come seventh grade, she’d be gone. In a world of no Facebook, MySpace, or other social media (not even the Internet was in people’s homes yet), her departure meant the end of our friendship and Terabithia universe.

Although that friendship ended long ago (which feels like ages now), I still remember her. I will not forget her and I still have a story that she and I wrote together. The last day of school of sixth grade she handed me a typed up story. It was the story of our universe. It was what we always imagined together and what we had played for so many years. I still remember her saying that she had to write it out before she left, because it was a special memory that we had to complete before she moved away. I’m tearing up as I write this ‘cause it’s such a special thing when a friendship hits a deep and private side of your soul like that. She will always have a special place in my heart.

An Understanding Camaraderie

In the second grade, I met a girl who would become my “best” friend by eighth grade. She and I had a wonderful friendship, filled with laughs and plenty of memories. As a kid who was bullied in school a lot during these years, she was also a protector. Whenever someone tried to mess with me, and she was around, they’d back off. She spoke her mind and due to that, she became our class and school president during eighth grade. She was the most popular girl in school due to her brains and personality, and unlike most of the other kids, she didn’t treat me like I was a piece of cow dung on her shoe.

In addition to all of that, she also made me feel extremely understood – at least to a degree. I suffered from severe separation anxiety as a kid, and so sleepovers never happened. I couldn’t even go places with her and her family. I was always “sick” on the days when such events arrived, because I couldn’t get myself to go. All I could ever do is spend time with her at her house for a few hours, before I’d start becoming emotional and sick to my stomach. I could never eat at her house. I would sit there while she and her family and any other friends ate. Her mom always asked me why I wasn’t eating, and I would just say that I wasn’t hungry. That was the truth. It’s hard to be hungry when you feel like expelling your stomach’s contents onto the table before you. So, I would just sit quietly and sip on something to drink.

Through all of this behavior, though, she never gave up on me as a friend. She could have just thought I was too weird for her or that I wasn’t a good friend. But, she didn’t. Instead, she became my best friend, and an unlikely pair of comrades went through elementary school together.

Unfortunately, the world of high school would come between us. She went to one private school, while I went to another, and we slowly drifted a part. I did get to see her almost four years later, though. I was in line for the SATs (exams given in the U.S. for college entrance) with a friend of mine from high school. We were talking when a girl in front of us suddenly and loudly asked, “Summer?” I turned and after just a second of recognition, I yelled back in excitement. It was her… my friend for so many years was standing in front of me, and there we were embracing before one of the biggest exams that a young person may take in their life. We were so happy to see one another, but sadly we got split up almost immediately as they were dividing all of us test takers into classrooms. It was a bittersweet moment, but one that was quite awesome at the same time. Albeit for a short time, I got to see how she was doing at that point in her life, and vice versa. We were able to receive a life update on a good friend, which many people don’t get. She was well and thriving, and so was I… at least at that point in my life.

I still miss her, though. I will always smile when I think of her, and just as my fantasy twin, I will never forget her, as she holds a special place in my heart. She was a friend when I often needed one most. And, I always tried to be the best friend I could for her. We clicked in a way that doesn’t always happen in life, and I’m thankful for that relationship in my past.

A Friend Once There

The third friend is someone who brings with her a lot of good memories, but unfortunately I’m left with hurt ones too.

This friend and I met the second week of high school. I didn’t know a single person at this all-girls college prep Catholic school, and was suddenly thrown into a world of nuns and no boys. At first, it felt like it would be way too odd, and lonely beyond bearability. But, once I met this friend, things changed. She was the reason I didn’t wind up getting home schooled. I wanted out of the school after the first few days due to not knowing anyone and being so alone. I went from a school of bullies, to a school where I felt as if I didn’t even exist. My mom and dad had considered home schooling, until one day I came home and proclaimed with joy that I had made a friend. And, after only a month of being at that school, I realized that my high school experience was going to be much better than the previous eight years. I wasn’t being bullied. I was treated with respect and left alone by the girls that didn’t have anything in common with me. None of them jumped up in the bathroom stall next to me to invade my privacy, like when I was in fifth grade. No one laughed at me, if I fell down skinning my arms and knees. No one pulled out the chair behind me while I was sitting down, just so they could get a laugh from everyone in class. No one told me I looked like a boy and should stop lying by saying I was a girl. No one attacked me for how I looked or my strange quirks. All of that was gone. And, if not for this friend, I would not have stood at that school long enough to realize that. I would have lost out on that experience. I realize I was blessed that my bullied days were behind me when I entered high school. Too many kids are not so fortunate, and I hate that. Hate’s a strong word, yes, but when it comes to bullying, hating it is the only thing that seems appropriate. It’s not right and it’s something that needs to be put to an end. Bullying needs to stop!

My friend helped to keep me at that school and realize that things were going to be better for me. She and I became inseparable, and everyone knew that wherever I was, she wasn’t far behind, and vice versa. It was a wonderful friendship and we had a blast hanging out all of the time. She came from a strict family, and just like me wasn’t allowed to stay out past ten at night, even if our friend hadn’t cut her birthday cake yet for her 16th celebration. We had an understanding for one another and connected through both that understanding and just enjoyable times we had with one another.

However, just as high school divided me from my friend from elementary school, college became the division of this friend. It didn’t happen right away, though. At first, we kept in contact a lot while she was away at school. After moving in with her roommates into a townhouse near campus, though, our friendship began to fade. I became closer with a good mutual friend of ours from high school, and she with her roommates. As we grew up further into the world of adulthood, our mutual friend and I became closer as we had more in common. My old high school best friend had the taste of freedom in college. She wanted to only party, drink and go to nightclubs. She enjoyed that entertainment, while our mutual friend and I enjoyed chilling at the campus cafe, chatting at Starbucks, going to the movies, or just cruising up and down the coast and going to the beach. That bored my old friend and she made it known, by saying she was going to go to sleep in the backseat and we can wake her when we had decided on something to do.

Our company was no longer fun for her, and she made that perfectly and coldly clear. Sadly, there wasn’t anything we could do about that. I’m not a nightclub, drinker, or party person. I can’t stand that atmosphere, and prefer a quiet and laid back environment. It was only a matter of time until our friendship divided.

Eventually, she cut me out of her life by unexpectedly changing her number and not giving me the new one, and never replying to my emails about what was up. We never had an argument. We never said a goodbye. The last time we spoke all was fine I thought. She said she’d give me her new number, but never did. After my diagnosis, I started worrying that it was the bipolar. I hadn’t been diagnosed when she cut me off, but my moods had been affecting plenty in my life back then, and I just worried that she finally had enough of me. Maybe that was the reason, or maybe not, but I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore. For a while I worried that something had happened to her, but then my good friend (our mutual friend) saw her with a group of girlfriends one day. She was happy and laughing while going to lunch with them. She had moved on with her life and had cut me out without any reason or notification.

I was hurt and confused as to why she lied to me and told me she’d give me her number, only to just cut me out. However, through all of that, I was also happy to know that she was ok. She wasn’t hurt or worse, as I had begun to worry. She had only moved on. It hurt for a long time, but now I realize that was on her, and not me. I can’t make anyone like me, nor would I try. I tried as a kid, but not anymore. I’m a grown adult who now realizes that sometimes people just aren’t going to like me, and that’s fine. I’m not here to make people like me. I’m here to be who I am. I’m here to enjoy and love my friends whom I do have, and appreciate their presence in my life every day.

I will always have the good memories of my high school “best” friend, and to this day, I have no ill feelings toward her. I hope she is living a great life, and if she were to suddenly pop into my life again someday, I would have a hug waiting for her. I have no reason to be hateful toward her. All she did was grow up and so did I. It was just meant to be, I guess.

It’s All Meant To Be

In the past, I’ve talked about how I am a firm believer that all things happen for a reason. I may not always know what that reason is, but I have to believe that it’s there. My above three friends from childhood may no longer be in my life, but they will always be in my heart, and maybe that was the purpose. They brought something into my life, and I into theirs, when we were kids. I now have a small circle of friends. I no longer have a “best” friend as I value and love all of my friends, and don’t like to place such a label onto any of them. They all are each the “best” in their own ways and they each mean something special to me.

Only a few of them have now learned of the bipolar, but they have not abandoned me. They have given me their support and love, and one in particular has been amazing in her support of me since my diagnosis. She knows who she is. I love you so much “Lillie”.

I’m Now Changed For Good

One of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard on friendship is from my favorite Broadway musical Wicked. It never fails to make me cry. I think it sums up my relationships with the three friends who made a huge impact on my life as a kid, which has in turn impacted who I am today. This song is for them.

 

 

 

I Never Liked August

Ah, August. The month of the year when back-to-school ads are out in abundance. As a kid, I remember this month being an anxiety producing one. I hated the month. For me, it meant that soon I would once again be forced from my mom’s loving and protective arms, and thrown back into the slimy claws of my bullies.

June was wonderful. School was ending, and I knew I would be home to play in my make-believe world and stay up all night if I wanted. I would do that often as a child. I’d stay up all night long and loved it! As the summer pressed on into July, I was still content, as I knew I had quite a bit of time left of my glorious vacation. But, then, it would always happen. Inevitably, the first Sunday of August would arrive, and with it, a flurry of back-to-school ads in the newspaper. Full-colored ads of kids looking disgustingly happy and excited to be heading back to a place that I dreaded throughout my grade school years.

Elmer’s Glue… What?

It was upon lying first sight on those ads, that what I now know to be anxiety began to take over my body. I knew that soon I would be going to be measured for my new uniform (I went to a private Catholic school grades 1-12). And, I knew that my mom, dad and I would be making our annual trek to the store to purchase all of my school supplies. That memory is still so ingrained in my mind, that whenever I come across a bottle of Elmer’s Glue in our house, I have flashbacks to those shopping trips. I always had a long list of supplies that were needed, but the glue… something about that glue has never left my mind. It had that smell, the texture, and feeling of when that bottle was in my hand. It’s sort of strange, really, ‘cause I’m not sure why of all the supplies I had, that the glue would stick (pun intended) in my mind.

Maybe it’s due to it being such a special staple of school supplies. I mean, paper, notebooks, pens, pencils, and folders, are all common supplies (at least here in the States), but they’re used for every subject. Glue, on the other hand, is a school supply that was used for only some circumstances. It was used for art class and trying to get those stubborn macaroni pieces to stick, or for cutting out pictures of people and places for social studies class. Or, most importantly of all, it was used to make hand masks. All of us kids would pour it all over our palms and wait until it dried a bit, then pull it off to see a perfect imprint of our palms. I’m sure parents will love me for sharing that lovely tip with their kids. But, that was glue. It was only used for those special occasions. So, when I see glue to this day, it reminds me of school more strongly than any other supply. And, it takes me back to the days of buying it in August most often.

I can still feel the sadness that would start to overcome me, as August came to a close. I could feel my energy being drained from me, and I would enjoy less and less as that final week of vacation arrived. I would become more emotional, and spontaneous crying was a given during this time. As I stated in my post Separation Anxiety and Bipolar in Kids, I suffered from severe separation anxiety as a child. I would cry as if I was grieving, and it was a draining experience.

School registration was horrible. It would take place in September, shortly after Labor Day. Starting around 6th grade or so, our school changed how it did registration, and made it occur during the middle of summer vacation. But, up until that year, registration took place on the first day of school. Being a private school, they already knew the kids who were going to be there due to the tuition being paid, but the registration was for the parents to fill out important forms and such. Most of the kids left the room as the parents were filling out the forms. They were happy to be back at school and they were looking forward to playing with their friends. Not me, though. I would stay by my mom’s side for as long as possible. I didn’t want that time to end, and it would hurt me to think ahead another twenty minutes, when I knew I’d be forced to leave her.

I remember a few other kids in the room with their moms. They seemed to be feeling as I did. And, then, the bell would ring. It was time for me to go to my new classroom, and my mom had to stay where she was. You would think I’d be used to that separation by now, but that’s the problem with a child who suffers from separation anxiety… it’s just not that easy. I would cry and hug her as hard as I could. She would comfort me with her assurances that I would see her soon, and that I was going to feel better once the day got underway. Letting go was a difficult challenge, but I would always get the strength to eventually do so. And, it helped that I had that Kleenex!

The Kleenex

Oh, did I forget to mention that? You see my mom always has Kleenex in her pocket, due to allergies. And, back then it wasn’t any different. As I would cry in her arms, not wanting to let her go, she’d give me a tissue to dry my tears. Well, that tissue would stay with me for the rest of the day. Why? Simple. It had her scent on it. The tissue would smell like my mom, a pretty scent of ‘mama’ that I never wanted to let go. So, I would dry my tears with it, then go off to class, and I’d keep that used, tear-soaked tissue in my pocket. And, I’d pull it out throughout the day, to smell it, so I could smell my mom’s scent. It made me feel like she was with me. I can’t recall how she found out – if I told her, or if she just guessed – but eventually my mom knew what the tissue meant to me. And, everyday, she’d give me a new tissue to carry with me… her scent and all.

It’s funny what can soothe a child, and what can also cause pain in adulthood. A few years back, when my mom was in the hospital for a week following a surgery, I was staying there every night with her. I didn’t want to be away from her for that long. It was the same as a child, when I had to leave for school. And, when she had surgeries when I was little. The surgeries were especially difficult. I wasn’t just taken away from her during those times, but I was also taken from my dad and home. I had to stay with my older sister, brother-in-law and nephew. I couldn’t stay at home with my dad, ‘cause he didn’t feel he could handle a little girl alone. My sister took very good care of me, but no one can substitute for Mom (I know she’d agree with that). It was hard for me to be away from my mom, and away from home too. I wasn’t allowed to visit her either, because my mom knew it would only upset me to see her, and then have to leave again. She felt it was best that I just did not see her until she returned home. So, that meant twice as a child, I was away from mom, dad, and home, for one week for the first surgery, and almost two weeks for the second. For a child with separation anxiety, that is an unimaginable amount of time. I had to continue going to school during the second surgery (the first one took place during the summer), and that made the time go a little faster, but it was never fast enough.

The Burnt Pizza

My dad has never been much of an indoor cook. He can Barbeque, but he hasn’t done that in years. But, cooking on the stove is something he usually leaves to my mom. Well, one day during my mom’s second surgery, he picked me up from school to take me home for a little bit, so I could be at the house for a while. My sister was set to pick me up afterward. So, we stopped at the market on the way home, and my dad picked up a large frozen pizza to make for our dinner. I’m actually crying as I write this ‘cause it’s such a touching memory for me. My dad, who doesn’t know how to cook much on the stove, put the pizza in the oven, and well… he left it in there a bit too long. He took it out and it was a tad black on the bottom. It was still edible, though. I still remember his face when he pulled it out. He looked disappointed, but I still ate it.

That is a touching memory that I have, but nothing will beat what happened next, that same day. I was sitting in my bedroom. Prior to leaving for the hospital, my mom had set up a rack in my room with fresh clothes for my dad, uncle who lives with us, and one of my older brothers who still lived at home at the time. All three were adult men, and that’s why both she and my dad thought it was best for me to be with my sister, since as a little girl, I was still very dependent on my mom. So, back to the clothes. My mom wanted to make sure that they had all of the clothes that they needed while she was gone. I remember sitting on my bed that day staring at the rack of clothes, and my dad was in the kitchen with the pizza. As I stared at the clothes, I started to cry. I was trying not to be loud, as to not let my dad hear. My mom was the only person I was ever comfortable crying around, although my tears wouldn’t always restrain themselves in all other instances, including this one. My cries soon turned to sobs, which could no longer be muffled. It was then, that my dad walked into my bedroom. He sat next to me on the bed and put his arm tightly around me, hugging and telling me that, “Mom will be home soon, don’t worry.” He kept hugging me and my tears kept coming. I wanted to stay home so badly, but I couldn’t.

Later that week, my dad went over to my sister’s house for some home-cooked dinner. When it was time for him to leave, I began crying again. He thought that I was crying for my mom. That day in my bedroom, it was for my mom, but that night after dinner, it was for him. I wanted to go home with him. I missed him. He didn’t know that, though. My sobs were too strong for me to talk through them, so I couldn’t let him know that. So, he left that night thinking that I was crying for my mom, when in reality the tears were for him. Those memories have always been extremely emotional for me (still are), so it wasn’t until last year that I was finally able to tell my dad that I was really crying for him that day. It felt good to finally let him know. It touched him too.

Back, to the Past

So, back to three years ago, I could not let my mom stay in a hospital alone. For one, I was worried about her being alone. It was an excellent hospital, but it didn’t have to do with that. It was that I would worry about her no matter where she was located. And, secondly, I didn’t want to be at the house without her. I went through that as a child, when I had no choice but to listen to the adults telling me what to do. They did what they felt was best for me, and I don’t doubt that it was best for me. But, now I was an adult, and I was going to make the choice to be with my mom.

For the week that she was in the hospital, I spent each night with her, and most of the days. Then, I would go home for a few hours everyday to wash dishes and clothes, shower, make my uncle’s lunch for the next day, and my dad’s lunch and coffee for the next day as well. I’d make sure all was set for them, and then go back to the hospital with my mom all night. The recliner that I slept on left much to be desired, though. Two recliners were present in the room with her, but the really comfortable one was in the way of the nurse when she’d come in to check on my mom in the middle of the night. So, I just slept on the other one that might have once had padding back during World War II.

Everyone knew this. Everyone in my family knew that this was what I was doing, but there was one thing that they did not know. Each day when I’d go back home, I’d peak into my mom and dad’s room and start crying. I remember lying down on their bed once, and just sobbed like a baby. I’d see the empty room, and know that my mom wasn’t there. I’d go up to her sweater that she always wore, and just like when I was a little kid holding that Kleenex, I’d smell her sweater to get that scent. I knew she was getting better in the hospital (and today, she is doing much better), but at this point she had a lot of complications that made a lot of things, such as her ever walking again, up in the air. It was a stressful time. That bedroom, and her sweater, was a symbol of what life had been before she got sick. Now, everything was different, and she wasn’t home. She wasn’t able to lie in her own bed, which I knew she wanted to do so badly. She wasn’t able to be home with us. It was hard.

August… Oh, August

So, you can now see what August does to me still. As a child, it was a depressing time for me as school came closer. My mom’s first surgery took place in August. The second and most recent one did not, but their memories come back with this month. I guess August has become a time for reflection on all of those things. As each new ad comes on TV with kids dancing around in new clothes, and happily heading off to school, I think back to a time when I did not feel that way. And, even more sadly… I imagine the kids who, today, are in that same emotional place. They don’t want to go back to school. Maybe it’s fear or sadness, or maybe it’s getting back to routine. Either way, it’s a change to which some kids are not looking forward.

Change… that is something that never comes easy, at least for me. I know it’s also not coming easy for Alice. I’ve mentioned her before in my post Innocent Heart. She’s my little cousin (my cousin’s daughter), and she’s entering first grade this year. She’s nervous. She feels good about it, then the nerves come back again. When I was talking with her a while back, she was telling me how she misses her friends from Kindergarten who aren’t going to be in her class anymore. They’re going to different schools. She was expressing to me her fears, and she became teary eyed when talking about going to school and not knowing if she’ll recognize anyone, or if she’ll make new friends. I tried to comfort her in the best way I knew how, and I tried my best to remember what I felt like at that age. The memories are strong, so I was able to ease her fears a little that day. However, I know first hand, that it doesn’t matter what anyone says to you. You will only be at ease, when you are in that place and feel it inside. No one can really say a magic word to make you feel perfectly fine. Anxiety comes from within, and it’s up to what we feel inside that will either put it at ease or not. So, as she comes closer to her first day, I am thinking about her a lot. I thought I was past those back-to-school emotions. However, she’s afraid of the change that’s coming, and, unexpectedly, I am feeling anxious for her.

When I think about it, I guess that’s what August represents for myself. August equates to change. Whether you’re heading back to school in August, or preparing to, it’s all a brand new experience coming. Summer is coming closer to an end, and that means fall, and soon the holidays, will once again be upon us. That time of year is returning.

As an adult, I now cannot wait for the summer to come to an end, due to my serious loathing of the heat. But, I also think about those kids – and especially Alice – with separation anxieties that are aching as the summer comes closer to its end. They want the summer to last a little bit longer. For them, I guess I can put up with a little longer summer.

I know I would have appreciated that when I was a kid.

 

Here’s to a classic!

The Tomboy in a Dress

She’s just standing there, wearing mismatched clothes. She’s wearing pink shorts with grass stains. The left leg’s sock has been stretched way too large for her tiny ankle and hangs over the top of her sneaker. And then, there’s the shirt. She’s wearing a blue t-shirt that’s neck is stretched a bit too, ‘cause she never puts her shirts on carefully. To make matters worse, the shirt has a large – and very noticeable – hole in it.

Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if it was just an average day around the house, but today is Easter. It’s a special day and here’s this little girl dressed as if she was going to spend her day making mud pies and helping her daddy in the yard. But, she doesn’t care. She has dressed herself. She’s proud. She doesn’t want to wear a dress, or anything pretty looking. She wants to wear what she’s comfortable in, and she doesn’t care what anyone says.

I was this little girl. Seven-years-old, and I wanted to dress myself. My mom would spend time getting my best clothes ready so that I could look proper for Easter Sunday and any other special holiday that was being celebrated at our house. I wouldn’t get dressed right away. I would wait until everyone was here. I knew if I got dressed before the family arrived, then my mom would make me go back into my room and change. However, if I waited until all of them were here, then she’d just let me be. After all, it would be too late, as they would have already seen what I looked like in my sloppy clothing that sometimes displayed every color in the rainbow.

My sister hated that. She would get upset that my mom let me dress like that, but my mom has said that she would just explain to her that it was my doing, and not hers. My sister and I are very opposite. She’s a girlie girl and always has been. I know she always wished that she had a girlie kid sister, but she never did get that with me. I was a tomboy inside and out. It just wasn’t in me to dress in pretty clothes, especially when they were dresses. I hated dresses, and still do. Don’t get me wrong, I think others look pretty in dresses, but I just don’t like how I look in them. I feel awkward and uncomfortable. They make me feel more exposed and self-conscious to an anxiety-producing degree. There have been times when I have had no choice but to wear a dress as an adult and all that I can say is that I hate it. It’s such a rare occurrence that my mom must whip out the camera every time she has seen me in one. Yeah, that doesn’t make it feel worse.

The Stare of Shock

My first communion was a beautiful day. It took place on a Saturday morning, complete with blue skies and a bright sun shining over the church. It was a special day. My entire family was there to watch me accept the Body of Christ into my life for the first time. I was seven-years-old, dressed in a pretty white dress, and wearing a veil to match. I looked quite content, and I guess I was for the time being. But, when I got home, that all changed.

My entire family came back to our house for a daylong celebration of the completion of one of my Holy Sacraments. I wanted to change out of the dress, but my mom wouldn’t let me because she said I should wear it longer. It was a special day and I should show that in how I was dressed. A short time later, my mom went outside with a tray of food when she said she looked up and saw me in the backyard with all of my cousins, nieces, and nephews. I was playing football with my beautiful white Communion dress still on. My veil was just flying behind me while still attached to my head. But, she needed not worry about the shoes, as I had replaced my white dress shoes with my once-white sneakers.

She stood there with a stare of shock. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My little Holy girl running around playing football in her very pretty and expensive white dress. And to top it off, you were wearing your dirty old tennis shoes with it.” Well, she did just say to keep the dress on.

My mom loves telling me that story as she says it speaks to the type of little kid that I was back then. I was myself. I did what I wanted and I was just a kid. I wanted to have fun and I did whatever I had to do to have that fun.

Where Did She Go?

I wish I knew where that little girl went. Somehow that little girl changed. I don’t even know when. It just began to slowly happen. Shortly after this age of innocence, the bullying in school began, and as I grew up, it only got worse. I was pushed away by other girls who wanted to exclude me for whatever reasons. I was criticized for the way I looked, and for the fact that I was not as vocal as the other kids. I could put my thoughts and ideas down better in my writing, than in speaking. Speaking in class was a nightmare. And, I would be made fun of in front of teachers, who would many times just ignore it. Thank goodness for having to wear a uniform to school everyday, otherwise that would have been another reason for them to point and criticize.

Free dress days were not fun. Those were days when, for special occasions or picture day, we were allowed to wear regular clothes, and not our uniforms. I remember one time the school was having a special Mass (I went to a Catholic School), and so all of the girls had to wear dresses or skirts. I was not happy, but went to school with a skirt on. It was one that my mom had picked out and bought for me, and one in which she said that I looked so pretty. She was proud of it. But, some of the kids didn’t waste any time pointing at it and laughing. It hurt on multiple levels. They were not only attacking how I looked, but they were also making fun of my mom’s taste. And, that made me angry inside. I think that hurt more than the attack on my looks.

I can still see the faces of those boys. Those four boys in my class always loved to single me out. They would make comments to me saying that I was actually a boy. They would always ask me why I pretended that I was a girl when it’s obvious by the way that I looked that I was really a boy. They, along with some of the other kids, would point out all of the flaws that I already knew that I had, but they’d stick them under a bright magnifying glass and laugh at the helpless ant.

The Holiness of a Day Doesn’t Matter to Bullies

I remember in sixth grade, our class was in charge of putting on the annual performance of the Stations of the Cross. The performance was to take place on Holy Thursday, prior to going home for our Easter break. I was cast in the Eighth Station of the Cross – as one of the three women who cry as Jesus walks by. He stops and tells the women not to worry about Him, but to celebrate His love and message by spreading them to others. Before He walks on, He tells them to take care of their children and to raise them well.

Well, as myself and the other girls were crying in the performance, another few kids were laughing at me. After the performance was over, a girl in my class approached me and said, “We were all laughing at you earlier in the play. We kept saying how funny looking you are.” She said it with such a cruel smile on her face. As usual, I would hold my tears back until I was alone at home. I never gave the bullies the satisfaction of seeing me cry, but it hurt so much.

That was the same girl that would always do hurtful things to me. I’ll call her Al for the sake of this post. Al was one of the popular girls and never liked me. I don’t know why. I never did anything to her, but she saw something in me that she could exploit. One day in my elementary school’s afterschool daycare, she came up to me and said, “Come on, let’s go hangout and walk around.” I was surprised that she was asking me this. I thought she hated me, but I was so desperate to be accepted that I went with her. She kept telling me to keep up with her as she quickly walked ahead. I was trying to match my pace with hers, until she got to another girl on the playground. As soon as she reached the other girl (another popular girl), Al loudly said, “Stop following me!” She then turned to the other girl, telling her that I was so annoying and pathetic, and they both just laughed. She planned it all along to make me follow her over to the girl, only to do that to me. And, she enjoyed it.

To make it clear, I did have friends in school, but unfortunately, they weren’t around me every single moment on campus. And, so once I was away from them, the bullies would take advantage and make my life miserable. They would humiliate me in any way that they could. I remember being in the girls’ restroom in fifth grade. I was sitting there when one of the popular girls came in and jumped up on the toilet in the stall next to mine. She looked over the top and wouldn’t leave. She kept just watching me and told me that I had to answer her questions if I wanted her to go away. They were embarrassing questions, on top of the already humiliating experience of her invading my privacy. Finally, she left when the bell rang. I was never so happy to have recess be over, as I was that day.

It Takes a Toll

The way we’re treated as children really makes an impact on us in adulthood. It’s impossible to forget many of those horrible memories. And, they do take a toll on a person’s self-esteem. I went from a young child who didn’t care what others’ thought, to slowly becoming a child who hated everything about who she was. As the years in elementary school progressed to the eighth grade, so did the number of bullies. They seemed to have flocked to one another. The mob mentality I guess. Once one saw that I was an easy target, the rest – not all of the kids, but those who had it in them – decided to join in.

I had my defenders, though. My friends who appreciated me for the person I was, defended and stuck up for me when they caught someone messing with me. I am thankful for those friends, and I will never forget them. They saw the real me and loved me for it. I loved them too and still do. I can’t lose my love for someone who was so good to me in the past, especially when I needed him or her most.

The Tomboy Still Lives

I’m still not a girlie girl, and I never will be. It’s not who I am. I like to sweat, when it’s from working hard or doing something productive. Sure, I wear other type of clothing, but I like to wear jeans and t-shirts most, and do whatever I have to do to get something done. As long as I have access to soap and water, I will be happy to get down and dirty if need be. I don’t like wearing dresses, and I don’t like being told that what I wear isn’t good enough. I’m not saying that I’ll show up at a wedding in blue jeans and a t-shirt – I mean I do have common sense and class – but on the average day, I will wear whatever I want. I don’t always feel great about it, though.

Unlike when I was a seven-year-old girl and didn’t care what anyone thought about how I looked, I now do care. I know that some people must look at me when I pass by them at my therapist’s office building. I’m sure some even think or say nasty things, since some people just don’t grow out of that kind of behavior. After having some random guy – a complete stranger – on the sidewalk outside of my work make fun of my hair several years ago, I know that some people don’t grow out of it. I actually had wished my older brothers had been there to hear him so they could have kicked his lame butt. But, I guess it was for the best that didn’t happen. But, I was able to leave that spot. I didn’t have to stand there and take it. I wasn’t in school anymore. I wasn’t being forced to deal with this immature man who wanted to act like some stupid and cruel boy. Yes, it hurt me, but I didn’t have to stay there and allow him to continue to hurt me. I admit, though, that’s not an easy thing from which to walk away.

Did I Learn Anything?

I’ll say this, though. My years of being treated like crap in school taught me something. It taught me not to judge people by their looks, let alone attack them for those looks. It taught me that respect for my fellow human being is important. Two wonderful parents raised me, and it’s because of their love, that I managed to make it through those years. They taught me right from wrong and that it wasn’t right to make fun of others for their differences. That – compounded with my own personal bullying experiences growing up – has taught me to appreciate others’ differences, rather than exclude people for them. I don’t care how you look. I don’t care how you dress. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is. I don’t care if anything about you is different from myself. If you treat me with respect and dignity, then I will reciprocate those values back at you. Every human being deserves that.

I’m not changing my tomboyish ways either, because it’s who I am and always will be. I’ll never be that girlie little sister. My sister will always be the pretty one and I’ll always be the plain one. I’ll never be that person who’s asked by others for fashion or make-up advice. However, those people are missing out on some good information on where to buy some rockin’ t-shirts. But, what I will be is someone who is no longer forced to be around bullies. I’m no longer that little ant under the magnifying glass. God made me who I am. Therefore, I am who I am.

So, although it’s rare when this tomboy will wear a dress, one thing will always be certain. If I’m asked to play football while wearing that dress, then look out, ‘cause I’m not turning down the offer.

*************************************

Please Know…

To all of the kids out there who are still being bullied in school, please know that eventually there will be a day when you can get away from those bullies. You can overcome their ridicule and painful attacks, and someday choose if you want to let certain people into your life. You’re strong. And, most of all, you’re loved! Those of us in the world who have been bullied have a great deal of respect for each and every one of you. We understand the pain, and want you to know that you’re not alone. Just know that it will get better. Please know that is not just some slogan. It’s the truth. It will get better.

Write about it. Draw about it. Dance about it. Talk about it. Sing about it. Make your voices be heard, and it will show you – and others being bullied – just how much you’re loved and understood.

You’re a person of worth, and you’re not alone!