noun: a group or member of a group that is perceived as different, foreign, strange, etc:
Prejudice comes from fear of the other.
verb: to perceive or treat (a group or member of a group) as different, foreign, strange, etc.
--"other". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 28 Jun. 2017.<Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/other>.
(AKA, THAT KID)
Reasons people are othered: race, gender, color, sexual orientation, religion, politics, socio-economics, appearance (weight, height, development/lack of development, etc), clothing, alcoholic parents, disabilities, speech impediments, intelligence/lack of intelligence...no real reason at all.
GOOD reasons people are othered: ZERO.
Once Upon a Time...
Ok, I'm about to be the guinea pig That Kid..This is only a snapshot of my whole picture, so I'll preemptively say that I had a family that loved me, some unmentioned friends (a few better than others), and some likewise unmentioned boyfriends in high school (a few of those were better than others, too). I'll also cop to the fact that I wasn't always a good friend to people who deserved better from me (and I owe some apologies), did a few stupid things and made my share of bad decisions (you know, book material).
Picture evidence shows that I had a second as a cute kid before I fell into the unforgivable pit of a slow metabolism (and 70s and 80s fashion). In those days, I lived in a Wonder Woman bathing suit, collected Garfield stuff like it was my job, begged almost daily for pizza, made birthday cake and dandelion wishes for a horse (and expected one of them to pan out, eventually), and reveled in using words like "treacherous" correctly and spelled right in the creative writing assignments every other kid groaned about. In other words, I was pretty interesting...and kind of young-girl normal.
But none of that mattered to the kids at school. All they needed to know was that I was "the fat kid," and that it was their obligation to give me daily reminders. They took that business seriously. If we ran relays, they used the waiting time to tell me how slow they thought I'd go and how much earth I'd crack. If we had to break into teams or groups, I was last picked--because everyone knew fat kids didn't win games or answer questions right, duh. If a classroom reading assignment had an overweight character, I had to be compared. Ask me how TERRIFIC it was to have Judy Blume's Blubber be a popular book for my 4th-6th grade peers. If I planned to--god-forbid--eat at lunchtime, my food had to be scrutinized.
Around the time of that hot pink shirt picture to the right, I added boys to my list of things that interested me. One in particular (let's call him Luigi) had my undivided adolescent adoration, though I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe I was already developing my thing for blue eyes and dark hair. Maybe it was his new-kid mystery. Whatever it was, he was everything back then, even better than horses. No he most certainly wasn't. I wasn't delusional though. I stayed in my lane, jumping double dutch while he played the sport of the cool kids who didn't let outsiders (or fat girls) play.
Honestly, I don't remember letting anyone other than my mother in on my crush, but (OF COURSE) the secret got out. I was told Luigi liked me back.
ME! aka "fatso," "fat stuff," "whale," "blubber," "blubber-butt," "tubs," "tub o' lard, "lardo," the girl who others walked behind and made "boom, boom, boom, boom, ad infinitum sounds about. Go ahead and cue the scene in Heathers when Heather McNamara slips the fake love note onto "Martha Dumptruck's" lunch tray. I'll wait.
Decades later, I remember the exact sun-yellowed black tone of the asphalt on the day Luigi found out that I had the nerve to think he liked me. We were waiting in rows on the blacktop for our teacher to come get us after recess, so of course I remember--it was all I could look at after he responded.
"How could I like her?" he shouted, to make sure I could hear over the giggles in the rows between us. "She needs to go to WEIGHT WATCHERS!"
My little elementary kid heart shattering was probably the only thing louder than the laughter and chaos, and the only thing more pathetic was spending the rest of my elementary life with everyone who caused it. But Junior high had to be better. With six elementary schools mixing their graduating classes together, I'd have a fresh start, a blank slate with no history to live down. Nope. I'd have a theme song.
Repetitive and tuneless, "The Wildebeeeeesttt! The Wildebeest!" followed behind me, around me and in front of me, multiple times a day. Hell, since I had a class with an assigned seat at the same table as the the creative force behind it, I even had it whisper-sung to me on occasion. Had he only been higher on the popularity food-chain, he wouldn't have had to whisper. He'd have enjoyed the privilege of belting it out and having a chorus join in, like the kids in the Leadership class I somehow got thrown into. There's nothing quite like being trapped in group work--or, better yet, delivering required speeches--while unfiltered, unstopped comments ping from all sides, and the teacher feigns temporary deafness. As clever and cool as my peers were with their insults, my homeroom teacher (the double-duty gym teacher kind, super-stylin' with a whistle necklace, high-waisted polyester shorts and tall white socks) was the crown-able king of them all, because HE taught me that my body was fair game for adults to shame for laughs and camaraderie, too. All it took was a handful of tryout flyers for a Peter Pan production.
Most teachers are the "take one and pass them down" type, but "Mr. C" liked to walk past each desk, personally handing things out one by one (maybe it was a more active, P.E.-type thing to do). That morning, I reached out for the audition flyer he held out, and he pulled it back to the stack with a chuckle.
"You'd probably just snap the wires."
He actually smiled and turned to his audience to bask in his comedy. The only thing missing were pats on his back and jostled shoulders. What a cool guy! Luigi's laughs a couple years back were nothing compared to what Mr. C played to. So if a teacher felt free to lob shots at me, what hope did I have against my peers? If you said none, you'd be right.
I don't think my parents knew the extent of what went on at school. It was hard to hide my undeniable sadness, though, and it didn't take a genius to figure out what it revolved around. So in the summer before I went to high school, they sent me to a 7-week weight loss camp (think Lord of the Flies meets Biggest Loser, set in Hell--boy, there's a story for another day), hoping to make my teen years less painful.
So I started my freshman year with a new body, new clothes, and a new love for skaters and goth music. On that strange planet of high school, boys who'd once been mean, noticed me for reasons that had nothing to do with making fun of me. Oh, you better BELIEVE I took pleasure in reminding them how awful they'd been. And one of the boys I had a huge crush on actually crushed back! In that bizarro world, I even found a best friend--the be boy-crazy with, laugh with, act stupid with, bare souls with, and feel absolutely safe with kind.
So of course, she moved halfway through the year.
We held tight to a long-distance friendship of phone calls and multiple letters each week for a while, but they eventually stopped. I tried floating around between female acquaintances, but boys were much easier friends to have, though they made it hard to stay under the hate-radar of girls who liked them. And that was precisely what caused the downfall of my short-lived social success. Toward the end of 9th grade, by the power of a quirky, anonymous note, I became friends with THE most popular, THE most beautiful, THE most wanted guy on campus--out of any grade or clique (because we hardcore had them back then, as The Breakfast Club proves).
Jealousy buttons absolutely insta-flipped because of him. Girls who once talked to me (some had even come to my house before) turned into glaring, name-calling enemies who made relentless prank calls to my house. It only got worse after he graduated and his little sister became my best friend. My sophomore year wasn't just about humiliation; I actually feared for my safety. I was followed around campus, confronted in hallways, bumped into and hair flipped in the P.E. locker room, and screamed at as I waited to be picked up after school. Outside of school, our home phone number had to be changed, and I was stalked and cornered in the mall (it took YEARS to get over my fear-based apprehension of going to the mall from that incident...but I still hate the place). My parents went to the school over and over again, but nothing stopped. Eventually, I was followed as I walked home from a shopping center. We fought on a street corner as cars sped by (of course TODAY people would have stopped...to film), and I finished my walk home, constantly looking over my shoulder, when it was over.
The next week, I turned in my textbooks, and my mother got my transcripts to put me in a new school. As I walked that school's hallway one last time, the girl I'd fought gave a parting shot...to my mother. "My mom's going to KICK YOUR ASS!"
With that, I finally got the real do-over I'd always wanted.
Instead of a school that left me vulnerable, this new one had teachers who built me up (and I WILL use their real names, because they are heroes--like my Clothing and Textile teacher, Mrs. Paynter, who took me to an FIDM open house because she believed in my talent. Or my biology teacher, Mrs. Willborn, who made herself available to me, even through phone calls to her home. Or my senior year English teacher, Mr. Pallicki, who was as close to a Dead Poet's Society teacher as I could have imagined--accessible, inspiring and real. He taught me Camus and Kafka, and he added a viewing of Cool Hand Luke to his Existentialism unit that plays in my head every time I watch it. He also took the time to try to convince me I was worth more than the straight-out-of-high-school marriage I was headed toward. He was right). The rest of my sophomore and junior years weren't perfect, but I could breathe and smile with an actual group of friends to hang around with at lunch--that was all new. Sometimes I even felt...cool. I joined The Young Author's Club for a minute, started an underground newspaper in reaction to the school newspaper's piece disparaging the two pregnant girls on campus. I dated the Spanish foreign exchange student who was also on the football team and into goth girls like me. Pretty good for a Fatso, Blubber-Butt, Wildebeest, right?!
Annnnd that's when a cheerleader decided she wanted and deserved him more than me and went right for that old standby: the "fat girl" jugular attack--perfect, since that self-esteemless girl was still very much inside me and threatening to pop back out with every shot. At the same time that drama was going on, something a little less obvious was starting. Some of my better friends in the lunch group had graduated, and as time went on, new people replaced them. Then a few people from the original circle started ignoring me. It didn't seem like a huge deal at the time, but when I came back for my senior year, the entire dynamic had changed, and I was completely shunned. A small faction of the newer members felt bold enough to begin the familiar taunts as I walked to my classes and to my car, and the only girl left who I considered a good friend ended up dropping out.
I was alone.
Echoes of my olden days put me in an inner panic at certain points every day, and I had to find a solution. Any solution. I hung around two people I didn't particularly like, one who most everyone--including me--was scared shitless of (good God, the "joking around punch" she'd once delivered on my arm shot all the way to my kidneys). Basically we were co-workers; we had nothing in common, and we didn't talk or hang out after hours, but she gave me a sense of safety (I have no idea what purpose I served for her). But it dawned on me that watching everything I said, in order not to end up on the receiving end of my bodyguard's anger made me just as crazy-anxious as what the kids she protected me from did. So, while I hated the vulnerability of being alone when my "friends" were absent, spending lunch in the library or behind a building in back of the school was straight up relief.
I served my time in senior year. I didn't go to prom. I didn't go to graduation. I didn't look back when it was over.
After high school, I started community college as an art major, lost my mind and changed to economics for a week, then got verbally bludgeoned by the professor who turned out to be my forever-mentor and second grandmother (Dana Brookins). According to her, I was supposed to be an English major, and I HAD to take creative writing classes. So I declared it and did it, because third grade me with the brown paper completely agreed.
Oh, and that high school where I put my time in? I'd unknowingly met my future husband there in my junior year when his best friend went out with my then-best friend. My friend loved to tell me that Mr. Man was going to be my husband, and--since I couldn't stand him--I loved to tell her to shut up. Little did I know he'd end up my own personal dark-haired, blue-eyed skater (he even built a half-pipe in our backyard for my viewing entertainment...and his enjoyment, of course). Like Dana, he believed I was a writer before I did, and he introduced me to people as a writer before my heart ever saw it as a possibility. He's inspired some of the most swooney book-boyfriend stuff that I write.
I've got a brave and funny artist/scientist kid who loves books and music. She says her high school isn't cliquish like mine was, and I'm thankful for that. She's had friend problems, but none to the extent of my experiences, and I'm even more grateful for that because I can't imagine going through othering in the age of social media. If you're reading this and DO go through it, you have my utmost respect for your strength.
The moral of my story is that the whole "It Gets Better" slogan isn't a lie. I'm a That Kid. I made it...sometimes barely, but I did. And it was worth it. Being othered tends to give survivors the bonus of wicked wit and endearing empathy, and we come out smart, too--ask me how I know. Go ahead. I've found some of those old, unmentioned friends and acquaintances from my schools. In most cases, I was so wrapped up in what I was going through, I had no idea that almost each of them was othered too. If only I'd known...or listened. The quirky, quiet quality they had as teens is still there. In fact, it grew into a spark in each of them and has convinced me that what makes us targets as kids makes us stand out in ways that people who peak in their youth rarely do. The Others end up ruling the world and making a difference. That's why "Gives you Hell" by The All-American Rejects is so delicious.
You'll find your tribe. It may take a while, but you will. Until you do, you've got the start of one here.
Pleased to meet you.