Most of my life I disliked you. Not because you were the geeky, obnoxious kid who took childish behavior to a new low. Not because you were the playground punk or the teacher’s pet. No, you were worse than those kids… you were forgettable.
You were the kind of kid teachers glanced over, the kid other kids ignore, a blur, a ghost. On a scale from one to ten, one being the kid everyone hates and ten being the grade school demigod, you were a five. No one remembers a five. They fade away to become the dust on everyone else’s history book. That was you; the one I abandoned.
Freakin’ fuzzbuckets, I still don’t know how you maintained such physical obscurity for so long. Knobby kneed, duck footed, gaped teeth, legally blind: I’ve seen tables with more shape. And with your utter lack of coordination, it’s a miracle the school district never wrote you a lifetime pass for physical education.
Of course your grades matched the rest of your brown paper package; B student. You were the “she’ll get by” child; too dumb to be challenged, too smart for the special classes. Out of the nine subjects covered in school you couldn’t find a single one, just one, to excel in. Take science. Just look where the science geeks have ended up. They spend their days on a tech company campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean, roller skating from meeting to meeting past walls of graffiti. Look at Jason Crudamaker, the boy who sat at the end of the lunch table playing with the pet spiders he kept in his Star Wars lunch box. He ended up discovering that spider webs are genetically coded. He’s a regular arachnid web design guru now. Then there’s Wally Wringdow, the kid who doodled his way through his education. The very one who created The Doodle Dude app last year; the fifth best selling app of all time. Where were your pencils? Where were your spiders?
While everyone else was strutting mojo you were so-so. And your attitude was a perfect match for your appearance and mind; shy, introverted, and meek. On the Myers-Briggs Personality Test they’d have typed you as a BORE.
Yes, I disliked you, maybe even hated that 11-year-old girl I had to deal with each and every time I looked in the mirror.
Everyone has that picture of themselves they hate, the one that makes our eyes squint to tearing. Today I’m pulling that picture of you from the ashes. The school picture I methodically shredded, gassed and burned all those years ago is coming back into the light. Luckily, mom managed to hide one, just this one. Even today, when I study your image, I have to ask, “What delusion possessed you, Monica, to step out of the house believing this look was worthy of photographic documentation?”
Today, I framed that very picture, in all your Plain Jane glory because, my dear, sweet, misunderstood child, I’ve been dishing out heaps of gratitude and love to everyone in my life… except you. You’re seriously overdue.
The truth is I could not love you more if you were my own daughter.
How extraordinarily brave you were. It takes some stone cold ovaries to leave the house everyday looking that unremarkable. I remember the hours you dedicated every morning trying to work your hair into a Farrah Fawcett feathering masterpiece, only to end up looking like a windblown alley hound. How you regrettably wore those homemade gunnysack dresses because you knew it would make your mom happy. I remember how you winked at your father through the heavy glasses morphing the bridge of your nose and smiled at the bus driver as your wax filled braces sliced your cheeks bloody. You knew your body was not born to sprint or climb a rope to the gym ceiling or to cartwheel across a 2 by 4… yet… you always tried… you bore through the insanity of it all. I love that about you.
I’m honoring this photo above all the others because I know now that this was the year your heart took bloom. Being the kid that was generally forgotten gave you an opportunity to observe the desperation of the kids who were not liked against the pressure of the kids who were. This is when you discovered that the class “fatsos” possessed some of the biggest hearts, that the “nerds” were helpless beneath the power of their constantly processing minds, that the “popular” kids were often driven to become defensive and emotionally isolated. This is when you really began to see the search for the inner beauty in others.
I love how you never fit into a click, how you learned to trust that each individual is good until proven otherwise. This particular year, the year you wore shadows, was your education in the power of the human heart. When I look back to see how much this knowledge has served you in your work, your relationships, and your very view of the world… so much more than dividing fractions ever has. It’s unfortunate that your teacher never graded for “heart”. You’d have excelled. But then again, someone might have noticed and that would have changed everything.
The truth is I’m so thrilled you were a five. I’m so glad you were lost in the crowd, went unnoticed, lurked like a ghost because you are responsible for who I am today. You are my empathic heart, you are my ocean of love, my grit, my optimism, my writer’s observation, the physical shell of all my inner good.
I’m honoring you today because I’ve come to see that if I can not honor you, in all your silent glory, I will never be capable of honoring my own children. How can I appreciate my daughter’s sad attempt at French braiding when I have not honored your misuse of purple eye shadow? How can I admire my son marching into school in a Jelly Belly confectioner’s hat when I never appreciated you in your cowgirl boots and running shorts? You, little 11-year-old Monica, were the first child in my life, the one I must love first if I’m ever going to fully love another.
Forgive me. It should not have taken this long. Yes, you were overdue.
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