Sink or Swim
It was as if I had horns growing out of my head, and my breath stunk so much that when I exhaled a green mist flowed out of my mouth. I must have looked like I hadn’t showered in months, or maybe it was the fact that every time I tried to speak, gibberish came out. That must have been the problem, why else would so many people not acknowledge my presence? Or maybe it wasn’t that at all, maybe I was just invisible and it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t talk to me, they couldn’t even see me. But that doesn’t make sense because the teacher could see me and spoke with me every week. What was it then?
BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!
It’s 8:45 already? I groggily flickered my eyes open to the blaring tone of my alarm clock and quickly silenced it.
“Get up, get dressed and ready. Let’s go!” My mother shouted down the hall.
I did, reluctantly, but I did. My brother, sister, and I stopped at the doughnut shop (the small compensation for the two hours of torture ahead) on the way to Shul, then the inevitable came. We pulled into the parking lot of Shul and as I stepped out of the security of my red van and into the real world, somehow I lost my presence. I walked into the cold, bare classroom, but no one noticed. There I sat in the same uncomfortable plastic chair I sat in every week, invisible, or so it seemed. All the other kids in my class arrived at least ten minutes late as usual.
The girl with the squeaky high-pitched voice, Little Miss Popular, who sat over there on the “cool” side of the room jabbered on while the teacher attempted to gain the attention of the class, “OH-EM-GEE! Friday was just like so much fun! It was so awesome how we won the football game, I mean that one play where we got like six points after #24 ran the ball down to the end of the field was so cool! Wait, What do you call that again?”
“Yeah that. Well anyway, afterwards we decided to go over to Paul’s party. It was so crazy! I didn’t really plan on it, but I hooked up with both Charlie and Jimmy. I hope it’s not too awkward tomorrow at school. Gosh, my life is just so dramatic!”
Continuing to sit there, I drowned beneath the waves of haughtiness, while each girl proceeded to tell her own tale of the weekend, trying to outdo the last, with one more exciting. I never got asked about my weekend, nor did I ever volunteer to tell about it, for fear it wouldn’t be “cool” enough. They wouldn’t care anyway; they hadn’t cared for ten years. Why would the care now?
I sat in a classroom full of kids, yet somehow I still felt alone. I had no friends; none of those kids liked me. Wherever I went I always had friends, at school, at dance, at cheer, and at work. I always felt comfortable in my own skin, like I belonged and the people around me knew I belonged. But not here, here my skin was a straight jacket strangling my body, constricting the real me. Oblivious, my peers sat with their backs turned to this constant struggle. All they saw was a silent girl minding her own business, while my true self was being sucked away by each tick of the clock. Those kids were mean, they didn’t care about me, and they didn’t even care enough to simply say “Hello”.
My mother finally arrived to pick up my brother and sister and me. Her large red van stuck out among the luxury SUV’s. From the outside it is a topic of ridicule, but on the inside it is a safe haven from the snide remarks. Without prompting I immediately began to complain that Sunday school was just so terrible and the kids were so mean.
“I feel like I don’t belong Mom! I hate it, please don’t make me go back,” I pleaded.
“Rach, you know what I always say. ‘People just want to be acknowledged. They just want someone to say hi to them.’ So now you know how it feels when no one says ‘Hey how was your weekend?’ Take something from that.”
I had always tried to be nice to people I knew, I always said “hi” when I saw them at school or at a restaurant. Somehow, though, I skipped over the kids that sat at lunch alone, or the new person at school who sat in the back of the class with no friends. Now I understood, they just want someone to be nice to them, just like all I wanted was for those kids at Sunday school to say “hi” to me. No one likes to feel like the outsider, like the kid who wishes he could crawl out of his skin and start over new. He could be someone better this time, someone cooler, someone people will say “hi” to. But why should he, when it’s the “cool” kids who are missing out on his uniqueness.
Sunday school is over and those mean, nasty kids are no longer drowning me in their arrogance, yet I still feel this twinge of discomfort each time I enter the Shul. I can sense the coldness of haunting laughter and staring eyes each time I enter the Shul. I feel the disapproval crawl up my back each time I enter the Shul. Most of all I feel alone every time I enter the Shul, yet I am surrounded my people who judge my every move. You know what though? That’s okay. I don’t have to care what the “cool” kids think. Why should I let them dictate who I am and what I stand for? They are missing out on me and what I have to offer. I don’t need their acceptance to prove my existence. Now, even though it is not easy to swim in the ocean of conceit, and sometimes I might get a cramp or two, I can make it back to shore. I can walk out of the ocean tired, but alive.