I was eight years old when I learned my first conscious rule about the world.
In the third grade, a new student joined our class partway through the school year. The class buzzed with excitement, myself especially, because I would get to meet her before the rest of the class. She and her family were moving into the house next door to mine, and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to my friends and the rest of my class.
She joined our friend group, and we, as the cool cats we were at the wizened age of eight, called ourselves ‘The Group’. I don’t think we were necessarily popular – cliques didn’t become apparent until middle school – but she certainly was. She was like a celebrity, and I thought she was the absolute shit; I wanted to be just like her.
Her favorite color became my favorite color (red); my new favorite animal (tiger) was inspired by her favorite animal (take a guess); my first childhood ‘crush’ (for whatever that’s worth as a third grader) was the same as her crush (we would gush about how cute Jake was, and play some bizarre tag-like game called Boys vs. Girls with him and his friends at recess). Everyone thought she was cool, so I suppose I reasoned that being just like her would make me cool, too.
One day at recess, as we were walking across the playground, she turned around and declared that she needed to talk to some of us ‘in private.’ Those “some of us” included everyone but me. Not entirely sure what to do, or what talking ‘in private’ even really meant, I left and attempted to find something to do while feeling horribly awkward about walking around at recess by myself.
I’m not sure how long they were gone, but at some point, my friend Cass ran back up to me. What she revealed gutted me to my little four-and-a-half-foot core:
“Katy, Amanda was talking about you. She called you sensitive, she said you cry all the time. She was being really mean, and I didn’t like it. I just felt like it wasn’t fair to you, and you deserve to know how she was treating you.”
Up until that moment, I had never considered that crying was a bad thing or that it was something that could be done too much. And naturally, hearing what Cass shared with me made me cry.
Yet despite her evident malice, I still thought Amanda was the coolest. Cool kids know what’s up, and I desperately wanted to stay in The Group. I wanted to have cool friends and be a cool kid, too. So I listened to Amanda, and I believed her - I tried my best to stop crying in front of people, thinking that if it was my crying that was causing them to talk about me behind my back, eliminating crying should stop them, right?
If you’ve ever been bullied, you know that’s not how it works.
And if you’ve ever tried to change yourself because someone else told you to, you also know that’s not how it works.
I couldn’t stop myself from crying – not entirely. So each time I cried, the ‘private’ conversations followed.
But not every private conversation took place after I had been crying over something. Apparently crying wasn’t the only thing they didn’t like about me, but the more they talked, the more confused I felt. What was it that they didn’t like about me now? What was I doing wrong this time? Why couldn’t I figure out how to be a part of their group?
The excitement I had felt mere weeks earlier about my new friend was quickly overrun and replaced by fear, confusion, and pain. I had never felt so unsure of myself – I had never considered the possibility that I was ‘supposed’ to behave in any way outside of how I already was.
So I internalized my first conscious Rule of Life:
Listen to others; they know better than you.
… … …
This isn’t the end of this post as a whole, but it is the end of it for this week. I’ve discovered over the summer that the pressure to start and finish an entire story, however short it might be, was weighing on me, and I was publishing posts that didn’t feel as edited or complete as I would like my work to be, purely for the sake of sticking to my commitment.
So I’m trying a bit of a different angle. The idea I have brewing at the moment is more of a long game anyways, so rather than putting the pressure on myself to complete an entire story every week, I’ll be publishing whatever I’ve written towards this long-term project. It might not make a whole lot of sense just yet, but bear with me. I’m so excited about this idea, but I don’t want to burn myself out and discourage myself from seeing it through.
Once a story feels complete, I will put all of its pieces together, edit it, and post it in its entirety. As my readers, you have absolutely no obligation to read any of the disparate parts, and are welcome to wait until the full story is published! (Also, to be clear, you have no obligation to read any of my writing if you don’t want to – I’m not offended! This blog has, more than anything, been especially helpful in keeping me committed to my writing and discovering who I am as a writer and what story/ies I want to tell.)
So with that, I will leave it there for now, and will pick up with this ‘chapter’ in my next post. Wishing you all a wonderful week and a restful Labor Day weekend!
Photo credit: Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash