A Start*

I’ve always been shy.

I’ve always had a hard time fitting in, especially as a child. As an adult, I have learned that I don’t need to fit in. Self-acceptance has been one of the most difficult facets of my journey.

As a child though, it was much worse. My shyness held me back. I couldn’t open up to people, and it only got worse around the people that I actually liked. As a result, I had very few friends. The other kids didn’t know what to make of me. I was wierd. Different. I was picked on and at times, bullied. But mostly, I was left alone.

One year, grade 5 if I can recall correctly ( and I so rarely do about my childhood, repression as a defence mechanism was I tool I used regularly, it seems ), I made a friend. A classmate was randomly assigned to me for a class project. We connected as we worked together. We did what the youths of my era did, we played outside, we talked, we laughed. To my eternal regret, I can no longer remember his name.

One day, the teacher stepped out of the classroom for a washroom break. I seized the opprtunity and turned around to ask my friend a question. Then, it happened.

The entire class turned on us and began to shout:

“fag!”

“Fag!”

“FAG!”

It became a chant, everyone in time yelling it again and again. I was a child, I had no idea what it meant. I only ever heard it used as a derogative. As a bad word.

My friend began to cry, then fled the room.

I sat there and endured. The life I had led had conditioned me to sit and take the abuse. I remember my hands balling into white knuckled fists on the desk.

My teacher finally returned and quieted the class. Then, he found my friend and brought him back to class. Everything returned to normal.

At the end of the day, my friend quickly packed his bag and left the school. He didn’t say a word to me. The next morning, before class began, I found him. I wanted to make sure he was ok. He was my friend.

He turned to me and said, “I’m sorry Ellis, I can’t be your friend anymore. I don’t want to be called that name ever again.” He then walked into class and never spoke to me again. He was my friend.

I spent the rest of that year, and the year after, alone and friendless.

It was in the final year of elementary school, grade 7, that I was tasked to guide the new kid around school. He was Irish, and very brash. And loud. He loved to laugh and joke.

We became friends. He helped me to discover that I had a sense of humour, that I loved making people laugh. We spent the rest of the year as friends, then my family moved away and I never saw him again.

His name, I remember.

*A Start was a story of mine originally written as a post on Facebook. I’ve transcribed it here, with minor alterations and improvements.

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