Can I Sit with You?


Can I Sit With You? At Book Passage August 9th
July 20, 2008, 11:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Can I Sit With You? will be at Book Passage in Corte Madera (Marin County) on August 9th at 4 PM. Please come!

We’d also love to read your Can I Sit With You? story, and feature it as one of the new stories we publish every week on this site. Send your tales of schoolyard social horror or hilarity to ciswysubmissions@at@gmail.com. (Send them by August 31 if you want to submit for our second print anthology, to be published Fall 2008.)

CISWY? Book Passage event description:

Shannon Des Roches Rosa and Jennifer Byde Myers discuss a brave new model of book publishing success, one in which authors retain all rights and profits, and social networks take the place of agents and traditional publishers. This approach resulted in Can I Sit With You?, a collection of frank stories describing real elementary and middle school social experiences. These heartfelt tales speak to anyone who ever struggled to fit in with the other kids at school, wondered about feeling different, or felt no one understood what they were going through.

Editors Myers and Rosa will describe how they made Can I Sit With You? profitable, cover artist Lea Hernandez (Manga Secrets) will talk about her creative process, and authors Judy McCrary Koeppen, Michael Procopio, and Amanda Jones will read their stories.

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Can I Sit With You? At BlogHer
July 16, 2008, 7:52 am
Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , ,

Can I Sit With You? will be at BlogHer!

Specifically, Shannon will be selling CISWY? books and t-shirts plus giving away stickers at the BlogHer swap meet on Saturday, from 12:15 to 1:30.

She will be sharing a table with CISWY? author Laura Henry. Additional CISWY authors Jenifer Scharpen, SJ Alexander, and Liz Henry may float by as well. SJ might even sign your copy of her story All’s Fair in Love and Mucus. In the mean time, check out her reading of that story, from our Annex Theatre show in Seattle:

(more audio versions of our stories are coming soon)

Shannon will be scampering from the swap meet directly to the panel on which she is speaking: Blogging About Our Children With Special Needs. You should come along, if only to be dazzled by the sight of Susan Etlinger, Vicki Forman, Kristina Chew, and Jennifer Graf Groneberg in the same room at the same time.



THE BOY KING

by Charles Ries
High School

Another high school exception for this frank struggle with the popularity pecking order. -Shan & Jen

“Hi, Chuck. Congratulations on being elected Ice Carnival King. It’s about time a regular human being got elected king. I am so sick of the Kens and Barbies around here winning everything. You’d think looks were some kind of ultimate blessing like ethics, honesty, sincerity, or intelligence. Why should we reward people for what they look like? What matters is what people are like on the inside,” Clara Weidemeyer said between classes. Clara was the subject of unrelenting taunts by our classmates. Her appearance became of thing of legend. A local garage band even wrote a song in her honor:

You can kiss me anytime

Clara

You’re so ugly you make me blind

Clara

You’ve convinced me dumb is fine

Clara

You’re all right

Yes, you’re all right

The song continued on through six more stanzas of rhyming humiliations. Things weren’t good for Clara Weidemeyer. She was ugly. The kind of ugly that made people who didn’t know her assume she was retarded. Short and stocky, Clara had horrible acne and frizzed-out hair that bloomed on humid days into a sizable Afro—God hadn’t given her much to work with.  No redeeming physical attribute like great legs, a wonderful voice, or beautiful eyes. She did the best she could with the considerable intelligence she was given. She excelled in every subject. She participated in student government. She had a social conscience, but despite her heroic efforts to fit in and be accepted, she was as fragile as any girl would be with a face and body no one wanted to look at.

Knowing Clara led me to the uncharitable conclusion that a person may be better off dumb and good looking than smart and ugly. The proof of this theory was all around me.

“I told everyone I could think of to vote for you. You’re one of us. You’re a regular person,” she told me one day in the hall between classes.

“Well, thanks, Clara. I’m just as surprised as anyone. I mean, I’m not a jock and I’m not a brain and I’m not one of the beautiful people. So I just figured, why even think about it? But, I think I’m pretty happy about being selected. I mean, who wouldn’t be happy about it? Right?” I said, looking furtively over her shoulder to make sure no one had spotted us.  Fifteen seconds in the hall talking with Clara Weidemeyer could have serious consequences for one’s social standing. I was trained to be more compassionate than most, but I wasn’t blind. I wanted to slip away from Clara before I was branded Quasimodo’s boyfriend. It was one thing to talk with her at student government meetings or exchange views in social studies class, but it was the kiss of death to hang with her in the hall.

“I would be honored to have a dance with you tomorrow night at the Carnival,” Clara said.

“Wow. Well, thanks. I’ll have to see how this whole thing plays out. I’ve never been a king before. It must come with certain responsibilities. So my time might be a little tight. I’m sure I’ll have to do a few turns with Molly Murphy. But maybe you could help me with my math, which I am still flunking.”

I wasn’t sure if Clara would take the bone I’d tossed her and forget about the dance. God, I can’t believe I’m being such a coward, I thought. But I can’t do it. I can’t dance with her in public. Hell, I can barely talk with her in public. It’s one thing for her to help me with my math, but dance? I can’t do it. I had told a white lie. If Clara was the epitome of ugly, Molly Murphy was the pure embodiment of beauty. Perfect skin, large round breasts, full round brown eyes, tall and thin, with hair that glistened and lips like two party invitations. Clara’s ugliness and intelligence amazed me as much as Molly’s beauty and vacuousness. They both left me speechless, but for very different reasons.

“Chuck, anyone in this school would be honored to help you. You’re such a nice person. You’ve never made fun of me. I know what I look like. I know what they say. There isn’t too much I can do about it. I mean, look at me. I’m not going to be picked for the lead in the school play unless the character is an eighty-year old woman. But you never join in. You respect people, and that’s why you deserve to be our King.”

“Hey, Clara, maybe I’m just a good pretender,” I laughed nervously while admiring her ability to just accept who she was. “I might secretly be a detestable person. In fact, I often think I am. Look, neither one of us are going to win any beauty contests, but it’s like you said—there are a lot of beautiful people who don’t have one original thought in their heads. They wouldn’t know civil rights from civil engineering. Hey, in case you didn’t notice, there’re a lot more ordinary looking people in the world than there are beauty queens. So as Ice Carnival King, I do hereby declare that every day shall be ‘Take an Ordinary Person to Lunch’ day.”

“There. You see what I mean, that’s exactly why we voted for you. You’re just so darn cute and nice to people,” Clara beamed at me as I headed off down the hall to safer ground. She had mistake me for someone else and it made me nervous.

As I walked away, I patted myself on the back for jumping into the same ordinary boat as Clara and thereby raising all ugly people to a cultural ideal. I had developed a forger’s instincts and could quickly detect and become what people wanted me to be. I went wherever social acceptance blew me. But something deeper was happening. I was growing curious about people like Clara Weidemeyer. She was hard on the eyes, but her mind was unique. I was becoming a student of slackers, eccentrics, and intellectuals—kids who didn’t fit in, but seemed to be uniquely themselves. I was tired of oatmeal for breakfast. I wanted more chocolate éclairs.

________________________________

Friday night was the Ice Carnival. It was a simple affair held in the gym, with a band and, of course the highlight of the evening, the crowning of royalty. I was invited forward with my queen. Principal Paul Hersch draped red velvet capes over each of us and placed crowns on our heads. After the coronation, we were invited to do a spotlight dance before our subjects—just Queen Molly and King Charles. I had my arms around the most beautiful girl in the world. I smelled the strawberry scent of her shampoo and brushed up against her young firm breasts. When it happened; a predatory hard-on sprang from out of nowhere. I wasn’t driving the bus any more.

Just what I need! I thought as I pulled my cape more tightly around me and distanced my hips from my buxom queen while still holding her tight. It was a rather gymnastic move, but hard-on or not, I wasn’t going to release my grip on paradise.

I was in love with Molly Murphy. Every guy in school wanted her, but I had her. Me, the people’s choice. We danced badly, rocking back and forth. Given my surprise visitor, we leaned toward each other creating a kind of dancing pyramid. I’d prepared for this moment by getting an ID bracelet—the marker by which all men would know Molly was my woman. As we rotated in the glow of three hundred worshipful eyes, I whispered, “Molly, will you go steady with me?” Her eyes opened wide. I wasn’t sure whether she was overcome with emotion at finally winning my heart or in shock that a dork like me would say these words to her. I wanted to retract my offer. I wanted to return to the practice sessions I’d been having in my head, each one ending with Molly saying, “Yes, Chuck, I will be your girlfriend forever and a day!” But her reply was not the one I’d scripted.

“Joel Stegameyer just asked me yesterday to go steady with him. Thanks for asking. You’re such a nice guy.” She replied as if she were thanking me for loaning her my stapler rather then offering her my heart. It was no big deal to her. She was a pro at going steady. Hell, she had a scorecard just to keep track of all the offers. I was no match for the quarterback of the football team.

I hadn’t realized how fleeting regal privilege could be. When the song ended, Queen Molly quickly deserted me and floated like a touchdown pass into the outstretched arms of Joel Stegameyer. Wearing my cape and crown, I walked to the punch table. My heart had been ripped out of my chest, leaving a cavernous hole. Of course, it didn’t take much in those days—young love came and went so quickly and so painfully. At the punch table I reached up for one of the two royal goblets that were set atop a fake ice pedestal for the King and Queen to drink from after their coronation dance, and ladled myself a cupful.

“Chuck, I want to dance with you a bunch. Come on, let’s boogie down!” I heard a raspy voice from behind me say. I froze. I knew who it was. “Hello there, King Charles,” she sang to get my attention. “Would you like to dance with one of your subjects?” I heard the voice speak to me again.
How bad could it get? First being denied by Molly Murphy and now being sought by Clara Weidemeyer. Heaven and hell were next-door neighbors tonight. My balls tightened up under me. The remnant of the stiffy I’d gotten in anticipation of claiming the fair young maiden Molly was now limp and racing after my balls in a hasty retreat. “Oh, its you, Clara. What was that you said…you want some punch?”

“Close. I said, ‘I’d like to dance with you a bunch.’”

I had no choice. It was the right thing do. I did the pity dance. I danced like the cornered, equal opportunity ratfink I was. I heard the occasional “woof woof woof” or the slightly too loud “I think I’m going to throw up” as we circled the dance floor.

“So, how’s it being king for a day?” Clara asked.

I didn’t want to tell her that I thought it sucked and that this kind of honor was better bestowed on beautiful people who don’t need a single original idea in their head to be happy. I couldn’t tell her the truth. She thought my achievement was what it must feel like to be popular. How could I step on her dream?  The truth was, I wanted acceptance just as much as she did.



Once Upon A Stairwell

by Pat Gallant
10th Grade

We have made an exception to our usual elementary and middle school time frames for this lovely high school tale. -Shan & Jen

I had made it through first period at my new school without incident.  But there was still a whole day ahead of me and I knew all too well that a new student is a likely target.

I slinked up the stairs, heading for my next class, staying as close to the wall and as invisible as possible, as I had done for so many years, at my former school.  Frankly speaking, I was not popular.  I was the youngest in my grade, the smallest, and perhaps not so much shy as intimidated by the popular girls in my old school. My hair stood out in a bunch of corkscrew curls. The same curls which adults ogled over, fellow classmates teased me about. I was painfully skinny but finally, at fifteen years old, beginning to “develop.”  But as my best friend pointed out, she and I were already pigeon-holed, having been classified for too many years in the unpopular group.

My mother said many times over the years that she regretted her decision to put me ahead one year. My birthday falls in the summer, so I could have been the oldest in the class behind, or the youngest in the class ahead. My mother opted for one year ahead, remembering her school days and figuring I would like one year less school better than one year more. I agreed with her on that and despite my reassurances that she meant well and did the right thing, she felt badly about it.

A “good” school day was one in which the unpopular group was largely ignored. A bad school day was one where we were picked on mercilessly.

During breaks, I hid in the ladies’ room rather than have to walk past the cliques of taunting girls. After lunch, when all the kids went to the rec room, I was back in the ladies’ room. It was too daunting a task to have to face all of them at once; worse if they taunted me in front of the boys.  It was just too embarrassing.

****

It was the first day of 10th grade. All my friends had changed schools for one reason or another. I was now a posse of one in a school I hated. The workload was nearly unbearable. The pressure to succeed ever-present. And the cliquey girls had teasing down to a science. Worse still, this was the year we were required to put a live frog “to sleep,” for dissection. No excuses. No doctors’ notes. No parents’ notes.  This was mandated in order to stay in this very prestigious New York City school.

So, this posse of one sat in the first class. The teacher was nasty. Really nasty. Sarcastic, tough, and ranting that next semester, frog dissection was a must and that no one could get out of it.

It seemed counter-intuitive to ask students to kill a frog.  I glanced over and watched as the frogs hopped gleefully in their tanks. I looked out the window at the sunny day, the smell of grass filtering through the open window. I knew I wasn’t going to kill one of the frogs. They deserved this beautiful day, too.

At the end of the day when I got home, I told my mother I wouldn’t go back to that school. All my friends had left. The teacher was mean. My arms were stiff and back aching from carrying the eight heavy textbooks that held the five-plus hours of homework that awaited me. She saw how distraught I was and began phoning schools the next day, to find a new one for me.

We opted for the school my best friend had changed to. But I wasn’t relieved when I got word that I was accepted. In fact, I was terrified. I hated school. Or at least I thought I did. Another place to be teased.

****

So, there I was, halfway up the stairwell of the new school.  A tall, handsome, upperclassman came lumbering down the stairs. He stopped a few steps above me.

“Hi,” he said.

I looked behind me. No one was there. In fact, we were the only two people on the stairwell. He couldn’t possibly be talking to me.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?”

I nodded, pushing myself further into the wall, waiting for the taunts to begin. He introduced himself and then added, “Would you like to go for coffee after school?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I was almost afraid to say yes. Was this a set-up? Was he joking?

He continued, “We can meet at the lockers at three o’clock.”

A small voice responded, “Sure.” It was mine.

“See ya later,” he said, and he was off.

And in that moment, I had an epiphany. He had no idea I was unpopular. He had no idea I was shy or scared. In fact, he knew nothing about me. It was a defining moment. I moved away from the wall, straightened up, and walked up the stairs a new person.

I could be those popular girls. I knew how to do it. I’m a good study. I had watched from the bleachers for so long. At last, maybe it was my turn. But I wouldn’t be mean. Not to anyone. I promised myself that.

I couldn’t wait for lunch to call my mother and tell her why I would be late coming home, that I had a date with an upperclassman after school. It took her about one second to know she had made the right decision in allowing me to change schools.

The date wasn’t a setup after all. In fact, we had a great time. And many more after that. So, I began my performance as a “cool,” popular girl; a performance worthy of an Academy Award.  I bought new, more “grown-up” clothes, changed hair styles, and bought the very trendy yet delicate Papagallo shoes. I forced myself to walk with my head high, to speak up in — and out — of class, even if I was shaking inside, and even if I wasn’t taking a popular viewpoint.

Eventually, I found my own voice and I didn’t have to “act” the part anymore. Heck, I had become cool for real! And popular! A cheerleader. Secretary of the whole school. I had plenty of dates. But I never forgot to extend a hand to the “unpopular” kids and to stick up for them, even if that was the unpopular position to take — even if that meant risking losing friends. I stuck to my guns and to my surprise, was respected for it. Most important was the change I felt inside. I didn’t hang onto people’s opinions of me anymore. I did what I thought was right and stood by what I believed in. I began to like me.

Another big surprise was that I loved to study and loved school. It wasn’t school I had hated after all; it was the other school that I hated. I loved this school. It was a good fit. The B’s, C’s, and D’s of my old school were now all B’s and A’s, using the same text books. The work wasn’t easier; it was because I was happy and motivated. The pressure and workload was decidedly less but it, too, was a pretty hefty load. But I loved the teachers and environment as well, and that made all the difference.

****

In senior year, there was still one stone left unturned. Could I cut it in my old school or would I regress to my former self? Would I once again slink around the halls, afraid of my own shadow, scared to talk, no dates, intimidated by those girls? But I was a woman now, I reminded myself, albeit a young one. I had straightened my hair and it blew willingly in the wind. I dressed the part, talked the talk — but could I walk the walk? I had to find out.

My same best friend and I both got permission from our mothers to cut class and visit our old school.  We arrived during lunch hour; the hour that had intimidated us the most when we were students there.  The hour where everyone congregated in the rec room. Nonplussed on the outside, hearts in our throats on the inside, we sauntered into the rec room. We walked center stage and propped ourselves up on the ping-pong table, something I wouldn’t have done for a million dollars some three short years earlier.

And then we were noticed. There were whispers. We overheard, “Is that really them? Oh, my God, they’re beautiful. Can you believe it?”

We still got glares from some of the clique-girls but they were glares of jealousy because we were surrounded — by the guys and many of the popular girls. We were invited to classes. Asked out for dates. We even became life-long friends with some. They, too, had grown-up.

****

Now, some 40-plus years later, there is still the little girl inside with the corkscrew curls. And I like her.  She has her place. She keeps me centered. She is the holder of memories.  But there is also the woman, the wife, the writer, and the mother. And if I ever feel intimated by someone, I smile at the little girl and remind her of that day on the stairwell when she became a woman — and I walk with my head held high, speak out, and don’t allow anyone to intimidate me. But when I return home, I give a secret wink and a High-Five in the mirror — to both of us.



Karen Morley

I hated Karen Morley in year 8. She had naturally blonde hair so light it was nearly white. Her no-makeup skin revealed the colourless spots beneath to the world. When she laughed her small teeth were yellow against the red of her too-large gums; and she laughed a lot. Her clothes were boring and old fashioned, as if her gran had chosen them. She had no friends. Despite all of that, the boys seemed to love her. They flocked around her like seagulls around fish! And she had a boyfriend called Colin.

But she was so boring! She never said anything. She just laughed. She laughed at their jokes, she laughed when they teased her, she even laughed they asked her questions instead of giving an answer. But still they flocked.

Tania and I often stood frowning, arms folded, watching in disbelief. Now Tania and I – we were interesting, clever and funny. We could joke back, tease them with attitude and hold our own in any debate. We knew about football, politics, psychology and Marc Bolan. We also spent a lot of time on our clothes, hair and makeup. So why were they hanging around with her? She couldn’t even crack a joke and she had yellow teeth for goodness sake!

I can’t recall much about what we did to Karen Morley that year. I do remember Colin kicking Tania really hard in the playground for calling Karen names. I don’t remember the names that we called her but I expect being boring and yellow teeth were mentioned. We were outraged at his reaction. We had just wanted the boys to see what we saw. They were supposed to turn against her, not us.

Three years later Karen Morley and I sat together in the Form room only a couple of months away from leaving school. All animosities had long ceased. We chatted and laughed about teenage girly stuff. Then suddenly she told me that Tania and I had made her life Hell in year 8. She said we had sent her a card on her birthday and when she’d opened it “We all hate you” was written inside. I was devastated. I saw all the pain of that year in her face.

Karen Morley was a nice, pretty, not particularly clever person. She had never done anything to hurt me, but I had really hurt her. I remember that I said I was sorry and did not know what else to say. I wish now that I’d told her what pretty hair she had, how attractive her laugh was, and how destructive and powerful jealousy can be.



The Absolute Clearheadedness of Mrs. Rutland

Louis E. Bourgeois
Fifth Grade

You pass hall after hall on the red tiled floor till you pass the trophy case and enter the math class. You place, very consciously, an extremely yellow pencil in the pencil holder on your desk. As you wait for instructions as to what you are to do, the awareness that everyone in the class is essentially your enemy takes hold, and you wish a hurricane would come through and wipe away the fear. This is life in the fifth grade in a public elementary school, and this experience in the fifth grade in a public elementary school is completely no different from any other person’s experience in your position. It has always been the fifth grade for the sake of being the fifth grade. It’s timeless, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The yellow pencil is gleaming reflected rays of light coming down from the ceiling. Mrs. Rutland tells you to pick the pencil up off the floor. You look down at the floor but there is no pencil and you say to Mrs. Rutland that you didn’t drop a pencil on the floor, forgetting that you should have taken the pencil on your desk in the pencil holder and put it on the floor yourself. But you produce your paltry logic, and this, of course, is what does you in, and will continually do you in.

The logic stands firm for a moment, but Mrs. Rutland simply tells you that you better pick the pencil up and show it to her. This is a second warning and somehow you just don’t get it. For some reason you just can’t bend down and simply do what she is asking. You are a rebel, and a second time you tell Mrs. Rutland that there is no pencil on the floor. You claim to yourself that you are undergoing a serious injustice. You know you’re in the right, you feel you’ll be rewarded, and you start to feel all warm inside, honey warm. You know the Principal will be a logical man as you walk down the hall with Mrs. Rutland’s hand at your shoulder.

She merely pronounces what you did in a few straight lines. Mrs. Rutland has no need to seal your fate; she knows you’ll do it for her. She knows and this is why she asked you to pick up the pencil. Somehow she knew you were one less deserving than the rest. Call it the mark of Cain if you will. But in your case the question of what you did is not in any respect relevant to anything.

The Principal has you in his complete domain. You know the Principal; you’ve seen him around before and never had much of a problem with him. He surely looked friendly enough, although you haven’t actually talked to him. But now he seems different. You notice the Principal’s pock-marked face, you notice how much he seems to like Mrs. Rutland, you notice how sharply his tie is tied, and you notice the bottleneck of whiskey sticking out of the desk drawer. And the paddle, with several holes drilled into it, hanging on the wall, actually fills you with hope and relief. At least Mother might not find out.
You have to sit in a large old cushioned chair, and are told not to leave the room while the Principal goes and takes a leak. After he shuts the door you begin to make little whimpering noises and you absolutely think you will go out of your mind. In the few moments you have alone, you think what your possible choices are, and of course, the only real thing that matters is that you make a deal without Mother knowing. This is about all the bargaining power you have, and you weep, and you smile, and you weep, and you smile, and you weep, and you smile.

But you keep condemning yourself; you’re a revolutionary, an individual, and so forth. You keep defining yourself and making it worse with every remark you say to the Principal. You will not accept the fact that the pencil was lying on the floor. You will not agree to that, and it’s all the Principal wants. You even go so far as to talk about “kid’s rights,” and bringing in witnesses from the class. You nearly have the Principal rolling on the floor hysterically with your inflammatory speeches. He asks, What in the hell is wrong with you? Do you think you’re a superstar? Do you think you’re Alexander the Great? Do you think you’re a god?

You’ve been with the Principal for half an hour and the bargaining is about over. He feels the need to tell you how important it is to listen to your teachers. He tells you how much about life you don’t know. He tells you how important it is not to disappoint your parents. And every time you think you’re off the hook, he says he ought to call your Mother, and you sink back into your unimaginable gloom. You’ve never felt this way before, and you’ve been around, you’re in the fifth grade.

You make the deal and perhaps it has something to do with a call from his wife while you sit in the chair with all of your misfortunes running over. After the phone call his face is severe, and you start slipping, slipping, and slipping. Thinking of the injustice no longer helps; in fact, you think maybe the injustice was all in your head. The Principal knows what you are thinking, and he knows he has you because you want it too bad. So it’s ten licks with the paddle and five days of recess detention, and an apology to Mrs. Rutland, and you count your lucky stars because Mother will not find out and you hardly feel the air-swishing licks across your ass.



Share a Cookie

by Cheryl Caruolo
Seven Years Old at the Time

Because my parents never made much of an effort to create opportunities for me to be with other children, when I entered school I had no idea how to share or play games. Mom was overprotective and never allowed me to participate in after school games or things like girl scouts. She was afraid of everything. And I followed suit.

In 1966, my uncle took us to visit the World’s Fair in New York City –- it was filled with electric cars of the future, street performers from Europe and Latin America, and a roller coaster that careened through the middle of a building. Mom wouldn’t allow me to go inside any of the attractions or on any of the rides. My uncle finally convinced her to go on the skyline so we could see the whole fair from above, but my Mom was so scared I’d fall out she held a tight grip on the collar of my coat. I wasn’t tall enough to see over the edge of the car and I never saw the view of endless possibilities from the sky.

Once my class went on a field trip and I was left behind because my mother didn’t give me permission to go. Anything unfamiliar terrified me and when my teacher told me to go to the classroom next door, I panicked and started to cry. My classmates laughed. I cried more. I told my teacher that I wanted to stay in our classroom.

“You can’t stay here alone.”

“I’m not alone. The angels are here with me.”

They laughed harder.

My teacher warned the class, lined up at the door, to stop and then they left. Thinking I could stay right in my familiar seat until the end of the day, I remember feeling relieved. But a few minutes later another teacher came into the room to get me.

“Come along now to my classroom.”

At seven years old my choices were limited and so with red eyes and runny nose I followed her into her room.

As soon as I arrived at the school yard the next day the snickers of my classmates surprised me like a splash of cold water.

“Cry baby.”

“No one has imaginary friends anymore.”

I dreaded recess. Usually no one would play with me, so I sat in the corner of the school yard rolling stones under the shadow of an oak tree. The tree’s umbrella felt safe. Sometimes I’d look through the little steel windows of the fence and wish I was in the Mustang Convertible or Corvette Stingray speeding down the main road. I’d watch the girls on the asphalt playing hopscotch, a game I was good at, but never had the nerve to join them.

Whenever the class was asked to choose team members, I always ended up assigned to a team as a leftover. If I was lucky enough to be one of the first ones out the door at recess, I’d run to the end swing and stay on it for the entire time. I loved gliding back and forth through the air, looking up at the sky. Pretending to fly. The higher, the freer.

I remember telling my mother that I hated school, but I never explained why. I didn’t want to admit that none of the children liked me. I understand a parent wanting to protect her young, but Mom’s fears stunted me from developing self-confidence -– I struggle with it still today.

In second grade I tried to start anew. I stopped talking about imaginary friends and pretended I liked all the things my classmates liked. But things fell apart fast.

Unable to participate in after school activities and forbidden to invite friends home my life grew more isolated. I pulled deeper into myself like a turtle retreating into its shell. The unresolved feelings that hung in the air resulted in bouts of anger, depression and confusion. Once I picked a fight with a girl simply because I knew I could beat her up. My young life was out of control and I desperately wanted control over something. I derived great satisfaction from that poor girl’s agony.

My life drudged on until I was finally able to convince my parents to let me get a dog — a six-month old Wiemaraner. Because she was German and I was nine, I named her Heidi. I adored that dog and suddenly I had a companion.

Heidi woke me every morning for school and was waiting every afternoon when I returned. Sitting on the porch together, I’d scratch her ears as she rested her head on my lap. Her gray hair felt like short slips of satin sliding through my fingers.

I felt unconditional love and acceptance from Heidi. We were connected in that unspoken spiritual way humans and animals seem to share. Whenever I was crying she’d place her paw on my hand and nuzzle her head along side me. If anyone was visiting our house and she was unsure of them, she would sit in between us until I’d assure her that it was okay.

Because of Heidi, I started to believe the tiniest bit in myself. And I gradually felt more comfortable talking to kids at school — finding things in common, sharing snacks, even joining hopscotch games sometimes.

Then one day a new girl came to class. My classmates pointed at her and called her weird. I said nothing.

But at recess one brilliant blue autumn day, I noticed her swaying on my safe haven swing and, for some unexplainable reason, I walked up to her and offered one of my beloved Oreo cookies.