Growing up is tough. When you’re a cute little baby, adults think everything you say and do is a miracle. Then you get older and go to school. Now you’re not as cute and even awkward, plus you’re trying to find your own way in the middle of all the other kids doing the same thing.
Middle school is where most kids start to get interested in sports, music, games, personal style, and fashion, and it begins to separate kids into groups. But mostly, it’s just growing up that makes everyone unsure. Some kids grow tall fast, others get chubby with baby fat—that’s what they call it—and a lot of kids are just clumsy or don’t know where they fit in.
If you’re not good at anything, you just get lumped into the goofy category. That’s a rough place to be. And if you’re not big enough to defend yourself against teasing and bullying and you’re not good at sports, you don’t have the protection of a crew on your side. It’s endless.
At only ten years old, it feels like your direction in life is laid out for you. Maybe you just haven’t found a place to fit in yet. Everyone thinks it’s so much easier to march to everyone else’s tune than to the beat of your own drum.
But I know someone who doesn’t do the same things, wear the same clothes, or play the same way as any other kid in school. She is very different and everyone picks on her, but she really doesn’t care. Somehow she’s able to drown out everyone else’s noise and become the whole band by herself. She’s quirky, goofy, weird and fun—and most of all, she’s just herself. I admire that and try to copycat it every day, but I’ve decided, no one is like the one and only Skizitz.
And I should know. I’m her best friend, Emmy.
My dad was an Army major and was a training instructor who went to different bases to teach sergeants how to drill and train their platoon, so we moved a lot.
Yes, Emmy the Army brat. I’ve heard the rhymes. At one school, the kids chanted “Army Emmy” a lot. One kid even said “Emmy, where’s your Grammy?” I was surprised grade school kids would know about awards, but I was told kids watch the Grammys on TV to see their favorite singers. Bullies don’t have to make sense, but rhyming was a favorite tease.
I didn’t like being bullied. At first I came home from school every day crying. After all, I didn’t pick my name—why should I be punished for it? Now I’ve heard them all, so it doesn’t bother me as much. But it makes it hard to make friends in a new school when everyone’s chanting your name in rhymes.
I was almost used to teasing. Being the new kid all the time, you’re a big target. Kids seemed to always want to make fun of new kids instead of getting to know them. I was doomed even before I stepped in the door.
From the moment I started to walk and talk, they bullied me. I have four older brothers, and the youngest is seven years older than me. I was a welcome surprise, my mom says. My brothers are a rough and tumble bunch and had no time for me. I was just a little girl they patted on the head and laughed at when I asked if I could play with them. Anything I said or did, they would say I’d get hurt because I’m a little girl or it was silly because I was just a girl. So I learned to be alone early in life. I wanted friends my age, but it was too hard sometimes. It was easier to keep to myself.
I met Skizitz on my first day at Abraham Lincoln Middle School in Southern California. As an Army brat, I changed schools practically every year. Last year we were in North Dakota, the year before that Illinois and the year before that Ohio.
The first day of school is always tough. Everyone stares at you like you’re from an alien planet. I learned to blend into the background. Don’t stand out and try to stay invisible, I told myself.
And then I met Skizitz. She was hanging upside down on the monkey bars with her red pigtails pointed toward the ground, singing to herself.
She was wearing the strangest combination of a yellow raincoat, pink tutu, polka-dotted tights and green tennis shoes—and there wasn’t a rain cloud in the sky.
The other kids playing on the monkey bars shook their heads, yelled a little and went around her.
“You’re too dumb to move, huh? Ski…zit…z? “Is it…visit, Kant, zits?” they mocked her and laughed.
It was a lame attempt to make fun of her name. Not even creative. But she just ignored everything around her. I was amazed.
When the bell rang, everyone shuffled inside the school like a prodded herd of cattle, but she slowly got down from the monkey bars, still singing, and skipped in a zigzag around the empty playground into the school. I was fascinated.
For the rest of the day, I couldn’t help watching Skizitz. She was attentive in class, raising her hand and answering questions. She was smart. When the teacher applauded Skizitz for having the best participation for the day, some kids giggled and laughed, pointing at her. She didn’t turn her head to acknowledge them. She didn’t put her head down. She wasn’t ashamed. She just smiled and laughed. I was mesmerized. How could someone stand out so much, be so alone, and not care at all?
She seemed to have something figured out. Whatever it was, I wanted to know. At lunch, I immediately identified the “group” tables. A four-school veteran, I knew what to look for. All the kids who played ball during recess were at one table-they were the sports kids.
The pretty girls who wore the nicest clothes were at another table. The smartest kids were at another table. And so on and so on. I’ve found the same kids who played together at recess usually ate lunch together.
Skizitz was sitting at a table with a few other kids. None of them seemed to fit the pattern. Maybe they were misfits? I really wanted to sit with them, but I always found it hard to just walk up and ask other kids if I could join them.
Part of my invisibility cloak was to find a place on the floor and eat alone for at least the first few weeks, trying to figure out which table was a collection of random kids, so I could sit down unnoticed.
I like to read and I especially like to draw, so with a book or my sketchbook with me, I could retreat into a different place. And when I felt awkward, I would read or doodle pictures and I didn’t have to talk to people on the in the cafeteria or on the bus. It was a safety net.
But somehow that day I had the courage. None of them seemed to fit, so maybe they would be my friends? Plus, I had to talk to Skizitz. I was on a mission. I would be bold.
I went up to them with my brown bag lunch and milk in my hands. I kept my head down so I couldn’t see their faces. If they said no, then they wouldn’t be able to see my sad expression. I stood by the empty seat next to Skizitz, took a deep breath and said, “Can I sit here?”
“Sure,” Skizitz smiled and kept chatting.
I smiled and cheered inside at the small victory. I sat there quietly listening and looking in wonder at their lunches. Even though parents make the lunches, you can tell a lot about a kid and their family life from their lunch. It’s either what they like or what their parents want them to eat. There were the standard pieces of fruit, usually an apple, orange, grapes, banana—or a vegetable like carrots or celery sticks. Once I saw one kid with a kiwi or peach, but most of the time, it was a regular healthy snack. Most kids had some kind of snack, like a bag of chips or crackers.
The healthier parents gave crackers. Sandwiches are where the real differences show. Peanut butter and jelly is very common. White bread is the norm, fancier bread shows the parents may have more money and wheat bread usually marks the healthy parents. Actual meat like ham or turkey with cheese shows a pickier kid, who likes particular things. And then there’s some kind of dessert, cookies or candy, after Halloween or Christmas. Watching other kids’ lunches became a science for me. I liked to figure them out by their choices.
At Skizitz’s table, most of the girls and the one boy were average based on their choices. Surprisingly, Skizitz didn’t have the most surprising lunch. She had a peanut butter sandwich, apple slices, a slice of cheese and a couple of Oreo cookies. It’s how she ate it that was unusual. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
First, she opened her sandwich into two separate pieces. Then she split all the Oreo cookies in two, licking the white filling. Using the chocolate part of the cookies, she scooped all the peanut butter from one slice of bread and ate each peanut butter–covered cookie. She took the apple slices and scooped all the peanut butter from the other piece. Then she took the slice of cheese and put it between the bread and ate the sandwich.
And the whole time, she was chatting with her friends and moving her legs back and forth, like she was dancing in her seat.
I think she saw me looking at her, so she smiled and offered me a bite. “I like peanut butter on everything, except bread.” She laughed.
Lunch was fun. Everyone was chatting and laughing. They talked about nothing—and everything. It was easy, and they welcomed me without question or hesitation. To this little group, I was just another person. I’m glad I found them. From then on, I would never have to eat alone again.