My wife, Ladyshark, and I were driving around yesterday, running errands while listening to music on her new iPod. Right now, the yummy little device hosts a number of songs we both enjoy and a number of songs from our respective past, and very different, musical tastes. You see, we have a four-and-a-half age difference between us. So, back in the day, we both grew up during very different musical… “movements” (for lack of a better word). She, followed the “alternative” music scene, and myself, more the dance/hip-hop side of things. We took turns overruling each others song choices until we happened upon songs that we could agree on.
At one point, Ladyshark looked at me smiling and said, “You and I would not have hung out together at all if we went to school together growing up.” I replied, “You got that right. You were cool and I wasn’t.”
And when I say I wasn’t cool, I mean it… I was a big ol’ wannabe. Huge. Yeah, I had my friends and we had a lot of fun hanging out together. It’s just… I so desperately wanted to be cool — someone who people looked at and wanted to be like. I was lucky enough to find out, at the unbelievably mature age of seven, that I was not cool. Nor was it likely that I would ever be cool (actually, in hindsight, I mightn’t have removed myself from “cool” potential had I not pined so desperately to be cool).
It was grade two (or second grade as some of you might call it) not long before Christmas vacation. All of the students in my class had put names into a hat to exchange gifts. I had selected the name of a small girl in my class, KL. I didn’t really know her very well so, I wasn’t entirely sure what she might like. My mother helped me pick out a gift for her and after looking for a while, we decided on a book, Charlotte’s Web. Soon it was the last day before Christmas vacation. The day of our class party. It was finally going to be the time to exchange gifts. I was excited to see what I would get. I was anxious but even more excited to see how KL would like her gift.
In fact, she hated it.
Thankfully (I guess), she didn’t actually inform me herself.
Still, the message certainly travelled like lightening. I still remember that specific moment like it was yesterday. As soon as the message had reached me, I instinctively looked over to her corner, only to have the reality of the words confirmed with the look of disgust on her face, and the faces of her friends standing around her.
I was utterly and monumentally crushed.
I felt like crying every last drop of moisture out of my scrawny little body but couldn’t. I desperately
wanted needed to escape that moment but couldn’t. My classroom was what we used to call a “portable” — a kind of “temporary” stand-alone classroom separate from the main school building — and it was freezing outside with snow everywhere. Plus, our little pre-Christmas class party had just started. All I could do was sink into my chair, fold my arms on my desk and attempt to bury my face in my sleeves.
I couldn’t eat or drink anything.
Classmates who hadn’t yet heard what had happened kept coming over and asking me what was wrong. I just told them all that I had a headache — which was not uncommon for me. I even brushed off my teacher with the same lie just so I didn’t have to talk to anyone about it. She believed me and left me to my sleeves until the party was over.
Thankfully, being the last day before Christmas meant it was a short day.
I don’t remember any other details from that day other than the conversation with my mother about the “success” of the gift. I described the whole pathetic story to her and begged to know why we couldn’t have gotten her a better gift. A gift that she would have loved. A gift other than the one we had chosen for her. Any gift. Looking back, I can see my mother really did try to make me feel better. She just did not give me the answer I wanted to hear or an answer that could I process as valid at my age. She explained that we simply did not have enough money to buy anything more expensive for her gift, that Charlotte’s Web is a great story, and that the book was a good gift.
I was crushed again.
From that moment on, I was brutally aware that we didn’t have as much as everyone else did. I felt like a lesser person. I didn’t want to be a lesser person. I wanted to be someone that could be disgusted by receiving Charlotte’s Web as a gift. I was obsessed with becoming cool. I didn’t want to be me. I hated myself for a long time. I gave my mother a hard time when I couldn’t get the latest Nike shoes — which she eventually broke down and bought me (sorry Mom).
I have been plagued by that event for my entire life.
Even though I had, in essence, figured out how to move past it a long time ago, situations still seem to have a way popping up that make me feel like I’m seven again. I HATE it when that feeling comes back. It still feels that same as it did that day. Even though I am official against “cool”, I still desperately want to be someone that people look at and say, “Wow, I want to be just like him.”
In an earlier and unrelated conversation, my wife had laughed saying that I’m just like a little kid sometimes. For instance, I’ll do something and she’s noticed that I’ll look to see anyone’s watching, like a little kid looking for someone’s approval or praise. That’s why, Love. That’s why.
We had to read Charlotte’s Web later that year. I remember the teacher asking if anyone had read it yet. Nobody had. Little Miss KL did, however, shoot her hand into the air excited to be able to exclaim to everyone that she already owned a copy. Much to the praise for the teacher and her cool friends.
Read and post comments | Send to a friend