When I was 6 my parents bought their first house in a pretty friendly yet homogenous neighborhood. It didn’t matter to them because they saw kids playing outside, and neighbors talking to each other. I loved it because it was safe and gave me a lot of freedom, like the freedom to ride my bike anywhere, and being able to knock on any kid’s door and ask them to play.
Then one day I had a bright idea, I asked my mom if I could have a sleepover with some friends. Of course she didn’t know what a sleepover was, I had to explain the concept to her. She said ti would be OK, but to only invite 1 friend over. So I invited my friend Alison whom I thought was my “best friend”. Alison and I had a great night of fun together.
Then a few days past, and I noticed something weird begin to happen. I’d go ask kids in my neighborhood if the wanted to play and they’d come up with some excuse to exclude me. I didn’t really get it, I was a little upset, but decided to just hop on my bike and go for a ride. Even Alison was mysteriously unavailable.
A few weeks passed, and things got worse. I’d knock on different kids doors in my neighborhood and kept hearing excuses: “I’m grounded.” “I have chores.” “I’ve got a LOT of homework.” Something was up. But mostly I was just lonely, and didn’t know what was going on.
Then one day a new young couple moved into the house across the street. My parents went over to say hi, and I went with them. I found out the young lady’s name was Julie, she didn’t have any kids.
The next day I went over to Julie’s and knocked on her door, and asked if I could come in. I don’t know where I got the courage, but I guess at that point I was getting tired of getting rejected by all the kids in the block. Plus I figured that since Julie didn’t have kids she needed someone to hang out with too! Julie didn’t mind and let me in, and introduced me to “ice tea”, which she had just brewed. Julie and I got to talking and she told me that she was a stewardess, which meant she got to fly on planes, and her husband was in the air force and he got to fly too!
For weeks I kept visiting Julie, learning about her life. One day she told me she would be gone for awhile, she was traveling to China. Whoa! I knew China was close to where I came from, and they had pandas. So I wished Julie a fun trip, and told her to pet a panda for me!
While I waited for Julie to come back, I just spent time by myself reading, and riding my bike. Then one day my parents brought up Julie, wondering why they hadn’t seen her in awhile. I told them she was in China. They wondered how I knew. So I told them about how I went over to Julie’s, how she fed my ice tea, and we would hang out.
My parents freaked out! They told me that I was “bothering” her and to stop. I didn’t get it. None of the kids on my street would play with me, and now Julie was off limits according to my parents.
Well I did the only thing I could do as a 6 year old at the time, I just went back to hanging out with myself. Then one day as I was eating lunch at school a kid came up to me and asked me, “Is it true your family eats raw eggs and your dad wears a skirt?” I didn’t know where the heck that came from. “Because Alison said that you do.”
Mystery of being shunned was solved. Well what do you think I did? I marched on up to Alison and said, “Stop spreading rumors about my family, we don’t eat raw eggs, we’re vegetarian! AND my dad doesn’t wear a skirt those are his PJs.”
That was the first time in my life I realized what it meant to be different. I felt powerless because I couldn’t hang out with Julie who would accept me, because my parents didn’t like it, and I couldn’t change the minds of other kids in my neighborhood. But I wasn’t one to cry or get upset, so I just kept spending more time with myself reading. I read a LOT. I read almost every series that was out there, the Box Car children, the Chronicle of Narania, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and so on. But it wasn’t enough to just read, I wanted to do what these authors had done, I wanted to write too! So I started writing a lot of stores.
When I got to the second grade I had a teacher who reminded me of Julie my neighbor. She was warm, open, and encouraging. I took my short stories to her, she read each one, and told me to keep writing. Writing became my way of creating worlds, and it filled the void until I became socially accepted again. What’s most interesting is that even though I started to have more friends as I grew up, I still gave myself time to read, write, and ride my bike. I didn’t just tie myself down to the one set of friends like I had originally with the kids on my block. Instead I made friends with kids at school, kids in other neighborhoods, joined some clubs and got introduced to older kids! Boy was I cool then… Even Allison and I reconciled a couple years later, and right before I moved away she came to my going away party. Allison had done me a favor while her little rumor was hurtful, had I not been shunned I wouldn’t have discovered my new talent, writing! I also had to get a little out of my own comfort zone, make friends with new people, and as a result got to have more interesting experiences beyond playing cops and robbers with the kids in my neighborhood. Life growing up was good.