When I was little, I got made fun of for a lot of reasons. I got made fun of for being Mormon; I was informed regularly that I was going to hell, checked for horns, asked if we sacrificed cats in our temples, and other ridiculous things. I was teased for having "ugly" clothes, many of which came from my aunt as hand-me-downs. My last name was Walus (add an "r" to that and...yeah). And if all that wasn't enough, I also got made fun of for being smart, a teacher's pet, and so on and so forth.
It was enough to make any kid a bit messed up, and looking back I made a lot of dumb choices based on how all that teasing made me feel. I'd like to say I'm a fairly well-adjusted adult, but whenever I think of Zeashan I still get this pit in my stomach.
See, Zeashan was kind of in the same boat I was. He was one of maybe two Muslim kids in our school. He was a "dork," complete with glasses and flooded pants and awkwardness. Of course he was brilliant, getting most of the high scores in class.
And I relentlessly teased him.
At the time, I remember being jealous. He was always in my class (duh, because I was always in the advanced class), and he often beat me at tests. Never by a lot, but just those few points felt like the world back then. I didn't have much at school to be proud of—I didn't talk about how hurt and sad and angry all the teasing made me, that would make me weaker—and it was like he constantly trampled on the one thing I had going for myself.
It was like an all out nerd war between us, and now I wonder if he felt the same way when I beat him on tests.
As bad as I still feel about teasing him, at the same time I smile, because he always fought back. He always had some bitingly smart comeback:
Me: Four eyes.
Zeashan: All the better to see you with.
Me: You sure didn't see well for the math test, you only got an A-.
Zeashan: At least I can spell "harmony." HarMANY? *laughs*
I never had a comeback for that. Spelling has never been my strength (as shown on this blog daily). Also, I should probably mention we weren't older than like nine. I know this, because I still remember one winter day in fourth grade.
Zeashan's mom came into class. She was a beautiful woman with dark eyes and hair, wearing a long dress. She told us that something had happened to Zeashan and he had to go to the hospital—he had something called Diabetes.
It was the first time I'd heard the word. As she explained that he would have to give himself shots everyday, stop eating candy, and that there was no cure, I sunk in my chair. I felt like the most horrible person in the world. Did she know how much I'd teased her son? When she saw me, did she think I was an awful person? And worst of all, was she wrong for thinking that?
I didn't think she was. That day I realized I wasn't being any better than the kids who teased me, and as much as I wanted to be accepted I did not want to be like them. I didn't want to pick on people "weaker" than me. Not that I became a saint, but I decided to save my mean streak for the bullies instead.
I never made fun of Zeashan again. I didn't talk to him much at all. He went on in his struggles, while I went off on my own. But I had to admit that part of me missed talking to him. In some strange way, he was a friend, though it never looked like that.
I often wonder if this rivalry was unavoidable, since being friends would have made it worse for us, almost. I know exactly what would have happened—everyone would have said we were in love, that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, which would have been the epitome of embarrassing.
But the thing is, I didn't really care that he wore glasses or that people made fun of him. I never even thought he was different or weird. In fact, I think I saw myself in him, though I didn't know it at the time. And everything I said was almost like I was saying it to myself, because I didn't know how else to deal with being on the outside. It's hard, when you're that young, to realize that it's okay not to fit in, so instead you beat yourself up for being such a freak. Or you beat up others for being freaks.
So to Zeashan, wherever you are, I'm sorry for taking my own pain out on you. But thank you for always fighting back, because it taught me that I could fight too, that just because other people said I was one way, didn't make it true. I know we never got along, but in a way you were one of the few people at school who made me feel normal.