Monday, September 20, 2010

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

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*

Me: *glares*

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.


  1. That was brave, thank you for sharing it with us. :)

  2. Oh man, don't make me cry before lunch!

    I hope someday he happens across this post and smiles :)

  3. We all have done things we're not proud of... even Zeashan, I'm sure. But I hope he reads this somehow, so he knows how you really felt. (And even if he doesn't, I believe in karma, and I think he'll "know" somehow.)

  4. I kindda understand you. A lot. Really. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. I'm sure he felt the same as you!

    I remember those years...I was often the one picked on..for being small, for not needing a training bra, for not having my period yet....last picked for teams. There was one other girl who was last with me...we were always the last two...sometimes she was last, sometimes it was me. I remember being older and on random occasions when the more popular girls would actually let me join them...I'd make fun of that girl with them. I didn't like doing it...but for that day, it made me not be the one picked on.

  6. Oh, Natalie, I feel your pain and I thank you for sharing. As children, its hard finding our niche and we often do things that we regret as we grow (adults do too!), but as long as we learned from our actions and don't beat ourselves up, I see it as a good thing.

    I, too, was teased in elementary school for being teachers pet, getting good grades, etc, etc. I was teased for being too tall, for being too smart, for being too pale, and for wearing glasses. It was the girl who, before I came to that school, was the tallest & smartest who lead the pack. It was hurtful b/c all of the other little girls followed her lead, but were nice as can be when she wasn't around. *sigh* Kids...I try to teach mine not to tease & I can only hope it worked in some way. :)

  7. Great post! I can relate. I really enjoyed your story!

  8. Thanks for your post. I remember those days, usually with a shudder. I, like each of you, was picked on frequently. When I was young I was much to shy to do anything but absorb it. When I got older I started to lash out at the people who were bullies. It took me a lot of time and several regrets later to realize that they, like me, were people who had their own reasons for exhibiting poor behavior.

  9. That's a beautiful post. And I would just like to offer my sympathies that your name was Walus. Mine was Bumpus, and I think you can imagine all the fun that was had with that...

  10. Lovely. I adore when you write like this.

  11. I got made fun of for NOT being Mormon (in UT) in JR HI and HS. It made me adopt the invisibility coping mechanism and also to work to appreciate the difference in others and not poke them with mean-ness.

  12. It was very cool of you to share this. I can relate to your story and have also been told I'm going to hell (by an evangelical family member). It's made me work harder as a parent to instill values of acceptance in my young children. My 6-yo has friends of various ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs, and he treats them all with respect and kindness. Thank you for such a beautiful and brave post. :)

  13. Awww. I was teased a lot in school, too :(

    I really hope your old friend stumbles across this post :)

  14. Thanks for sharing. I'm sure I was teased growing up, too, but I can't actually remember many incidents.

    Mostly I just felt lonely.

    It's amazing, though, how looking back at yearbooks, I realize we were all in the same boat. We were all awkward and self-conscious and trying to work our way past the crazy experience that is being a teenager. Or, in your case, a kid. :)

  15. Sometimes I think school is the worst place in the world to put your kids for six hours a day. What are they really learning about life from other children? School was a torment for me.

  16. I think everyone has in their past a moment they aren't proud of, a moment when they tore someone else down so that that person could feel as bad as they did. That you for sharing and reminding us all of the importance of not breaking others down.

  17. Thanks for sharing this!!! It was touching :)

  18. Wow! Sad :(

    So hard sometimes not to take out our pain on someone else.

  19. Very nice, Natalie. I hold homeschool in reserve for my kids, but so far they've enjoyed school and have friends. I would never want them to have the same lonely days that I did in some years. That thing about it building character is a bunch of baloney.

    The thing about children is they are wired to place people in us/them groups. It is part of how the brain tries to understand the world. Learning how to get past this is part of becoming a mature adult. I'm not condoning teasing, but I do believe that kids can tease and still grow up to be nice people.

  20. What a great story. So many things to look back on and regret. But we were kids. Still learning . . . well, pretty much everything. I just hope I can teach my kids to be a better/kinder/nicer person than I was.