There were times growing up that my family didn’t have much. The worse point was after my mom's separation with my father when we had lost everything and were homeless with my mother. We stayed with different family members as they allowed, and my two sisters and I lived out of our suitcases. My mom finally found an apartment to rent before I started the 8th grade. Unlike most kids whose parents had the means to go back to school shopping, the only clothes I had as I began the new school year were the clothes that had been in my suitcase as we had gone from house to house.
Because I didn’t really have too many clothes starting 8th grade, I did things to stretch out my wardrobe throughout the week. One of the things I had in my small wardrobe was a leopard print reversible sweater. I wasn’t particularly found of it, as it was my mom’s old sweater and looked very dated. I tried to cover up the fact that I didn’t have much by wearing one side on Monday, and turning it inside out and wearing the other print on Tuesday.
I had hoped that people would not recognize that all along, I was wearing the same sweater a few days each week because my mom, who was barely keeping food in the kitchen, could not afford to buy me and my sisters new clothes. At first I was teased for wearing the sweater when it was 110 degrees summer days in Las Vegas. I lied and told people that I was cold, when in fact, I was very uncomfortable. I didn’t have summer clothes like the other kids. I would sweat a lot and kids would tease me by calling me "The Sweater".
One day, I remember walking down the hallway in Middle School, and some girls and boys that were in a few of my classes were walking behind me, as I was on my way to band class. These were cool kids that I had been trying to get to like me and become my friend. I was smart, and I had even given one of the kids the homework answers that morning with the hopes of developing a friendship with them. One of the girls yelled at the others, “Hey, look at her. She is wearing the same sweater that she wore yesterday.” All the kids began to laugh at me. I lied and said no. I told them it was a different sweater, and that I just had a lot of sweaters that looked a like. That only made them laugh harder and longer. I went home after school that day, practiced my band instrument, and cried myself to sleep.
A few weeks later during lunch period, my life changed. My usual lunch routine was very lonely. I did not have lunch or lunch money, so instead of going to lunch and sitting with the other kids at the lunch tables, I would go into the girl’s bathroom and stay in the stall until lunch was over. This particular day, I was walking past a table of band kids on my way to my lunch time stall, and one of the kids asked me come sit with them. I was in band also, but I had never thought to hang out with other band kids. The kids were very interested in getting to know me. They commented on how well I played my instrument in band. One even commented on how cool my sweater was because it reminded him of his favorite cat. After that day, I was inseparable with this group of kids. They didn’t care that I wore the same sweater day after day. They just liked me because I was cool, funny, and talented.
I learned a lot about friendship that year. Bullies come in many forms, and some may disguise themselves as your friends. However, best friends like you because of who you are, not for what you can do for them or what you look like. After this experience, I decided to never waste energy trying to fit in, but rather, to invest time and energy to stand out.