Every book I have read this year in English has focused on characters who are ostracized. For example, in We the Animals, the narrator’s sensitivity, literary pursuits, and homosexuality separate him from his intolerant family. The narrator’s family rejects one of its own because it does not understand his sexual preferences or interest in writing. In Othello, The Moor is thought of as “the other” because he is black and Moroccan living in a land of white and European. As a result, most characters mistake Othello’s physical differences for his disposition. In Eat the Document, we follow Caroline, who is also Mary, who is also Freya, who is also Louise. In each case, Caroline and Mary and Freya and Louise is constantly running from herself and her fugitive status. Nevertheless, she quickly develops a strong feeling of loneliness and detachment from having so many identities. Such feelings inhibit her from creating connections with anyone.
I too am other. I too am misunderstood. I too am not known.
The morning of my seventeenth birthday began as any other birthday would: I got up, went down stairs to be unenthusiastically wished a happy birthday by my younger sister, opened up my birthday cards, was greeted by my overly enthusiastic parents, dad made me chocolate chip waffles, got some calls from relatives, and left for school. Besides the extra attention from my parents, the day was nothing out of the ordinary.
The drive to school was nothing unusual either. I was enlightened with some encouraging words from my mother. The typical “the kids who struggle in high school have an easier time in college, you have a lot going for you, hold your head up high, Beaver is not the real world.” Basically, the same advice I had heard almost every day en route to school. Although most days I chose to ignore her, I decided to listen to her for once. I was consumed with all sorts of social anxiety. Something you may or may not know about, depending on your social status, but for me, I was plagued with what I would do come lunchtime? What happens if and when no one remembers? I had started to get a little ahead of myself, it was my seventeenth birthday after all, someone had to remember, right?
Once I arrived at school, I was able to get to my first class of the day without a hitch, somewhat successfully managed to push and shove my way through the barracudas that seem to body block anyone even attempting to cross the middle school hallway. I even made it to the biology classroom without tripping over the millions of backpacks sprawled across that hallway, which actually tend to worsen the trek. But, as I swung open the door to biology with the widest of smiles–you know, the really obnoxious over eager, teeth exploding from your mouth kind– no one even glanced in my direction, which was hard considering the caliber of my entrance. Even after thirty casual minutes of impatiently waiting for Butler to arrive, I realized that my peers in biology did not know it was my birthday, but I still had my advisory to make up for it, right?
Nope, wrong again. Advisory was spent as it always is: the key players commiserating and competing for the spot of the biggest kvetcher, which is stiff competition. There is Contestant 1, who complains that she is incapable of receiving a good grade in school and she does not get along with her teachers. Yet it is for a lack of trying and politeness. Contestant 2 is just too lazy and like just, ughhhh, never really like feels like doing work. Then we have Contestant 3… I’ll spare you the details, believe me, you’re welcome. Oh wait, that was me… that’s awkward.. Anyways, throughout this escapade of jeremiads, my birthday went unnoticed and the day continued to proceed as I had hoped it would not.
Advisory became Spanish. Spanish was two hours of conjugating verbs and deciphering a story about a man who drowned in the sea and the whole town was so kind to clean his dead body and make pretend he was real. I know, weird, right? Well, supposedly El Ahogado Más Hermoso del Mundo is one of the “greats” according to my Spanish teacher. Double block came and went just in time for lunch, the moment I had been waiting for- my true test of visibility, which–spoiler alert–I failed.
I walked up the stairs from Spanish and went straight to my table in the corner of the collaboration space, ready and waiting. And that’s just what I did for the entire lunch period, waited. Seriously, it was as though I was in a time-out and no one was allowed to talk to me or I was in solitary confinement, which had to be the only plausible explanation. I mean, all I could think was “doesn’t anyone check his or her Facebook anymore?” I know at least when I don’t, I get Facebook notifications telling me “It is Bailey Belt’s birthday, wish him a happy birthday”, Bailey is my dog… By 12:50, I had admitted defeat, my frantic search to find someone to eat with was over, and I made my way to lunch by myself. Yup, that is what I did; I ate lunch alone on my seventeenth birthday. Happy birthday to me.
By the time school was over, I had gone through the whole day unacknowledged, with wishless communication reserved for class discussions. I was pretty distraught and disappointed. I made my way to my room, checked my phone for any potential birthday texts, something I found counterproductive. I then checked my Facebook for any posts, waste of time as well. I didn’t even bother to check my Instagram, or Vine, or Twitter, or Tumblr, or Snapchat, or Facefeed, or LinkedIn. So, instead, I cried.
I cried a deluge of inconsolable disappointment. I was used to feeling as though I needed to be invincible, but still it hurt, every time. I was disappointed that after six years at the same school the same barracudas that stood in my way in middle school continued to hinder me. I was disheartened that my smiles were never reciprocated, and time after time, I lost friends to popularity, memories to morals, parties to principles. Most of all, I was disappointed that this feeling of a “social shunning” had become such a familiar occurrence, that I had become used to it.
“Livvie, Grammy and Papa are here, please help them out of the car.” That was my cue, time to wipe my tears. My grandparents had come over for dinner to celebrate me. I would finally receive what I wanted all day, I would blow out my candles, and the day would be over. Except that it would not be. I would most probably relive the day’s events on all subsequent days. Tomorrow would again be filled with worry and sadness and let down, a never-ending cycle of solitude, which for me was 365 days, so I guess you could say I beat Marquez. Anyway, as someone used to it, I knew the power of resilience, which left into question how I should carry myself the next day at school.
Option 1: I could act graciously, pretend like the previous day was not my birthday, and if mentioned, pretend as is it was totally okay that no one said anything. Option 2: begrudge my entire grade, not share with anyone my study guide for the upcoming bio exam, and not wish anyone a happy birthday ever again in order to really show my disappointment. Option 3: write an English paper admonishing the social system in my grade in a self-deprecating style to prove a point.
Ultimately, I chose option 2 because I felt as though I needed to prove a point, so do not expect anything from me on your birthday. In all seriousness, even though I have come to not expect any grand gestures or even acknowledgement from the people I have gone to school with since I was eleven, I know how crappy I feel when treated as less than and I vow to never make someone else feel that way.
In many ways, I resemble the unnamed narrator, Othello, and Mary and Freya and Louise and Caroline. I am constantly excluded, regarded as inferior, and judged based on the superficial. Despite all of these similarities, there is one thing that sets me apart from these characters–aside from the obvious fact that I am an actual living breathing person– my perseverance. In the end, all of these characters suffered demise from succumbing to the insecurities and trepidations that other people have about them. I, however, know better than to let someone else’s opinion about me influence how I think about myself.
I may be other. I may be misunderstood. I may be unknown. My classmates may not ever notice me, but at least I have parents who love and sometimes smother me, grandparents who support and believe in me, teachers who do notice me, and sisters who sometimes tolerate me.