There I was standing in the sunshine, my head tilted back, with one pig tail in my mouth, looking into the deep blue yonder that made up the sky. The breeze swayed around me, caressing my bare legs and arms. I was eight years old and the world felt like mine for the taking. It was there in my front yard that I played my games filled with imaginary people living playfully in their beautiful and colorful imaginary worlds. And it was there that my heart broke for the very first time.
That day I had pretended to be a bird. Birds always seemed like such lovely creatures to me. They were often colorful and they sang little songs that warmed the hearts of those around them. They flew, so free, into the sky with no restraint, but their own desires and appetites. So, yes, that day, playing all alone (as usual), I pretended to be a bird.
I spent hours creating a nest big enough for me to sit in. My objective was to make it look realistic. So, I ran around the yard with my lanky legs dressed in bright blue shorts, looking for branches and pine needles that I could push together. After much time and with great patience, I had sculpted what I thought was the most beautiful and useful, human sized bird’s nest.
I sat in the nest, with my legs tucked under me, the backs of my bare feet behind me, looking up toward the sun. I flapped my arms around, keeping my elbows tucked in by my underarms, going “Caw, Caw.” I felt so peaceful and at ease, just sitting there basking in the rays of summer. But after a few short minutes, I grew tired of just sitting idly in the nest. So, I ran stealthily back inside, leaving the heavy front door open behind me, to find one of my favorite Junie B. Jones books.
After a few minutes of searching my bookshelf I discovered the deep purple covered book, adorned with the face of an independent 8 year old tomboy- a hero of mine- that I cherished so dearly. I grabbed it and then ran back out; fearing that wind or some other element beyond my control might disrupt the nest that I had put so much work into. When I got back to the nest, I let out a sigh of relief. There it was, perfectly intact just as it was when I left. However, the scenery surrounding it had suddenly changed.
Instead of seeing an empty street lined with cookie cutter faux colonials, I saw kids playing. Girls and boys littered the street, moving around on bikes and roller skates, there was even a go-cart. A pang of envy and fear erupted in my chest. These were the kids that made fun of me. These were the kids that left me out. They wouldn’t treat me like everyone else. Instead they treated me like a leper for some reason unbeknownst to me. They called me names like “retard” and “freak.” And they laughed at me in a symphonic chorus when I failed to return an effective insult. But oh how I wanted to ride in that go-cart.
Attempting to ignore their presence, I settled back into my nest and opened my book. But the book could have been upside down for all I knew. No matter how hard I tried to focus on the words, my eyes kept moving up and looking over the page, to where the kids were playing. Their presence was like a magnet, pulling my attention unforgivably without a break in time.
I felt so sad sitting there all alone in my bird’s nest. I felt like a fool. There I was with dirty bare feet and a stained tye dye t-shirt, while the girls I wanted to play with, wore crisp white knee socks, hopping around doing double dutch, laughing and loving each other all the while. My friendships with imaginary people were like pieces of earth and mud in comparison to the fire of theirs. Theirs were real. And I was jealous. But I was also hurt, because they rejected me so often. How could I want to be friends with people who made fun of me? This irony left me feeling even more foolish and out of place.
I was lost in my thoughts and emotions, so, I didn’t notice a boy come up to me. There I was staring stupidly into a tree thinking my thoughts, with my mouth hanging open, when he said “wake up, freak.” I turned to look at him, all five feet of him. He had curly brown hair and an arrogant smile on his pale white face. His t-shirt informed me that he played baseball for some little league Dodgers team, while, his dirty hands showed me he liked to played ruff. I was scared. This was the boy who’d laughed his hardest once when I fell off the monkey bars and busted my lip open. I was crying hysterically out of shock and all he did was laugh. Instinctively I had called out for my Mother who was miles away at work. He laughed even harder at this, but only until the teacher came rushing over to my aid. I hated this boy.
“What do you want,” I said with attitude. “I just want to play,” he said innocently. I was literally speechless. I was shocked, by how genuine he seemed. I didn’t know what to say. “No you don’t,” I yelled on the side of caution. “Relax, butt head. I just think your nest is cool,” he said. I looked at him wearily. As if to put up a white flag, he asked me to teach him how to build one.
I was suddenly ecstatic. Here it was. The moment my Mother had promised me. The moment when someone actually wanted to be my friend. I was rushing around my yard helping him put together a nest when I decided to just give him mine. Giving up my nest and making a new one was very worth having a new friend I thought. He thanked me graciously. I was about half way through with the new nest when the girls that I secretly wanted to be friends with showed up. At first I was excited, because I thought that they would want to join us, but instead they chanted “Eeww” ceremoniously, saying “Jeremy loves Kim.” They laughed like little baby hyenas. I looked at Jeremy expecting him to yell back at them in my defense, I had given him my nest after all. But instead he just looked at me with disgust and informed the girls that he was just using me for my nest. They all laughed harder. And as they did so, my body temperature rose as my stomach dropped.
What world is this, I thought. Why is it that I can dream of such nice people, but they can’t exist? I was angry. No I was furious. No, better yet, I was ape shit insane. I screamed at them, as the straw broke my back. I had no restraint left in me. I suddenly felt free as I saw their laughs and smiles drop into frowns. “Shut up,” I screamed over and over. I felt wild and savage and oddly free. And I could tell that I was scaring them. Good, I thought. You deserve to feel small and threatened, just like you make me feel.
But, no. Jeremy refused to fall down to my wrath. Instead, he kicked a part my nests, grabbed my book and ran away with the girls going full speed. I saw them mount their bikes and peddle out of the cul-de-sac, snickering at my outburst all the while.
I refused to accept the situation. So, I raced after them, running as fast as my legs could go. I was no longer Kim. I was no longer human. No. I felt like I was the combined spirits of every kid who had ever been picked on relentlessly by other children. I felt hungry for justice. And they were my food.
After a few minutes of full fledge sprinting, I caught up with them. They were sifting through the very appealing furniture Mrs. Minowitz left out at her curb for trash pick-up two blocks down. I took advantage of the fact that they didn’t see me coming. I ran up right behind Jeremy and literally kicked him in the butt. “Give me my book back,” I screamed at them through angry tears, dust from the day’s work caked onto my face. I was shaking. They noticed this and laughed once again, but this time there was a sense of fear in their laugh. They saw the raging beast in me ready to depart from its cage, ready to take back what had been stolen so viciously.
“No,” he yelled defiantly. He looked me up and down as if to judge what he saw in front of him. Sizing me up, he said quietly “You stole this book from me.” Before I knew what I was doing I started kicking him and punching him, screaming, “I hate you, you liar, give me my book back.” The last words seemed to fall off the cliff I was holding up with my anger. They parachuted down through my sadness and crumbled in my tears. The girls just stood there, showing no sympathy. True monsters, I thought as I attempted to catch my breath.
But before I could think anything more or say anything, Jeremy chucked the book forward at me. It soared straight toward me with fierceness and hit me hard in my chest. The book’s spine hurt as it collided with my sudden inability to breathe.
And then they ran. They ran fast and hard away from me down the street. But I didn’t care. All I thought about was how pathetic the book looked on the ground a page torn and crumpled at my feet from harsh handling. I saw my Mother’s face, a somewhat distorted reflection of my own, flash inside my head. She was happy and smiling, as I looked at the book for the first time. It was a present from her. I fell to my knees, right there in the street and picked it up. I cradled it and felt grief pour through my veins like cold water from a faucet. I felt grief for the book. And I felt grief for myself. This wasn’t the life I imagined. Sitting there, in the midst of the other kid’s dust with my dirty feet and hands, I cried without restraint. And I felt my heart break for myself. I felt my spirit truly crumble into a million little insignificant pieces for the very first time.