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Check me out at five years old when I first started school. I liked to dress myself and rarely matched and I often wore my clothes backwards. Not that I didn’t know which way they went on, I just didn’t pay that much attention when I was getting dressed. I had other things on my mind like stories I’d test out on myself as I was going about my day, playing alone or painting a picture or listening to the teacher who was often talking about things I already knew in kindergarten. Most of the time, I told these stories out loud at a whisper, so basically, I was talking to myself. The other kids thought I was weird. They were right. I was. Still am.
Back then, it meant other kids acted quite mean towards mecalling me names, refusing to play with me, telling lies about me, and generally making my school life miserable. I retreated to the library, sometimes without permission, to find comfort and new facts in the stories there. I read books about ghosts, women who disguised themselves as men to fight in wars, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Curious George, and a host of other wonderful beings. But I was always looking for a way to solve the problem of being a geeka book smart and people stupid kid who made the other kids hate her.
As I saw it God only made good people and I did my best to follow God’s example and love others as I wanted to be loved. After all, when someone told me they hated me, I told them, “I love you, because that’s what Jesus would do.” And I meant it. I’d pray right there that they’d be less mean to me and everyone they met.
But I wanted to do something more. And my idea was that if I became famous, other kids would want to get to know me. I figured that if they really knew me, they’d like me better. So, my plan, at eight years old, was to become famous. But I had one problem: what could an eight-year-old, from small-town Wisconsin do to become famous?
I decided to research the subject. I went to my favorite book about famous people: The Guiness Book of World Records. If I could break one of those, then everyone would want to get to know me, right? Well, my dad’s only 5'6½" and my mother’s even shorter, so I’d never be the tallest person in the world like Robert Ludlow who was less than half-an-inch shy of nine feet tall. That’s three feet taller the your standard, use-around-the-house ladder. I couldn’t stand on one foot for even a minute (bad balance), so there was no way I was doing that for days and days. Then I found out that there was a six-year-old named Dorothy Straight who had published a novel. I thought, “She did that at six? I’m already eight. I’m behind. I better get started.”
I read all I could about being an author, which I think was one book. That’s all they had in my school library and we didn’t have the Internet yetI know, I know, I lived among the dinosaurs, didn’t I? That book said, “You should write what you know.” I thought, what do I know, I’m eight? I wrote about my experience of having surgery to lengthen one of my legs, but I forgot to clean my room and my mom threw it out with all the other things I left around my room. That’ll teach a body to keep things clean and tidy.
Then I thought, why should I write what I know? I know it already, writing about it would be boring, so I decided to write about what I wanted to know. Back then, I wanted to know what it would be like to be a boy, investigate a haunted house, or survive the Vietnam War. All these ideas kept me writing. By the time I reached sixth grade, I’d gotten pretty good at writing make-believe stories. A teacher would ask me to write a five-page story by the end of the week and I’d be twenty pages into it by Thursday night and have to come up with a rush-rush ending to turn it in the next morning. I loved writing stories.
The only trouble was that no one at school loved me. Kids still hated me and I wasn’t famous yet (I’m still waiting, but it’s not so important any more). In fact, that fall I’d done another really stupid thing that had everyone teasing. I’d gone to school with a terrible cold and a roll of toilet paper.
Let me explain. It’s pretty hard to squash a tissue box and put it in your pocket, but it’s pretty easy with toilet paper and I needed a lot of it because I had this terrible, terrible cold and I sneezed and I blew and I sneezed and I blew until I ran out of toilet paper, then I ... ah ... ah ... sneezed! I put up my hands to catch it and I caught it all right. I got snot from my chin to my forehead. GROSS!
Keeping my hands over my face, I ran to the teacher and asked, “Can I go to the bathroom?”
And the teacher said ... “No.”
Desperate, I looked around the room and thankfully found a sink. I washed my hands and my face, with soap, thank you very much. Then I did something stupid. I didn’t stop at drying my hands on the towel dispenser. I dried my face as well. It was dripping wet after all. But Chris Schell saw me and shouted, “LaFaye’s blowing her nose on the towel dispenser.”
I wasn’t. But cool-kid-everyone-loved-him Chris Schell said I was and that was enough to get everyone to call me “Sneezy” and “Snotty” and a ton of other couldn’t-make-it-as-one-of-the-Seven-Dwarves-names and throw clean tissues at me which I kept because I’d learned you should keep extras for disasters.
And you know what? Remember that kid who shouted "LaFaye's blowing her nose on the towel dispenser" way back when I was in grade school? Well, he wrote to me the other day to say how sorry he was for the way he acted back then. He also let me know that part of the reason he was mean to me was because he felt so insecure about himself. So, if a kid is ever cruel to you, just remember that kid may be hurting, too.
Look at my characters Nate and John from Worth they're awfully hard on each other in the beginning of the book. They feel so bad about themselves that they lash out. It isn't until they learn to see their new "brother" for who he is inside that they become friends. Who knows? Chris and I may even become friends now that we're getting to know each other.
Chris has become a dedicated teacher who strives to help his students see that they shouldn't tease anyone or stand by and watch kids be cruel to each other. They should respect everyone they know and insist that others are respectful too. He's become a pretty amazing teacher. And it just goes to show you, if we all learn from what happens to us as kids we can grow up to help the next generation become better people. And become better people ourselves. So no matter who you are today, you can always grow. Think of your inner character with wings. If you make your inner self strong, you'll be able to fly anywhere from where you are. Have a happy flight!