Always the weird kid. Always the shy kid. Always the short, dumpy, ugly kid.
A dad who left, who didn’t want me. Who borrowed me once as a babe to show his family and never came back.
Mum, I was your ugly duckling, your big sister when yours moved away. A child yet big sister. The one who had to be a grown up at four. The kid who was never normal; the one who didn’t fit it. The one told who was told she would become a scary schizophrenic because she was different. The one who was always going to be locked up.
The one who tried to make friends; who would be invited for sleepovers. But only ever once per friend. Because I was the kid who would innocently ask parents for a “sick bowl”. Because I was taught that you need to carry a bowl around in case you felt sick. Parents would look at me strangely and ask if I were unwell. I would beam and smile and say how important it was to carry a bowl just in case. Mum taught me. They would give me a bowl. I would spend the night. But I would never be invited back. At school, they would laugh. Word got around. The kid who needs a sick bowl. The kid who wants to be a horse when she grows up.
Then I was the ugly kid. The kid with the scars. The kid with the odd hairdo. Because I had to be ‘on trend.’ My long locks were cut. I had to look this way, then this. The kid who looked like a short version of Frankenstein’s monster because she had gone head first through a glass door. But with an afro. Because in the seventies you needed an afro.
I was the kid who only ever had one set of new clothes a year. Thanks to a kindly aunt. School jumpers were handmade; beautifully made by a grandmother or an aunt. The colour was right, but the patterns were not school uniform. But they were nice, and they were new. Still, they were handmade, not machine made and that was wrong but everything else … oh everything else was second hand from the jumble sales. I was the kid in the changing rooms, poked, prodded, pointed and laughed at because someone would recognise their old underwear. Sold at a jumble sale and I would be wearing it. The kid who’s socks never had elastic, so they puddled around my ankles. Not white, but yellowed with use. Odd, uneven socks. Uneven hems on worn skirts.
Three high schools in five years. Horrible, awful high schools. Schools where I was too afraid to raise my hand, to speak, to answer a question because it would draw attention to myself. More attention. I didn’t want attention. I already had enough. Kids would line the hallways and chant at me, try to trip me, throw things at me, mock me, laugh at me, taunt me and call me names. A new coat, sliced, slashed from my back as the class roared and chanted and the teacher cowered beneath his desk. The Mob. Always the mob. A change in schools I was sent to classes that had space for another person. For the classes for smart kids were full. Being smart in a class for the non-smart was terrible. I stood out even more.
My accent was different. I was too “toffee”, to posh in a world of cockney slang. From country to outer London suburbs. A classmate was gang-raped by fellow students. I was told I would be next. Because she was ‘different’ too. I wouldn’t, couldn’t do PE. Go into the change rooms there? No. I knew what would happen to me in change rooms. I had seen the bruises; I had seen the cuts on others who didn’t fit in. Those not in a clique. Those not part of a gang. But you didn’t have to do PE if you had your period. So I had a yearlong ‘period’. Mum thought there was something wrong with me. She had to write notes to excuse me. The doctor put me on the pill. I stopped going to school. I would leave in the morning and pretend, but I wouldn’t go to school or would go to my home class and register in then hand in a forged note that I had a hospital appointment. This was readily believed, for sometimes it was true. Radiation therapy for the scars. Only three weeks and eleven days, scattered was my year at that school. A year where I didn’t speak. I couldn’t talk. I didn’t dare.
A year when I learned to always be on alert; to jump at shadows. To ever have my back against a wall. A year of perspiration and sweat. The smelly kid, always soaked in the permanent stench of fear.
The weird kid became a truant and sort solace away from the crowds.
Always unwanted. Always told I was weird and odd.
Until boys. Boys would like me. Men would like me. I learned at an early age what I needed to do. I saw pictures at four. I was taught. I grew accustomed to being touched by five. I knew exactly what to do by twelve.
I learned to turn the pain inward. I learned young that I was terrible and odd and weird and unlovable and unworthy and I hurt. The silent scream inside my head was never-ending. The loneliness, the emptiness, the knowledge that I was nothing; that I wasn’t special. I wasn’t anything. Except weird. And useful. And touchable.
I found my freedom and peace in nature. In trampling through paddocks, through the woods, sitting quietly watching the wild deer, befriending the wild horses, feeding wild birds. And dogs. I always had dogs. Animals were my friends. People were not.
Outcast. Unwanted. No sense of belonging in human society.
At fifty-one nothing has changed.