A Very Sad Story
I have a very rare opportunity today. I've been asked to be a Guest Blogger at The Traveling Spotlight so I'm attempting a little experiment: Can I tell the same story in two very different ways?
What I am about to tell you is very sad. I'm warning you. When I was in college I made a girl cry when I told this at dinner. A few months later she asked me to tell it again, and once again she cried.
If you prefer to read the funny version of this story, go visit The Traveling Spotlight. Let me know which one you like better!
When I was thirteen years old, my family moved from Independence, Missouri to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Having lived in one town for my entire life, I was very excited about this new beginning. I looked forward to new friends, a new house and a new school. To sweeten the deal, I would actually live near the ocean, which is about as exciting as it gets for a Midwestern boy.
I had no idea what I was about to face. In Missouri I was very popular at school. My upbringing was rather conservative, so the other kids actually made a rule that there was NO CUSSING ALLOWED if I played kickball with them. They knew I didn't cuss, and they wanted to make me happy. I was well-liked and adored. I was also seriously deluded, as I was about to find out.
Seminole Middle School in Plantation, Florida was terrifying. Each day I would go wait for the bus with a strong mean eighth-grader named Carlos. Carlos hated me because I had mentioned to my sister that he smoked. My sister told Carlos' sister, and she told her parents her brother was smoking. Carlos decided to take revenge on me and made every morning living hell for me as we stood in the dark waiting for the school bus. Nobody in Missouri had ever told me, "I'm going to kick your ass." I was scared to tell my parents, because I didn't want to seem like a baby. So every day I had to beg him not to kick my ass and apologize for getting him in trouble. Every single morning started that way. Maybe he wouldn't really have tried to beat me up if I refused to cower before him, but I didn't want to take that chance.
On the schoolbus nobody wanted me to sit by them. I had to stand in the overcrowded aisle of the bus, and if the bus lurched to a stop I would fall into people standing in front of or behind me. I couldn't brace myself to keep my balance, because I had to carry my trumpet case with one hand and my notebook with the other. I would be cussed out and pushed whenever I fell into somebody. One day a mean girl peeled stickers of my notebook while I stood there helplessly asking her to stop. I couldn't use my hands to push her away, and wouldn't have tried even if I could. Her muscular boyfriend stood next to her staring me down and daring me to make a fuss. After that particularly frustrating day I went home and punched a hole in the wall of our living room. I told my parents I had fallen into the wall.
Nobody talked to me at school other than to tease me about being different. I wore glasses, I was fat, and I wore clothes that were years behind the current fashion trends. I was one of a handful of non-Jewish kids. A lot of the kids in my school had moved from New York or New Jersey, so I didn't even talk correctly. My flat Bible Belt tapioca accent only accentuated the fact that I was different.
I missed my friends in Missouri. They had been so good to me. I never got in one fight the whole time I attended Glendale Elementary School. Suddenly, I found myself wishing I knew how to fight because I was being eaten alive every day in middle school.
When Christmas rolled around, I was disappointed to learn that we were not allowed to sing Christmas carols at school. Since so many of the students were Jewish, only non-religious music could be played in band or sung in choir. Yet my sister came home and sang The Dreidl Song to me one night, and I wondered why she was allowed to learn Hanukkah songs at her elementary school.
A big cake decorating contest was announced at school one day, and I had a brilliant idea. I was going to decorate my cake in a Christmas theme. It would be the best cake ever, and I would have a chance to make a statement. Up with Christmas! Gentile and Proud! I would decorate a Christmas wreath cake, and would proudly carry it into school. Then I would win first place and maybe win some respect at last.
My mom and sister helped me cover a Bundt cake with green frosting, tiny red cherries and red string licorice tied into tiny bows. We wrapped a piece of cardboard with Christmas wrapping paper and placed the cake gently on top. Then I had a terrifying thought. How would I ever get this cake safely to school? I knew couldn't manage to protect my cake from the hostile kids on the bus. My mom offered to drive me to school the next morning, and she became my hero at that moment.
I was so proud of that cake, and I kissed my mom goodbye as I left the car. I was excited to win the contest. I felt so proud as I walked towards the school knowing my mom was smiling at me from the car. All of a sudden, the cardboard bent in half and the cake slid to the sidewalk. Splat.
Everybody started laughing at me as I looked down at the green mess splattered in front of me. I stared in disbelief and suddenly heard my mom tap her car horn a couple times to get my attention. I looked back at her and she motioned me over. I obediently walked over to her knowing that she would tell me to ignore the laughs and just go inside the building. "Just forget about the cake, honey. It's no big deal," she would tell me.
She rolled down the car window, and I poked my head inside.
"Honey, do you want to go home?"
Her empathy at that moment caused the lump in my chest to burst forth into a shower of tears. I couldn't say a word as I nodded in reply to her offer. At that moment, I wanted to go home more than anything in the world. A very sad teenage boy skipped school and went home with his very loving mother that day. That little boy will never forget the way his mom loves him with all his heart.
Some kind teacher must have seen what happened, because when the faculty heard what happened, I was awarded first prize in spite of my ruined cake. Clutching my $25 gift certificate in my hands, I proudly took my mom to dinner at El Chico's, and we celebrated our victory together.