At my middle-school award ceremony, I was going to get an award for my part in a fundraising drive. I couldn’t see the stage very well—the curse of being a person who is almost always shorter than the people sitting in the rows in front of me—but I did wonder why every award recipient who went up front was huddled on one side of the stage, leaving plenty of empty room. There were giggles in the audience also, but I was too nervous waiting for my name to be called to figure out what that was about. When it was my turn, I left the glasses I’d only recently begun to wear back at my seat—I didn’t like getting my picture taken with them on—and went up front. I took my place in the empty gap where nobody else had wanted to stand, and the applause was mixed with laughter that I didn’t understand.
It wasn’t until I got back to my seat that my classmates told me what had happened. Apparently, one boy on stage was wearing an “I’m with Stupid” shirt, with a pointing arrow. Nobody had wanted to stand in the direction the arrow was pointing, until I, with my compromised eyesight, did.
I’m not sure I would have noticed his shirt even if I’d worn my glasses. I was never looking in the same direction as everyone else back then, often lost in my own daydreams. At that point in my life, just before the years of bullying started, I hadn’t learned to be vigilant, to anticipate the putdown, to watch everyone with suspicion, to read my environment for every threat. Did that make me stupid? In the bullying years, I would have said yes—I would have said you can never let your guard down, ever.
Later I came to think that the hyper-vigilance resulting from the bullying cost me something, too. Thinking about those costs led me to write Until It Hurts to Stop, the story of a girl who struggles to get past her own bullying years.
Now I think there’s no way to head off every embarrassing or awkward moment, to prevent every mistake, to be flawlessly cool all the time. Sometimes you are going to be the one with the toilet paper on your shoe, or the button that pops open at the wrong moment, or the inconvenient fit of coughing. Sometimes you are going to stand on the wrong side of the “I’m with Stupid" guy. It’s really okay.
Embrace the imperfection.