19: The Birthday Party

19: The Birthday Party

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

The Birthday Party

It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

~Author Unknown

I love parties. I always have. I love planning for them, making the invitations, planning the games and decorating my own cake. The only thing that I don’t like is deciding on the guest list. When I was in grade school my mom would tell me the maximum number of friends that I could invite and it was always a number too small for my list.

I also liked all different kinds of people. I never quite fit into one of the many little groups at my school, so I just kind of floated around, accumulating friends from various cliques. There was an “in” crowd made up of the cool kids who had the power to rule the school — if a cool kid wore two different colored socks to school one day, everyone thought it was great. But if an uncool kid did the same thing, the other kids would turn away in disgust. It made getting dressed in the morning a very scary thing. Without knowing exactly what the rules were, I never knew if I would inadvertently cross the line of “uncoolness.”

Shannon was one of my friends who seemed to unknowingly break the rules all the time. I don’t know why she was targeted, but people found it acceptable to make fun of her. Shannon was a nice girl and wore pretty clothes, but was somewhat overweight and didn’t talk much. She was picked on a lot. Whenever there was an odd noise or smell in the classroom the kids would giggle and point at her. Shannon never said anything, but it made me feel sick inside and I was relieved that the kids hadn’t pointed at me.

One year, to celebrate my birthday, my mom told me I could have a party at our house. I struggled for days deciding on which girls to invite to keep the number within the specified limit. Once I had chosen all the names, I made the invitations and handed them out to my friends at school.

“Why did you invite her?” asked one of my cool friends when it was discovered that I had invited Shannon. She insisted that I had made a big mistake and pressured me to tell her not to come. There were other people I could add in her place who would be more acceptable. I wasn’t sure what to do; I liked Shannon, yet I was afraid that I would become the target of the girl’s ridicule if I admitted that Shannon was my friend. I knew the right thing to do, but I struggled with the fear of having to live with my decision.

I decided not to say anything to Shannon and let the invitations stay as written, but I worried about what would happen. The day of my party, both Shannon and my other friends came, and all that happened was that we had a lot of fun together. It was not unlike other parties I had been to and none of the things I had worried about came to be. More parties and events followed that one and the memory of it was whisked away almost as quickly as the colorful paper plates on which we ate our cake and ice cream. In fact, it was many years later before I thought about that particular party again.

I was at my high school twenty-year reunion when a beautiful, slim, very professional-looking woman walked up to me. She said, “Lindy, I am so glad you came tonight. You’re the reason I am here.”

“Oh?” I replied, not recognizing her face at first. She pointed to her nametag that read, “Dr. Shannon Chatzky.” We hugged and laughed and caught up on the years that had passed since we had last seen each other. She was now a wife, a mother and a doctor!

Then she told me something that stayed with me. She said, “Grade school was awful for me. I hated to get up each morning, dreading the ridicule that would come each day. I struggled all the time with thoughts of ending my life. I came tonight to thank you for being my friend. You made my days bearable and I will never forget that you invited me to your party.”

Shannon cherished the memory of that birthday party from so many years before. It was important to her that I had welcomed her into the fun, and it was a day when she felt accepted and part of a group. She talked about the games we played and the cake we ate, remembering all the details. For me, it was just a simple party, one I hadn’t even remembered. But for Shannon, it was a party she would never forget. And now, neither will I.

~Lindy Schneider

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