98: Invisible Girl Finds Her Spotlight

98: Invisible Girl Finds Her Spotlight

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Invisible Girl Finds Her Spotlight

A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.

~Author Unknown

I never felt like I fit in at school, in my family, or in life in general. As the middle child, I felt like I was invisible. Not the oldest or the precious baby, but a fifth wheel in an otherwise perfect family of four. I grew up in the shadow of a perfectionist who set swimming records, designed the school mascot for our middle school and got straight A’s. I was always known as her little sister. Being much taller, with a stockier build and mousy brown hair, I lacked the long blond hair and body she had that the boys liked. A good way to describe me was a fly on the wall — an observer rather than a participant, except when I was being picked on or bullied.

I met Mike when I was in fifth grade and we became best friends. His mother was deaf and his father was an alcoholic who could be very mean. Mike was also a middle child with older and younger sisters; he had his own tough stuff to deal with. Finding a best friend who understood me and with whom I could identify was pretty cool. He saw my strengths and I saw his — the things we couldn’t see in ourselves.

“You’re a great friend Mike,” I would say to him. “You really hold your family together. I’m not sure I could live with your dad.”

“Well, your dad is no peach either. He always makes you be quiet,” he responded.

“I hate families. My sister always calls me fat and tells me my feet are as big as battleships.”

“Well as tall as you are, you’d look pretty dumb with tiny feet,” Mike said. “You’re a good swimmer, artist, and great in drama, so stop trying to be your sister — just be yourself.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to figure out who that was. I felt like an alien and a freak with other people. My sister and her friends would tease me. My mom even bribed me to lose weight and said she’d buy me new clothes if I did. I couldn’t understand what everyone thought was so wrong with me.

Mike and I used to walk to the airport to hang out and sit in silence with the red and green lights flashing around us. I loved those lights and could watch them for hours — nobody else understood that, except Mike. It always made me feel better. Why couldn’t I live at the airport?

At lunch I sat with a few other nerds, since Mike had a different lunch period than I had. One day, I decided to try out for the school play, so I sat immersed in my lines for the audition. Drama, I realized, was so much fun for me. Since I was given lines to memorize, talking to others wasn’t such a puzzle.

I ran up to Mike as soon as I got the news.

“Mike, I got a leading part — an old lady who is a killer.”

“Cool, I knew you’d get it!”

“And some of her victims are those jerks from student council.”

“Sweet.”

I smiled and said, “I think I’ll enjoy this play.”

I managed to survive school, one year at a time and one play after another. It wasn’t until I grew up and had children of my own that I understood that I was not the only one who felt like an alien or fly on the wall. I discovered there was a name for what I experienced growing up — Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. When my own son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome I found that it takes continuous positive reinforcement to help young children with Asperger’s — exactly what I had missed growing up. I needed to be praised when I showed good manners or positive communication in order to be more comfortable being out in public. I still fight feelings of wanting to be alone, of avoiding social interactions, but Asperger syndrome will not defeat me; it is just a part of what makes me a unique individual.

What I’ve learned from all this is that if you ever see anyone dealing with tough stuff at school, try reaching out to them. You just might make a new friend, or find someone else who feels just as alien as you.

~Jan Beaver

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