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Always the Outcast
With friends like these, I’d rather be lonely
Christian Pimentel
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It wasn’t even halfway through the first day of 10th grade and I was already in the bathroom wiping chocolate milk off my collared shirt. I had tears in my eyes, thinking of all the other times I spent my lunch hour cleaning cafeteria food off myself. I’d been bullied since elementary school—first verbally and then physically.

This time, all I had been doing was reading in the cafeteria when, out of nowhere, someone threw chocolate milk at me. It hit me hard and I felt frozen. Then someone sat in front of me with a tray of food. I thought he was going to talk to me or help me clean up, but instead he threw the tray at my face. As I got up, more kids threw food at me, along with plastic forks and paper balls.

The laughter just got louder and louder. I could taste the salty tears as they dripped down to my lips. They seemed like never ending tears.

I looked in the bathroom mirror, hating what I saw. After having all that stuff thrown at me and hearing people say I was ugly and that my clothes were geeky, I started to think it might be true. At that moment, I felt like no one wanted to be my friend and I thought that this school year ahead was going to be the same as all the rest—awful.

Looking for Friends

A couple of days later I saw a group of interesting-looking kids talking in the cafeteria. I hoped that if I could find my own group of friends, maybe I wouldn’t be so lonely or get bullied anymore. Before, when I had tried to meet people, they would laugh and walk away. But I was feeling optimistic that day and said to myself, “I’m cool and nice and anyone would love to be my friend.”

I saw a kid with a lip piercing, wearing all black. He looked like he had stepped out of a rock music video. One of his friends also had a lip piercing and a big green Mohawk, and they were with a few other kids with black clothes, piercings, and cool hairstyles. They seemed so different. I always felt different and I liked their style, so I thought that we might get along.

I went and sat with them and said hello. They ignored me, but I still thought they looked like the coolest people ever. (At that time, I was so desperate to find friends that I would have put up with anything.)

Shopping to Fit In

People with unique clothing had attracted me since I was little, but I hadn’t thought of changing the way I dressed until now. I thought if I looked like them, maybe they would accept me into their group. When I arrived home I asked my mother if we could go shopping.

We went to Old Navy and Gap, where my mom picked out jeans, khakis, and button down shirts. I looked at them in disgust. She always dressed me in simple, boring clothes that made me look like an old man going to church. But I didn’t want to look boring because, after all, I didn’t feel like I was a boring person.

We went to another store and I saw long, black skinny pants like the ones that the Mohawk kid had worn. I thought I could wear them with cool black boots. I purchased the pants (even though my mother disliked them) and a pair of Converse sneakers. I went home with my new clothes knowing I would fit in better with the pierced kids.

I went to school the next day wearing my new pants and shoes, along with a rocker shirt and black leather jacket I had gotten as gifts from my aunt. At lunch, I sat alone in the cafeteria hoping that those cool, different kids would notice me. When they ignored me, I felt so stupid for trying to fit in with them. I figured I should just accept being alone.

Getting Rid of the Old Me

Although I didn’t make any friends with my new clothes, I decided to keep the look. It felt good wearing something that stood out. I had always been different, even with conservative clothing on, and now how I looked finally matched my personality. I felt more comfortable and confident in my new clothes.

image by Sara Goldys

A couple of weeks later, I even put on some black eyeliner and black nail polish before school. When I came out of the bathroom, my mother saw me and ordered me to clean it off. I did, but when I got to school I went to the bathroom and put the eyeliner on again. I looked at myself and thought, “Where’s my guitar?” The little boy who wore the button down shirts and slacks, the boy who was teased and was always lonely, was gone. I looked like a different person and it felt good.

On my way to class the other kids looked at me weird, and I heard some of them criticizing me. I didn’t care. I had heard it all before. Then one of the kids in all black with piercings said, in a low raspy voice, “You look so cool.” His friends who were standing nearby agreed.

I looked at them more closely now than I had before, and thought they actually seemed like clones of each other. I ignored them and went to math class. But later in the day, they spoke to me again. This time, I was tired of being alone, so I finally started talking to them.

All for Their Amusement

Over the next few weeks, we talked more often. Then, one day after art club, one of the members of the group invited me to hang out. I was ecstatic. As we were leaving the school, he stopped to talk to one of his friends. I saw them laughing, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. When he came back I decided to ignore it, and we went to St. Mark’s Place together.

As we headed out, he offered me a cigarette. I didn’t want to take one because I have asthma, but I thought, “Why not?” We ended up smoking his whole pack and then shoplifted some cool merchandise that matched our look. I didn’t have a big problem with smoking or shoplifting, though I knew I was doing it just to fit in.

As we walked around, we talked openly. For the next few days I hung with him and his friends. Sometimes we would all call each other and just spend a long time talking. I thought I finally had friends. I was elated.

Then, suddenly, it all changed. I realized they were spreading false information about me around the school. As a result, other kids started coming up to me saying vulgar things. People who never knew me even started to make fun of me because of the rumors. I realized they didn’t actually like me; they were just using me for their amusement.

Their actions didn’t surprise me that much since other kids had mistreated me for years. But I was disappointed, and mad at myself for trusting those kids. I felt like I should have known from the beginning that they would mistreat me.

After that, I decided I didn’t need friends. What was the point when everyone was the same? I went back to sitting alone reading in the cafeteria and having food thrown at me.

My Symbolic Armor

Looking back, I realized I had fallen into their trap because I was desperate to be part of something, to feel like I belonged somewhere. I thought the Mohawk and piercings meant that those kids were different from others, that they would be more open-minded and less judgmental. I thought that they would accept me unconditionally. But I was wrong. A few piercings don’t automatically make you a better person.

At the same time, the good part about that terrible experience was that I began to feel more confident about expressing myself, and I found a look I am comfortable in. I had always wanted to look different, and now I do. Before, I had felt like a puppet; my mom chose my clothes for me and I let other kids control how I felt about myself. Now, I feel more powerful choosing my own clothes and just being myself.

I still get mistreated by kids who see me as an easy target, but it doesn’t hurt me as much as it used to. My clothes symbolize protective armor I’ve put up against anyone trying to ridicule me. They say, “This is who I am and I don’t care what you think about it.” Now, whenever someone calls me a name, I tell myself something positive to counteract it.

Of course, part of me still feels a longing to be in a place where I will be accepted by people who won’t judge me, in a world where I don’t need protective armor.

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(NYC-2010-02-04)

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