My last writing left me heading off to a new school in a new city at the beginning of 7th grade, painfully shy and withdrawn, yet determined to "fit in" with these kids. Bear in mind that I knew absolutely no one in the whole school except my older brother. He was in the 9th grade.
The classes were easy and fun for me. My grades soared--at first. Uh-oh, that's not cool at this school either. Hmmm. I somehow managed to make a few friends and mostly kept under the radar of any bullies--well, except in PE class.
I honestly didn't play sports too much growing up, didn't really know how to catch or throw a ball, how to shoot a basket, etc. I guess mine was a deprived childhood. lol Then I find myself thrust into PE class, where it seems that everyone else knows how to play these ball games, and they are mostly pretty good at it. Big uh-oh. I still had years ahead of me to figure out that my eyes do not work the same way as most: my depth perception is not real good, and tracking a ball is a challenge. Um, I'm supposed to get the ball through the basket over there? Oops, only a few feet off. Would that I had known how to laugh these things off. I probably cringed. I had been laughed at so much that I was sensitive to it. Another one of those things I had yet to learn. Volley ball? OK, I'll try. Teams were chosen (or assigned, I don't remember which), and as usual nobody really wanted me on their team. Oh yeah, there was this one girl, super athletic, who delighted in tormenting me, and in encouraging the other girls to do the same. I had a few friends who didn't join in, and there were surely others who didn't do that, but ... well, it was rough at times. When I messed up, sometimes the whole team would be yelling at me. Yeah, Jr High kids aren't known for being very sensitive toward others.
Meanwhile, my grades began to drop a bit, while I was trying desperately to figure out how to fit in here. Sigh. This continued through 7th grade and part way into 8th. Then, a can of soda helped to change my direction in life.
You see, when I was young, our family outings were mostly no- or low-cost affairs. Sometimes we'd stop at a convenience store for a hot dog and a can of soda. Quite a treat! My problem was that I never really liked the soda, the way it fizzed and burned in my throat. I struggled valiantly to choke it down, as we were not supposed to let anything go to waste. Try as I might, I'd be doing good to finish half of the can. This was always met with sighs of disappointment at having to throw out the rest.
Over the years, I kept trying to drink a whole can of soda. Part way through the 8th grade, I finally succeeded. Woo hoo, victory! But it wasn't too long after that major success, that I began to question why I was doing that to myself. I don't like soda, why not just politely decline when it's offered to me? This was a new and radical thought for me at the time. Just because I have my own tastes and ways of doing things that may be different from "most" people, that does not mean I always have to conform to the way "they" say it should be. I began to try this out. I'd go to someone's house and they'd offer me a soda. I simply said, "No thanks, I don't drink that." (I could have just asked for water, but I was learning.) I got a few funny looks, followed by complete acceptance. Wow, that wasn't so bad.
This led me to reconsider the matter of my grades. And I decided that my one sure shot at my future involved getting good grades in school. If those other kids wanted to "ruin their life" (was I a bit melodramatic there?) that was their choice, but I was not going to ruin mine. So I made a promise to myself that I would bring my grades back up by the end of 8th grade. And I did. Did I get teased for that? Yes, a bit. But it no longer bothered me. I was going in the direction of my choice, and it didn't matter so much what other kids thought about it. I was yet to learn that they would actually respect my good grades.
And while I didn't do any better in PE class as a whole, I did have one small victory over that athletic girl who delighted in torturing me. You see, I couldn't handle a ball worth beans, but I could sprint. One spring a competition came down to this girl and me, running the 50-yard dash (before metric became popular). And ... Yes! I beat her! I couldn't repeat it on the 100-yard dash, but nonetheless, I did beat her that one time.
I continued to learn to be myself, and found that there were people who could like me anyway. And it all started with that little can of soda.