When I was nine years old, I went tobogganing by myself. There were a few other kids at the hill, but I had never met them before. They were having so much fun together, and I longed to join them. As usual, I didn’t know how. I got it in my head that if I could just show them how much fun I was to be around, surely they would ask me to slide with them. At the top of the hill I grabbed my toboggan, ran a few feet, then jumped on and careened down the hill. It was fast, messy, and undeniably epic. I caught some air near the bottom, then ungracefully smashed into a tree. I saw stars. A couple of kids were standing near where I landed, and I had the irrational urge to convince them that the crash had happened on purpose. I threw my head back and laughed aloud. I fell back onto the snow, then rolled onto my side and belly laughed until it hurt. The kids just stood there and stared at me like I was crazy. They weren’t wrong. They saw through me before I truly saw myself. My need to belong was so painfully obvious that they eventually had to look away.
It’s not easy being a kid. It’s even harder being a kid who doesn’t easily fit in with others. As a grown-up who finds it awkward to find her place in the crowd, I still struggle to know how to act. I did, however, learn to stop crashing into trees in order to get people to pay attention to me. It’s a much quieter, less painful way to be.