Feeling pain of 'fitting in'

By David WilliamsBy David Williams

We recently transferred my son to a new school. He reluctantly mentioned that he was having a tough time fitting in and that all of his classmates seemed to already have friends. 

I tried to think of something positive to say to him, but being an army brat and constantly moving sort of provided me with tougher mindset regarding peers. I was often alone, therefore I grew to appreciate it. Not fitting in became a way of life for me.

I tried to do so early on, but I soon realized it was hopeless and it was something I best get use to. That being said, I realized not everyone is like me, and my way could be a bitter pill to swallow. But before you condemn me, allow me to explain.

It’s been well-documented of the year-round training my father subjected me to. No other students in my elementary school trained year-round. Although this training allowed me to excel in sports and eventually earned me a scholarship, what you don’t know is that at times it made me a lonely kid.

We all know about peers who are the last ones chosen in gym. They stand there waiting as one by one, each and every student around them is picked to play in the game. The by-product of training all the time meant that I had to endure the same treatment, only for opposite reason.

If the kids in the neighborhood were playing a pick-up game of ball and I happened along, they wouldn’t allow me to play. They reasoned that it would provide an unfair advantage to my team. I offered to play quarterback for each team, but they felt the game would be better if I wasn’t allowed to play at all. So I spent many days heel and back against the building, watching them play. 

At times I would threaten not to play when the football season arrived but they always called my bluff. 

“Yeah right, no one trains all year only to sit out the season.” 

They were right, of course, but that didn’t make it any less painful. I used to hear that Christmas song about Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and have flashbacks. I once was Rudolph. I went through most days wanting to fit in, until one day I was cured of my loneliness for good. 

I was walking through the neighborhood after enduring another rejection, listening to the laughter of my peers at play fade away. I got about a block away when I saw this kid playing with a dart. He was throwing it into a tree, retrieving it and then throwing it again. I approached him and asked if I could play. 

“Sure,” he replied. “Would you like to play chicken?” 

I had never played chicken, but I had confidence in myself that I could play it. 

“Yes, I will play chicken,” I replied. 

He explained the rules, which were as follows. We were to stand a few yards apart with our feet shoulder width apart. We then would take turn throwing the darts between our feet, and the first person to move would be a chicken and ergo, the loser. 

We took our positions. I threw first. My dart landed dead center between his feet. He didn’t move. He picked up the dart and his throw was a little right of center, but I didn’t move either. 

And so the game continued. Some throws were close and some were not so close, but neither one of us moved. Finally my opponent took aim and threw the dart as I stood as still as a marble statue. I look down at my right foot as the dart found its target. The pain found its way from my foot through my nervous system to my brain. 

I looked from my foot toward my opponent and he returned my gaze. 

“You won!” he proclaimed. 

There are some moments in a person’s life when the light comes and wisdom comes flooding in. For me, that was one of those moments. 

As I reached down to pull the dart out of my foot, my new/old/ former friend asked, “Do you wanna play again?”

I shook my head, deciding instead to retire undefeated.

As I limped home, I saw my friends playing football, but I no longer wanted to be a part of them. I decided then and there that ain’t nothing in the world wrong with being alone. Some years later, I heard Barney Fife talk about a hollow victory, and I knew just what he was talking about.

I advised my son to show himself friendly, while assuring him from experience that things could be worse. 

After all, you could be the Dart Chicken champion.  

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