Michelle's Story

I moved to California when I was about 4. There were other girls in the neighborhood. This is when I first discovered segregation in my life. We would play games and I was forever given the role of the groom or the villain, or things of that sort. The rest of the girls would rotate being the princess/bride/whatever. I never got a turn. I remember that one of the girls said to me, “Well, brides are supposed to be blushing and pretty and you aren’t blushing and pretty. You are weird looking.” (She specifically said that.)

So, at 5 years old I learned I was different looking. And weird.

I went to kindergarten and with that came more girls. Everyone was looking at me and saying things like, “she has weird hair”, (I have very thick Middle Eastern hair) and I had a funny shaped nose, and a funny last name, and on and on. I became the girl with the nicknames. The teachers did not help. One of them called me “Big Eared Michelle” (which rapidly morphed into “Dumbo”) and “Big Mouthed Michelle”, which served to give the kids permission to run with that. That was 3rd grade. Every year I got a new nickname. I went to my parents. I just wanted them to listen to me and tell me how they dealt with it when they were children. Instead my father made a big scene and barged into the principal’s office and, subsequently, I became the kid who went and cried to their parents. It got worse. I stopped talking to anyone. I developed bad dermatitis; nodule cystic dermatitis. (This is very painful blister-like sores that hurts like hell.) I would get this huge zit and swelling and then they would burst and bleed. The other kids decided I had leprosy or the plague or god–knows-what. If I walked into a room, sat down, touched a pencil, they would move away and tell each other not to touch the pencil.

It became physical. They would throw things at me, hurt me, pretend it was an “accident”. I became a game for them. They would trick me into going places or believing I was going to get to go do something with them and it was just a mean trick meant to humiliate me. I didn’t trust anyone, not a soul. I didn’t have a single friend. The teachers did not care. They were putting in their 8 hours and going home. One day I had just had enough – I snapped. I beat the crap out of a kid and then it was “stay away from her – just stay away.”

I grew my hair long; trying desperately to hide my skin condition. Then I was “Cousin It”. I could not win. I started hiding just to be able to eat my lunch.

By the end of 9th grade I started contemplating suicide. I thought about it every day. I daydreamed about how I could do it, meticulously planning it out. I could take this or that drug – but how could I get them? What if I didn’t take enough of them? Would I wind up in the Emergency Room and on dialysis? If I shot myself, well, what if that failed and I just wound up blind? I sat down and plotted a hundred ways. I really worked on it. I actually made suicide kits and kept them hidden in a box under my bed– just in case.

What changed?

I ended up distracting myself, biding time. I was committed to doing it, but I needed to set a date – well, can’t do it on this date because it’s Mom’s birthday, can’t do it on that date because I have to finish this, do that, etc. It was like I had to turn off the coffee pot before I could go. So I kept moving the date out. And since I had decided I had to do all these things first, I ultimately got caught up in these things. I thought less and less about the suicide and the stuff I was doing “before I die” (my bucket list without knowing what a bucket list was) became a reason to stay alive.

One of those things was taking a film making class. I started having fun and I met really cool people. They liked me and I liked them. They never said anything about my hair, or my skin, or ears, or nose, or what-have-you. Instead they wanted me to help with choreography which led to dance which led to this, that and the other. Suddenly I was having fun and life was opening up; one new experience led to another one.

Eventually I just threw away my suicide kits.

If you were a parent and your 9 year old came up to you with these issues, what would you do?

I think that parents, if they know how this feels themselves (not sure my parents ever went through this) should tell their child how they felt and what happened to them. Of course, as a parent, you want to stop the world from hurting your child, but as a kid you don’t necessarily want your parents to fight all your battles for you. I think the better questions to ask your child is, “What do you want me to do?” or “What do YOU want to have happen and how do WE help you make that happen?” It wasn’t until I was seventeen that someone actually formed that question to me. I had had enough and threw a chair at some girl and got hauled into the office, of course. The counselor sat me down and I told her what this bitch had been doing to me over and over again for years. And then she asked me, “Well, what do you want to happen? Do you want her to be punished? Do you want me to call her parents? Your parents? Do you want us to have a meeting? Do you want to try and handle this on your own and we can go from there? What do you want?” I was floored. No one had ever asked me that before. NO ONE had given me that kind of credence. I didn’t even know how to answer her because it was time for me to ask myself that very question. For the first time in my life someone had given me the idea that I could have some control of my own life, what was happening in my life and where I wanted it to go. It was liberating and illuminating.
That is something I think parents should think about.

Now I look forward. I want to be successful at something. I am going to school for transmedia marketing. I became fascinated with that. I started writing, got very excited with all of it. I wake up every morning and I have a new idea. I am so busy focusing on the exciting and interesting and new that I don’t have time to look back.

I’m not completely over certain things in regards to my appearance, but then I’m only 28. Sometimes I look in the mirror and see the scars. But then I think, “Well…the doctor said it will fade in time, so whatever – I have other things to do.” I no longer see myself as the freak everyone made me out to be. I feel good about myself. I love myself. I’m glad I stuck around.

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