I was different in a lot of ways at school. For one, everybody seemed to hate me, and I had no idea why. Now, knowing that I was without a parent, knowing that my dad had tried internet dating and given up, I realised that the fact I didn't, and likely never would, have a mother, was just another way in which I was different.
At this point, I never changed different to special as I later did. And I never thought of different as a good thing. Different wasabnormal, odd, unlike the rest; freak.
It never used to make me sad though, talking about her. It never used to make me feel anything. I always remember the looks on the faces of others when I said the simple truth to which I felt nothing towards,
"My mum's dead."
They always apologised, or they went quiet, trying to eagerly change the subject, and I think that made it worse. Why would I want sympathy? What would a nine year old, who nobody seemed to like and just wanted to fit in, need another reason to be looked at differently?
My emotions towards my lack of mother went on a bit of a rollercoaster over the years. Now, I still don't feel at peace with it, how can a sixteen year old girl, who can only talk about boys and makeup and sex at the weekend when her family visit, and who needs to talk about those things, be alright? It makes me feel privileged when I think of families who are separated and always fighting, that I have spent every weekend with my mother's family since I was ten months old. That we spend every Yuletide together at each other's houses, and my cousin and I are so close that we call each other sisters, and her daughter, my second-cousin has been instructed to call me Aunty Shannon?
I can't help but think it wouldn't be like this, if she was here.
Back then, when I young, of course I took all of that for granted. My aunt was intrusive, always acting like my mother, when I wanted to scream at her she wasn't and she should stop trying to control me. They always wanted to know what was happening in my life, nag, nag, nag, as opposed to my dad who left me to my own devices, unable to connect with me in anyway except in the physical way that we wrestled every now and then.
So, I felt alone, and I didn't see anything wrong with that. I was who I was, and I didn't see anything wrong with it, and I looked at the other fourteen in my class in Year 3 and didn't see anything different from us, any reason for them to hate me. They had hair like me, they were as smart as me (I often thought myself smarter) and we went to the same lessons, the same school.
Of course, it took me a while to put together that the fact I had the chance to think about all of this, made me different anyway. I looked at them and compared myself with them, but I did it whilst they played football - boy and girl alike, whilst I sat inside reading and drawing. When the teacher finally found me and yelled at me to get outside because it was "dangerous" (because lead pencils and papercuts were apparently as bad as falling off of play gyms and breaking your neck) and I should take advantage of the sun.
If they got me outside, which I admit got easier over the years, it was only because I loved the strange things in the school estate. They liked the open fields and the running tracks, I liked the forests at the side where there were conkers and pine-cones to build a collection from. They liked playing on the jungle-gyms, I liked playing under, building dens and pretending I was a prisoner locked away by an evil king who lived upstairs, stomp stomp stomping overheard, and wanted to make me his queen. And there was a tree, one that had fallen over many years ago and had rooted sideways into the ground. The branches were easy to climb on, higher and higher until you could peek out through the leaves and see everybody, making sure the teacher didn't see you, at which point you slipped down quickly and crawled out the back like nothing was wrong.
From that high up, I watched them, I watched how they were as fast as I was, and, though it was a strange concept to me, as pretty as I was. I watched them play "kiss-tag" and I thought how shallow it was when the girls ran away from the overweight boy, screaming and panicking, doing no such thing when the star football player was "it" (and he would always be "it", for the rest of his life, I knew the girls would think he was "it".)
So, no matter how much I tried to figure out the difference between us, why they always laughed at me, never with me, why I was always picked last so often that I began to enjoy it, and complain when somebody did want to pair with me in science. Because I knew that they'd only make me do the work for them, and because they were always in my way.
And as I sat up in that high peak in the fallen tree, I watched them at lunchtime and came to no conclusion. Then, after school, I sat up there, and I watched them. And one by one, they came to be collected by their parents. They would run to them, the girls would jump into their dad's arms as if it'd been four years instead of four hours. The mums would wrap their arms around their daughters, pulling them close and walking with them in that position - no matter how awkward or difficult it make walking. And the mums would ruffle their sons' hair, asking about their days.
And then my dad would come, he'd stand in the corner, waiting for me to notice him or until the teacher called out for him that he was here. I wouldn't go to him straight away, because I knew it would take too long and the most efficient thing to do would be to get my bag and meet him in a minute. We'd walk back to the car,
"Yeah," I always said, even if it was a lie, because I knew that if I ever complained about them, he'd reply that children were spiteful and I was just more mature than them.
I was mature. I was different. I liked to read instead of play football. I was different. I preferred to play with myself than with boys. I was different. I didn't have a mum.
I was different.