The weight-loss club disbanded after a month, and everything went back to normal. I had gained one or two sort-of friends through the club, Jasmine and Charlotte, but when given the choice of hanging around with me or with the others, I wasn't an option.
Year 5 brought with it a new form teacher, the English teacher Mrs Spare. I like to think that she changed everything. I'd always enjoyed writing, I loved reading stories, even more than that, I loved creating my own. In previous years, my form teachers had used excuse upon excuse not to intervene in my mistreatment, even after the others were fed up of pretending to be nice to me and were blatantly mean in class. But Mrs Spare was different, and I felt no embarrassment or fear in privately talking to her about what was happening to me. What shocked me more was that she tried her hardest to do something about it, but when the highest authority was a headmistress who was convinced I was a troublemaking attention-seeker (all because I wouldn't eat sprouts at Christmas dinner in Year 2.Yeah) there was little that she could do.
Except tell me I had a talent.
Apart from French, I hated French, and the teacher along with it, I felt like I enjoyed every subject. History was a favourite, so was Art, and even though I struggled with Maths and Science, I refused to hate it and make myself miserable. Now, English class became a place of salvation. Not only did my teacher love me - so for once I had a teacher who made it very clear that I was her favourite - but I felt proud to sit at the front of the class, not feel as if I was the class dork. I could spell easily, I started to read the dictionary a couple of nights a week to come in the next day and impress everybody, and above all, I loved to write.
I loved to take myself away, pulling away from a place where I was ridiculed, to a place where I could live the fantasy life I always wanted to. I was no longer climbing the tree in the school playground, I was looking for hunters in the jungle, sitting balanced on the branch with bow and arrow in hand, shooting down anybody who threatened my sanctuary. Although I felt like my imagination could run wild in my head, on paper, it had always been stifled.
Every Monday since I began school, we were told to write what we did on the weekends, and at the beginning of each term, what we did at the holidays. I never did anything exciting on the weekend, and I never left the country in the summer. I caravanned every year with my family in Weymouth, where I never did anything extraordinary except pretend I was a damsel in distress in a new park, or imagine I was taken away from home for my own protection, hidden away because of my magical powers. Reality was so boring, that I turned to fantasy.
And the headmistress didn't like that at all.
I remember her cold eyes, as grey as an oncoming storm, boring into me, a little six year old with a brown bob and an anomalous blonde streak on the right side, full of unexplained hatred. She handed back my writing book, given a measly 2 out of 10 for my story of the weekend - as if my life wasn't interesting enough for her. Of course, I hadn't written the truth this time. I'd twisted it, turning it into something different, into a story where I was a heroine.
It had begun as the story of how Nanny had gone to buy a carpet and I spent the entire outing slipping between the giant rolls into a secret space between (true). Little was I to know, this space led to a secret world (okay, not so true. CarpetRight is not the gateway to Narnia. I tried.) I braved my way into this world, finding a secret cavern full of gold and jewels. Knowing that I couldn't bring it all back, I stuffed as much as I could in my pockets. Hearing Nanny's voice from outside, I returned, though I was desperate to stay, I knew it was time to go home. When I emerged, Nanny was crying. The carpet she wanted was too expensive and she didn't have the money. Suddenly, I had an idea, I opened my pockets and revealed the gold and jewels. Nanny was so overjoyed that she kissed and hugged me, and bought the carpet she'd always dreamed of. The End.
She was furious. She called me disobedient and a liar, ordering me to write the truth. I will always remember my answer, creating a belief that I still have now; why? Why should I write something boring that nobody will want to read when I could write about an exciting magical world? Her answer? Because that world isn't real.
From then on, I kept my stories to myself, I let only myself enjoy them, believing that nobody dreamt of fantasy worlds as I did. But as it turned out, others did. Mrs Spare did, and all through Year 5, she mentored and praised me for my writing, my happiness of the day arising from the smiley face gleaming back at me on the pages, next to the curlicued "excellent" or "very well done, Shannon."
And what did I revel in more than I did praise? Gloating.
Not only was I known as good at English, I was the only one good at English. I sat amongst the others, unable to stand why they stomped unhappily into class while I sat down with a spring in my step. I would eagerly raise my hand and smile at the others that I knew the answer, beaming to myself even more when they rolled their eyes or looked back with annoyance. Writing became my outlet, a way for me to express myself. It was a way for me to be praised, a way to make my dad proud - who had worried for so long that I would have no talent but Art, a subject he deemed pointless.
And it was ammunition. It was a way for me to fight back.