When I was in grade school, I used to cheat on tests.
Wait, you’re getting the wrong idea. I didn’t cheat off of other students. I was a straight A student myself; I didn’t need to look at anyone else’s answers.
I let them cheat off me.
See, we moved every year. I went to a different school for every grade from Kindergarten through eighth grade. Every year. I was always the new kid. I never knew any differently.
Yeah, you’d think military family, but that wasn’t it. My dad ran nursing homes, and he was the kind of guy who would go into a nursing home that was close to failing state survey, he’d clean it up, hire people, fire people, get it in better shape, and then move on to the next one. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’ve heard some stories (from my now divorced mother) about how my dad just wasn’t happy anywhere and he just kept wanting to move, but I’m going to keep my illusions about the nursing home thing, thank you very much.
Anyway. Back to the cheating.
So you know what happens to new kids, right? They never have a best friend. They never have real friends, period. I remember being in fifth grade, and starting a fledgling friendship with this one girl. We were eating lunch together, and we learned that our birthdays were one day apart.
I got all excited and said, “Isn’t that cool? Maybe we could have a birthday party together! My mom said I can have an ice skating party this year, and–“
She cut me off and said, “Yeah, I really don’t like you very much. I was just eating with you because the teacher said I had to be nice.”
I don’t think I ever talked to her again.
So when you don’t have any friends, and you feel like no one likes you, you can go in two directions. You can do what my brother did: spend your grade school years with a chip on your shoulder, full of knee-jerk reactions and defensive attitude. Or you can do what I did: anything you can to possibly make people like you.
When you’re a straight-A student, people want to cheat off you.
So I let them. All the time. Copy homework, look at my test, whatever.
Did this make me any friends?
Nope. But it bought me some refuge from the normal new-kid crap.
I did have sorta-friends while I was growing up. I mean every kid finds friends eventually. But mine were always the one-offs. The kids who were already outcasts from their class, so I naturally fit in with them. Maybe they were relieved to have a friend, too.
When I got to high school, I knocked that crap off. I went to a private, all-girls Catholic high school. It wasn’t like a feeder school, so everyone was new. There were all kinds of ice-breaking activities and Freshman orientation, and being a good student was a good thing, not something to make you an outcast. I had friends. Lots of them. We were geeks, sure, but we were friends.
And the funny thing was, I didn’t have to do a damn thing to get them.
I still don’t have dozens of friends. I’m not one of those people who goes out with a big group of girls for every occasion. I’d be hard pressed to come up with a big group of girls, honestly. I didn’t go to college for very long (that’s a story for another day), so I don’t have sorority sisters to hang out with. All my high school friends went off to college after graduation, and I started a corporate job, so our paths diverged somewhat.
I don’t want this to sound depressing. I’m a pretty resilient person, I can change gears on the fly, and I can get along with just about anyone. Really, anyone. It makes me very good at my job. I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for anything. I have an incredible mom, and I’m married to an amazing man.
When I sold the book and had my first conversation with my editor, she said something like, “You have a full time job and a toddler — how do you find the time to write books, too?”
I laughed and said, “I have a really supportive husband, and I don’t really have much of a social life.”
She laughed and said, “Well, you certainly have an active imaginary life in this book!”
I started writing in late grade school and early high school. I used to tell people that I couldn’t find enough books to read, so I just started writing my own.
But once my awesome editor said that, I realized maybe it was something else.
Maybe I started writing because I needed friends.
I mean, that paid off, right?
That chick who was “just being nice”? She can suck it.