by DAYNA EVANS
When I was in third grade and had just moved to America from England, I used to sit by this big brick wall every day at lunch and read. I didn't have any friends because all the kids thought my accent was weird, so I took solace in sitting by that wall and reading for an hour. There were many times that kids would come up to me and taunt me with "Say something, let's hear your voice, say something" and that scarred me and made me really shy. Maybe part of the reason I can't remember a lot about what I read or what I favored in books when I was little is because I associate it with a really awful time in my life when I was constantly picked on by American children.
I got over being shy, but I never dropped the habit of reading books. In a way, I think it was the books that helped me not be shy. Original, I know. I saw in them characters who were smart, interesting, weird, and somewhat manic like me, and I knew that I could take charge of my life like they had. It’s probably not surprising that I also wanted to be an actress for several years. “Hey, change yourself. Just pretend.” My experience with reading as a shy, heavily freckled and portly child was the same as when someone sees those Thor movies or The Hulk and immediately gets P90x delivered to their homes. I would read Matilda or The Secret Garden or A Wrinkle In Time and they were my P90X. I didn’t have to be a shy weird girl with a British accent anymore. There were people in this world for me and I could just pretend to be them. And if I couldn’t, there would be a Miss Honey to help me through.
Weirdly enough, I did sort of have a Miss Honey when I was in third grade. I had this teacher named Miss Rose (all third grade teachers had names taken from an Anthropologie catalog) who really took a liking to me because I knew what the word “vicissitudes” meant. I don’t know how I knew it, but it was pretty symbolic that of all words above my age bracket that I could know, it was one that represented an unfortunate change in circumstance, exactly what I saw as my falling out of favor with children my age once I moved from the UK to America. Anyway, Miss Rose tried to give me free therapy when she should have been teaching me cursive, and I shunned her much as I did my real therapist. All I needed to get me by was a dose of truth from an empowered girl character between the pages of a library book. And lucky for me, I’d found my soulmate.
Anne Frank and I had a lot in common. We had both been exiled, felt weird, and were highly perceptive while also being dumb and a little too big for our britches. She understood what I was going through, even as far as not knowing about sexuality, which I didn’t formally discover until my sophomore year in college. Her diary was my greatest inspiration to begin writing, and I can’t erase this thought from my mind fast enough, but basically as a child I thought, “Well, if that girl wrote and got famous off of it, so should I.” Yeah, I know. Now you have to deal with it, too.
In England in third grade, you study the Holocaust because the British don’t make allowances for sensitivity. We also would memorialize May Day every year by dressing up in traditional WWII garb, standing on chairs in a line outside of my primary school, and singing “You Are My Sunshine” to the tilt. The British treat their children like miniature adults with fully formed emotional response systems. When we learned about the Holocaust, I started naming my journals. I tried for “Missy” but thought that sounded too similar to “Kitty,” Anne Frank’s diary, so I changed it to “Kat.” I was a genius.
After moving to America and realizing that not only had no one in my age group heard of Anne Frank, they did not know about the Holocaust (I grew up in a very Irish/Italian neighborhood), I was distraught. But also secretly pleased. Anne Frank represented the “vicissitudes” of my cultural collateral. I not only knew big words, I knew big ideas, and my accent could no longer hold me back.
Well, it turns out it could. I continued to be mocked and disliked, especially because I grew boobs and got my period at ten, making me a verifiable leper. In times of trouble, I turned to Anne (who overcame the largest adversity I could imagine) and Mary Lennox inThe Secret Garden, who despite her awful brattiness, actually sort of healed people. I used their successes as not only an example of what my successes should be like, but I think I started to believe that I’d also done those things. Like all horribly insecure and self-aware children, I acted smarter, more together, and more aloof than I really was, but it got me through years of turmoil with the underlings of the American school system. Unfortunately, I still haven’t grown out of it.
Dayna Evans is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles.