March 12, 2022

When I was a child, there was a PSA about the new kid in school. The child was a loner until one of the established kids reached out and made them feel welcome. Then everyone realized that the new kids was okay, and there were smiles and laughs.

When I was a child, I went to summer camp through the United Methodist church my father was the pastor of. Our project one year was to come up with a sketch or PSA about good moral values, so we picked that one and, of course, I was the new kid.

I say of course because I was such an obvious loner as a child. In public with my parents, I would cling to my mother’s legs, and she’d tell people that I was just shy.

When I was in the third grade, I threw a dictionary at another student. I know this because, when I was in college for my MAT, I happened to find the IEP I got for it. Emotionally impaired.

I also threw a desk at a teacher. I know this because my parents told me later. I don’t remember it. My father seemed to think she’d deserved it. I don’t know if she did or not. I doubt it.

That’s not the behavior of a “just shy loner”. That’s the behavior of a troubled child that needs proper help. And I did get help, in the form of school counseling and a private therapist, but I don’t think it was ever “proper help”.

I consider myself autistic now, although I haven’t been professionally diagnosed. Yes, I’m one of those. But maybe if I’d been diagnosed as a child instead of being labeled as “troubled” and “just shy”, my life would have gone much differently, much better.

Anyway, at summer camp that year, I played the loner, because it was obvious that I was, and we got the proper praise for displaying a good moral value. And the girl who’d picked that PSA and picked me as the loner spent the rest of the week hanging out with me, and then afterwards she gave me her address and told me to come visit.

But because it was in Southfield and we lived in Berkley, my father decided it was “too far” to bike and that the neighborhood wasn’t “safe”. It was years before I realized that he meant that they were where Black people lived.

That was in the 1980s. No cell phones, and I was too nervous to call anyway. So I lost the contact information. Maybe she remembers me, maybe she doesn’t.

The rest of the kids in our group didn’t like me. They tolerated me. I was weird.

We all knew, I think, that the PSA was garbage. It was a message that only existed in the wishful thinking world of liberal adults who wanted to believe that just reaching out would change how people interact.

Years later, when I saw The Breakfast Club, I read the ending the way it was written, because that was my reality: That, come Monday, these kids might — might — have a slightly better understanding of each other, but they wouldn’t be friends. This wasn’t some epic sea change in the way of the world, it was just some Saturday where some teens were bored and decided to be friendly (not friends) rather than just sit and stare at the ceiling.

These days, the kids would all just have their cell phones and Insta to their friends about the losers they were stuck with.

In short, I don’t find the movie empowering or uplifting, I find it jadedly pragmatic.

Still, I wish I could track down that one girl from church summer camp who, for a week or so, didn’t treat the weirdo like total crap. Just to say hi.

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