I am about six years old, maybe younger.

I am at the house of the girl a few doors down. The house that always smells of dampness and cigarette smoke; the girl with the Rainbow Brite and Cabbage Patch dolls, the silent older brother, the mother with a perm-slash-mullet, and the father who always seems a little bit angry.

I go to the back door where there is a bell – I have to pull hard on the rope to make the small steel ball hit the inside of the bell. I do not remember who opens the door, but I do remember always noticing the lamp post in the back courtyard – and thinking of Narnia, and Tumnus, and learning the word ‘traitor’ – and the white cast-iron table and chairs, full ash tray in the middle of its lace-worked top. Weeds poke through the pavers underneath, and an old, soggy pair of pink, sheepskin moccasins leer out from between tendrils of noxious foliage.


Inside the house the girl’s mother shuffles from room to room in a kindred pair of pink slippers, feeble cigarette loosely held between thick lips, mullet-perm defying the laws of physics, spiraling upwards toward the cobwebbed cornices. Faint music with a heavy beat and scratchy guitars is clawing its way out of the grimy stereo on the kitchen bench, a completely foreign sound to my young ears raised on a diet of Amy Grant and The Second Chapter of Acts.*


From the kitchen I can see into the lounge room, and out through a large gritty window overlooking our street with its deep-winter trees, naked in the cold, muted light. A grey train grinds past, running along the tracks parallel to the road, and I barely notice. I am accustomed to that metallic rattle, and to the way it rumbles the entire row of houses, comforting me with its familiarity.

To the left of the kitchen is a large alcove, which is a playroom, of sorts, and is where I go to sit with my neighbour-friend and two other girls from one of the houses in between. They are twins, and a year older than me. Already at seven or eight years old I can tell that they are worldly and experienced; full of knowledge and expertise. My older self will come to realise that they are a product of a world that likely embraced them too soon, and that they know too much for girls of their age. But right now they seem sophisticated. I am small and shy.


There is a plate of fruit in the centre of a small wooden table. Its one wobbly leg drawing attention to the threadbare carpet that once may have been a pale spring green, now gloomy as the winter’s day slouching outside, in a grey array of indiscriminate sticky marks. I take my place at the table – on a red-painted chair,  a veteran of abuse and neglect, chipped and scuffed, plastered with Strawberry Shortcake stickers – and examine the contents of the plate:

apple slices, wedges of orange, and banana.

We begin our snack – now that I am seated – the four of us in a balancing act, in this child-like social microcosm, learning conventions and the fractions of friendship, as we each take our portion from the plate.

“Who’s favourite is apple?” The Cabbage Patch girl polls, in an enthusiastic display of energy that belies her sullen demeanor.

It is not my favourite.

I’m a banana-girl. Easily bruised, soft and sensitive to outer conditions.

Yet paradoxically thick-skinned.

The twins thrust hands in the air, arms to full extension, fingers jutting energetically towards the yellowed ceiling.

“ME!” They screech in unison.

I sit as pensively as possible for briefest of milliseconds.

I gingerly raise my arm.

I want to belong, to be a part of the sisterhood.

Six eyes turn swiftly to mine, making a quick and astute assessment of the situation.

“Don’t copy us!” Cabbage Patch commands.

“You’re a copy-cat,” twins declare, in a scathing denouncement.

I am severed in an instant.

I can not be put back together.

I am in pieces, wedges; sliced apart and laid out ready to be devoured.


All I wanted in that moment was to be like them, to be one, to be included, and because of that I was disdained.

The room swims, my young soul suffocating in that damp and musty house. The rest of the memory dissolves into the heavy grease-and-smoke laden air.


I am a blemished banana, outnumbered by shiny, round apples.

Though I do not know it at the time, this experience is a watershed moment in my girl-hood. It will be a cornerstone for future interactions.

You’re a fraud, a copy-cat, a try-hard…

Only true conformity equals acceptance…

You do not belong…


That interaction was one I took in my stride at the time, but as the years have progressed I find it has had a profound effect on who I am today. Like a hand print in wet cement, slowly hardening, forming an indelible impression.


I long for deep, intimate connection, and so I turn myself inside out, faking my way through, trying to be the person I think you want me to be. Yet at the heart of it all is this fear: that you will discover who I really am, that I am a fraud.

Yet I am never willing to truly conform – the rebel heart within won’t blindly follow the crowd.

In my own private moments I find myself shunning the status quo, and increasingly this daring and sometimes brazen incarnation of myself will rear its head, at injustice or prejudice or bigotry. But rejection left an enduring mark, and I have feared and fought against it ever since.

I unconsciously decided on that day never to be bound by the opinions of others, and yet when I am under pressure, when my heart so achingly wants you to accept me, love me — it is precisely how I behave: feigning your opinion as my own, or suffering in silence to avoid rejection. But as long as the price of admission into your club is agreement, I will never truly belong.

It’s funny and frightening all at once, how such seemingly insignificant experiences can alter the arc of our lives. I’m still in the long process of learning how to use the pain – to let it sit and fertilise and do its work, to grow its fruit. It’s becoming less about rejection, and more about refinement; less about comparing apples to oranges and worrying about conformity, and more about embracing my difference, leaning into my wounded parts, and becoming comfortable in my own softly marked skin.

photo by a100tim, via flicker,

[all images via flickr, click for source and copyright information]


Do you have a story that burns to be told?

This story of mine is the first in {hopefully} an on-going series called “Common Light”, a place where we can share our pain and our joy. I would love you to stop by and consider sharing some of your light with the rest of us. You can find the submission guidelines on the Common Light page.

Thank you for listening.

*What did I just watch?! If you need to debrief, I’m here.