Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

April 28, 2010

The Outsider

My readers and friends know I'm from Cape Cod. Any native Cape Codder can point to their town simply by raising their arm into a muscle. I'm from up near the shoulder.The towns on the Cape are quite large, and within the towns are Villages, and I grew up in East Sandwich. My childhood home is so far east, that I could walk to the Barnstable town line within 5 minutes. It remains one of the most rural areas in Sandwich. My parents owned 2 acres, and their home backs up to thick woods (owned by a neighbor) that extend all the way to the salt marshes. Across the street from my parents' house is a cranberry bog and train tracks. The rest of the area is mostly woods or smaller cranberry bogs. That was my world.

Sandwich Village, Forestdale and South Sandwich are more densely populated, with a lot of neighborhoods and homes. The rest of the land area is taken up by Camp Edwards and Otis Air Force base, which border Bourne to the west and Mashpee & Falmouth to the south.

One of the byproducts of being in touch with classmates on Facebook is that I get to see their old photos, which I do enjoy viewing. However, it just drives the point home to me about how much of an outsider I truly was. I firmly believe that the experiences you have as a child really do form what kind of person you are as a teen and adult. And my experiences as a child, feeling like I was a nothing, made me decide at a very young age that, as soon as I could, I was going to move far away, where nobody knew me. Where I could be myself without being teased. To the west coast where life would be better and happier. I'd watch the sun set out the back livingroom window, and hear the sports announcers saying, "stay tuned for 60 minutes, except on the west coast" and that would make me feel even worse.

Mine was a very lonely, solitary existence when I was in grade school. H.T. Wing Elementary was in Sandwich Village, and I, like most of the kids from the other parts of town, was bused in from East Sandwich. Only the 'town kids' were able to walk to and from school. While there were definitely other children in East Sandwich, we were cut off from each other due to geography. The homes were far apart, the roads were desolate and lonely, and any get togethers required planning through our parents. Still, I had a few friends from my part of town, thanks to taking the bus every day with them, and because most of us girls belonged to the same Camp Fire Girls Troup, through 6th grade. Back then, elementary school-age kids didn't talk on the phone like they do now. Besides, my dad was self employed and the lines needed to be kept clear for his accounts to call (this became a source of many arguments once I hit my teen years and spent HOURS on the phone).

I was unable to get together with other children after school and on most weekends. I didn't really know any better and it didn't bother me at all, at the time. I started reading before I was even in kindergarten. I explored the woods and cranberry bogs. I walked on the railroad tracks and put pennies on them. My stuffed animals became my closest friends and I talked to them about my day and so forth. I would do my homework, play with my toys and stuffed animals, read, watch some TV. I lived in my head a lot too, and had a very active imagination and fantasy life. There wasn't much else for an only child, in a lonely neighborhood, to do.

I absolutely LIVED for February, Spring, Summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations, because that's when my cousins Diane and Sharon would come up to stay at their grandparents' house (my aunt & uncle), just a 5 minute walk from my house. I wanted to spend all my free time with them, and they with me. We were very close then, and remain so today. They consider me their middle sister. We played our western-themed 'game' in the woods with our cowboy regalia on. We'd play in the field behind my parents' house. We'd swim in their grandparents' pool in the summer, build forts in the winter, ice skate on the bogs or at the rink in Bourne, do crafts, go to the movies and minigolf, sleepovers in the Coop, go out for ice cream and many, many family dinners. My calendar literally revolved around the next time Di & Sha would be up from Long Island. We are so close that I really am like a middle sister, because my personality is less easygoing than Diane's, but more easygoing than Sharon's. The rest of my childhood memories are made up of trips to see my relatives in Yonkers, NY and spending time at Spring Hill Beach where my parents owned a cottage & which they rented out to my many cousins.

It really was an idyllic childhood. It was safe, it was quiet. East Sandwich was a great place to grow up.

The downside to my life between kindergarten and 6th grade, and even a little bit into junior high, was that I was not well liked by the Town, Forestdale, Lakewood Hills and South Sandwich kids. I was bullied a little; but I was picked on & teased a lot. I have never had athletic prowess so I was always the last person called in gym. And when I didn't do well on the gym team, I took a lot of shit from the other kids. I would cry to my parents that nobody liked me. No one would talk to me. They were mean to me and teased me. How I hated this girl or that girl because they were just so mean. Kids are just plain cruel. My one & only foray into real team sports was when I joined our junior high softball team in 7th grade. Besides the humiliation of riding the bench the entire season, the girls on the team didn't treat me like a teammate, but as a pariah. One of them stole my denim jacket out of my gym locker. Crushed, I never joined another team again.

As I got older and into junior high and high school, I actually did have a lot of friends. I sometimes remember those times as my being 'friendless' but Diane once gave me a reality check. She exclaimed, "What the hell are you talking about? You had a TON of friends. Go look at your yearbooks! They are full of signatures of people who say what a great person you are!" I did actually review my yearbooks after Diane said that, and saw that a couple people even wrote, "to the girl with a million friends". It's funny how you remember things differently than other people. However, it needs to be noted that, while I did have a lot of friends in high school, most of them were in the Classes of '80, '81 and '83. Not so much from my own Class of '82. I used to say that I'd never go to my own class reunion, but I'd love to go to the 1981 or 1983 reunions. By the time I was a senior, I was only hanging out with 3 people from my own class, and all my other friends were from Barnstable High School. I spent K-11 doing my best to stay off everyone's radar and by senior year, I just didn't give a fuck anymore. I dressed in my army jacket covered in punk pins. I used blue hairspray in my hair. I listened to the Sex Pistols and the Clash while everyone else was listening to REO Shitwagon and Loverboy. I hung out at Wave Records in Hyannis on the weekends, with Liz & Joey, while everyone else was partying hard. I purposely alienated almost everyone in the class because I was just sick and tired of taking their shit. I was sick and tired of Sandwich. I didn't go to my junior or senior prom. For one, I wasn't even asked, but for another, I knew I wouldn't have fit in with everyone else at the prom. Fine, you wanna make fun of me? I'll give you something to make fun of. You wanna fuck with me? I have plenty of friends in Barnstable, including several members of punk bands in their mid-20's, who will be more than happy to set you straight.

The more isolated I felt, the more I longed to get out of Sandwich. Get off the Cape and head west. I didn't want to live in a town where:

1. I could ever be considered a 'townie' which is a moniker I despise and which hits me in the face every time I go back to visit my mom because I end up running into people; and

2. No one wanted to be my friend anyway, so fuck 'em.

At this point in my life, I'd pretty much made my peace with the fact that elementary school was rough. Enter Facebook. Up to this point in time, it never even occurred to me that my classmates who lived in real neighborhoods with other kids, got together after school and on the weekends. When the school year started in September, they'd been playing together all summer. When the school year started in September, 95% of my class had not even seen me since June. And the other 5% who did see me were only at birthday parties for those girls born during the summer or at swimming lessons. I had nothing in common with my female classmates either. I am quite certain that the girls, who were the cruelest of all, did not don cowboy hats, adopt boys' names for 'the game', play with capguns, and go racing through the woods or build forts like I did with my cousins. They all saw each other at the town beaches, whereas I swam in my aunt's pool, or hung out on Springhill Beach, which is a private beach & only open to cottage-owners. Once we got older, a lot of my classmates from Lakewood Hills, Forestdale and the Village were hardcore partiers and I wasn't. For one, my parents kept me on a very short leash. For another, I had no interest in it.

The other night, one of my classmates, who I've known since 1st grade, posted a photo of a group of kids in our class. She didn't write when it was taken, but if I had to guess, I'd say anywhere between 5th and 7th grades. There are about 6 boys kneeling on the ground, and the girls are sitting on the boys' shoulders, with their arms around each other. Everyone is grinning or laughing. Instead of being delighted by the photo, I felt sad. Really, really sad. Sad about how much I missed out on because of living in East Sandwich. Sad about the way I was treated throughout school by many of those same kids. Sad because I don't have any memories like that of my own, other than the few times I would visit a friend on a Saturday afternoon or go to a birthday party. Sad because maybe I wouldn't have felt so compelled to flee the East Coast, had just one of those kids invited me over or spoken kindly to me.

I had always felt like an outsider when I lived in Sandwich, but seeing the photos of my classmates playing together drove home the fact that I was an outsider. They didn't like me, or want to be friends with me, because they didn't know me. I am sure that, to them, I seemed like a real oddball. It was easy to pick on me because they never got to know me. I also had no older brothers or sisters to pave the way. We didn't ride the same bus, we didn't play after school, I didn't see them for 3 months in the summer. They only ever saw me in the context of a classroom setting. And unfortunately, because most of my teachers lived in Sandwich, my father did their plumbing, so there was always an undercurrent of "teacher's pet". I mean the last thing you want is to stand out from everyone else in school, right? But when your teacher calls your name on the first day and exclaims, "Is your dad Johnnie Mendonza the plumber? He's worked at my house! He's a great guy! Tell him I said HI!" Meanwhile I am turning 6 shades of red, hoping the floor will open up and swallow me and feeling the eyes of my classmates burning holes in me. In 7th grade, I actually had a teacher come right out and tell me that, because of who my dad was, I didn't have to do any work in her class and I would still get an A. That upset me. It upset my parents even more. And it further damaged how my classmates viewed me. Oh and let's not forget how "adorable" my parents thought it was that my dad named his boat, "Joanne". Which boat was moored at the Sandwich Marina from first grade through third grade. In full view of everyone. Except the boat also had to show the town, so it actually said, "Joanne Sandwich". I took my lumps at school for that too. My god my classmates must have thought I was a spoiled little princess.

It's kind of a weird feeling for me to now be Facebook friends with some of my classmates, especially some of the women. There is one girl on there, who really gave me a ration of shit throughout high school. She was the kind of girl who will ask you a question with a smile on her face, but you can just tell she's making fun of you or waiting to pounce on your answer with ridicule. Yeah, yeah I know, "everyone grows up" and all that shit. But as one who was on the receiving end of taunts and shunning, it doesn't take much to open up old wounds. I almost unfriended her when all those long buried hurt feelings came boiling to the surface, but I haven't yet.

I have been chit chatting with the woman who posted the pic of the group of kids. She's really cool & nice, and she's someone that I wish I had been friends with all through school, but she was a town kid with her own set of friends. She actually was kind to me in the 2nd grade, but then our paths never really crossed after that. We have a lot in common, now. I told her the other day how I felt so isolated from everyone in our class because I wasn't a 'town kid' and she told me to count my blessings because the town kids were nothing but trouble. She told me I was lucky to have had such a quiet childhood in East Sandwich. I found that amusing. Sort of a "be-careful-what-you-wish-for" thing.

After I graduated from Sandwich High, I headed for college and never gave most of the Class of '82 another thought, except for my handful of friends. But I think about them a lot these days. It's amazing how things have come full circle over the past 28 years since I left SHS. Now that we are adults, maybe now some of these people will realize that I wasn't such a bad kid after all. But I'm still not going to our class reunion.


  1. that was hard to read.
    i'm sorry for you.
    truth be told, i didnt have many friends either.
    but that was because i was the youngest and had a big mouth.
    these are he things we think about later...

  2. It was hard to write. I'd been kicking it around for awhile.

    It's funny though, in re-reading this, it just hit me that I bet those mean girls thought I was like Nellie Olsen or something. They probably thought I was spoiled at home, 'mommy & daddy's little princess.' And I was not like that. I was not a spoiled or indulged child at all. My parents didn't raise me that way. My dad always downplayed his importance in town. We lived simply, they were frugal. I grew up completely and 100% blue collar.

  3. Oh honey, I'm so sorry you had so much shit from the lame bitches from school. Cause let's face it, they're LAME!

    I was treated the exact same way, which is why to this day, I hate people and I still get knots in my tummy when I enter my kids' school area.

    Apart from all the shit, I think you lived my dream childhood. OMG babe, its like something out of a cool STEPHEN KING story.....exactly where and how I would have wanted to live!

    Thanks so much for sharing this.
    At least now you have cool friends ;-)
    Friends who can actually see how AWESOME you are!!

  4. That story made me cry JoJo. Not because of any bad, mean, or cruel thing that happened to you in your childhood and adolescent years, but because WE COULD HAVE BEEN BEST CHILDHOOD FRIENDS!!! I love you for sharing such a personal part of your soul. Cheers!!

  5. Anonymous12:14 PM

    I guess we all end up a product of our life experiences. You didn't turn out so bad honey :0)

  6. It's so rough being isolated as a child. But ultimately you found your soulmate and a bunch of friends online and off. I know it doesn't compensate for an unhappy childhood, but it helps you realise that you were not the problem, but the idiots who missedout on having you for a friend.

  7. It WAS hard to read because I can relate.I agree Axe,gong into a school makes me feel pretty sick to my stomach.

    I see my bullies on FB too,but I can't push myself to friend them.Not even for "spying".I just look at them and think-we couldn't be friends now either (even if I wanted to) because they are still stuck in that town of 800 and I have changed a LOT.

    I think the Internet is a gift-because it brought friends to me I would have never met otherwise!I am so happy and proud to call you,Axe,Ann,Madi and Val my friends (did I forget anyone?)!

    And yeah-fuck those people because they didn't take time to get to know you (or me or any of us).Their loss.

  8. That's a wonderful, bittersweet, honest piece of writing...

    *standing ovation*

    Cranberry bogs???

  9. Axe, BBG1 & Bryde - I have a feeling that if we all went to the same school, we would have been as thick as thieves. All the other kids would want to be friends with US!

    And yes, Axe, growing up in E. Sandwich was a bit like a King novel, except w/o all the scary shit & gore.

    Diane - Thanks!

    Val - Yeah, it's THEIR loss. ;) I've noticed that some of the most cruel of the girls in my class have found 'god' too.

    WR - Cranberries grow on long vines on the ground, in bogs that are separated by irrigation channels of water. In the winter, they open the pipes and flood the bogs to keep the plants from dying. The water freezes and I used to ice skate on them. Lots of kids in Sandwich learned to ice skate on bogs and ponds before they built the rink in Bourne.

  10. "So, what are ya rebelling against?" "Whadaya got?" Cheers!!

  11. I can so relate to being an only child and living in your head a lot.

    It's horrible to be bullied and picked on. I didn't have that problem but I did feel kind of like an outsider as until I was about 12 or 13 I didn't really have any friends my age. I didn't really want any for some reason. I preferred to hang out with adults or something.

    But I did manage to enjoy high school with a lot of friends as I think my peer group started to stop being kids. I don't think I ever was. lol

    But I also can relate to not ever going back to a high school reunion. All the people I want to keep in touch with I do. The rest I probably lost touch with for a reason.

    You've come out of all that a stronger person and a wonderful individual.