When I was about eight, nine or ten years of age (I was in third grade), I was becoming increasingly aware of social statuses and the difference between rich and poor. Constantly I would see the material things that spoke of money; in school or even close to home. My classmates were a good mix of high, middle and low class kids (which basically means: rich, not bad/middle, and poor). I saw the difference of old flip flops and sparkly new Sketchers worn to school. I saw cool hair accessories and new pens and rich looking parents. By then, I was getting shoes that were hand me downs from our cousins from out of the country. I’d get excited when I would get a new backpack from relatives out of the country as well. I still remember the leather shoes with the buckle and the loose long socks I wore. I remember thinking, ‘My feet are growing bigger.’ I remember thinking Milk, Brains and Hairy were in the rich side of society, and River, Fishie and myself were on the fine line between the ‘not bad’ and the ‘poor’. I was naturally a quiet kid and observing quietly and learning as I observe was one of the things I was (and still am) good at.
Whenever our relatives came to visit us, which was rare enough for us, I found myself being more observant than I wanted to be. I noticed how Hairy was favoured by Smiley. I noticed how Smiley would always take Hairy with her first before any other. Smiley is extremely affectionate and so this was something I was silently yearning for. I wished I was favoured just as much as Hairy was pretty and nice, as much as Brains was so smart, and as much as Milk was so cute. Being with Smiley back then was somewhat of a wake-up call for me, seeing as how apparent Smiley favoured whom she did before. Then with every one of us being excited about having relatives visit us, each cousin had their own traits pop out (I did say, I was good at observing). Chocolate Milk had always been the outspoken one in the bunch; very vocal and very confident. River was loud and playful and good looking, and Smiley was River’s godparent. Brains was pretty and smart and very witty. Hairy was the prettiest among the group and the nicest and sweetest. Fishie was adorable, cute, tiny and (I’ve heard this a million times) she looked like Smiley when Smiley was a little kid. Milk was the youngest in the ‘rich’ class among us so therefore had to be favoured by default among other things. Me? I had nothing to offer. I was quiet, and back then looked more like Softy than Eyeballs. Smiley’s personality was outgoing, so of course, Smiley gravitated to the outspoken ones. Chocolate Milk, River and Brains, and of course Milk were a shoo-in. Hairy and Fishie were personal favourites. I felt like I didn’t belong; I felt more like a background more than anything. You know that feeling when you watch people outside from a window? That’s what it felt like being with them all. I guess my personality was a factor in all of it, but it still didn’t make sense to me that I was so unremarkable to the rest of the family (and I mean very close relatives, including Smiley). I never got that reassuring feeling that it was okay to be me, to be myself. What I saw around me made me wish I was what I was not.
While all that was happening, I was realizing that Eyeballs would get really excited and happy whenever I get awesome marks in class, like exams and tests and projects. So I excelled in that. That was my moment of visibility. Eyeballs would tell the good news that I was in the honor roll when recognition/graduation rites came. And I was happy. I found my fifteen seconds of fame. I would get a very big smile on my face, all proud and excited. All for a quick pat on the back and a ‘Good job!’ to go with it. I get the occassional hug, too. That’s how I pretty much lived my younger years: aiming to please people through my academic standing because I thought I wasn’t good enough unless I was good at being something or someone. The only time our relatives would talk to me extensively–and by extensively, I mean about 5 or so minutes–would be about my grades in school. It was a lot of pressure and yet I was blind to that; I just wanted to be acknowledged. That was all I wanted.
All my life, I’ve been trying to establish this fact to myself: Pencil is important. Pencil is a human being worthy of respect and affection. Pencil is Pencil, and Pencil is enough. It’s a concept that was hard for me to accept for a long time, especially when I was younger. Everybody else had such personalities in our big close-knit family. That was why I started looking for attention and acceptance from other people. My classmates since childhood like Rosebud, Timber, Dancer, Mango, became so close to me that at some point I developed this idea that my friends loved me more than my family. Well, from my point of view back then, my friends were the ones who were with me and were happy that I was being myself, plain ol’ Pencil: one of the comedy acts in class, and got along with most of the class. At that point, my thoughts and feelings were usually excitement when I would go to school and see my best pals and on the other hand, I would be really mad and frustrated that I would be going home to people that barely noticed me. My mindset like that for a bit. I saw the toys that Fishie got from Smiley, I saw more and more the leniency towards River when it came to doing chores. I saw the amount of new house hold chores that Eyeballs taught me. I started hating house chores then. Everytime she would proudly say to random people how I knew how to cook already at that age, I felt exploited and used. The idea of the maids in Earrings and Boss’ household was a constant taunting in the back of my mind.
After a while, I looked up to Earrings’ family. They were rich and had a big house and everything that goes with that. In the meantime, my family barely owned a tube of toothpaste. I realized that if we didn’t have much food in our tiny little house, we’d eat plain steamed rice with either salt or sugar. And yet I loved that. I didn’t love the fact that whenever our relatives from abroad would send a package to the siblings Earrings, Eyeballs and Everhope (Chocolate Milk’s parent), Earrings’ kids would always get the coolest things. I felt even more unwanted every time I saw that. They’d have the coolest and prettiest Barbie dolls, the best backpacks, and shirts and shoes. It was too obvious to me that me and my siblings weren’t the favourite of the bunch. I wasn’t okay with it, but at the same time, I didn’t know what do except to accept that fact.
And yet, amidst all that, I thought and believed our whole entire family was the best family because we had some relatives out of the country (to me that meant I was a little closer to the ‘rich’ class by being associated with them), Earrings’ family was, in my eyes, in the ‘rich’ class so I was proud of the family as a whole. I was proud of everyone when they did something great, like be in a play or something like that. I was glad that as a whole our family was doing well. The cousins were cohesive and we mostly got along (unless someone was having tantrums). We were all pretty good with each other. Deep inside of me, it was a confusing mix of love and denial, of hurt and passiveness, and of pride and humiliation. To me, the different levels of feelings were what kept me observing. I couldn’t understand why, with the family, the gaps of understanding were so different and with different people, so small. I didn’t think much of it all after realizing these things, but they’re always there, buzzing around in my head. So to keep from thinking about it, I kept my focus in school instead.