I think kindergarten was really the time when I realized that other people were assholes. Preschool was great and everyone played together and it was good times, but kindergarten was when shit got real.
My name's Vindi Birch and I don't want to complain and say that I've had it rough from the start [Because I know pretty much everything that I'm going to bitch about it going to be a First World Problem and people will read this and say "Damn, this bitch is whining about having fucked up shoes when there are kids in other countries starving and dying and shit!" Rough is a relative concept people. Don't let it deter you from reading!] but it sure as hell hasn't been easy. Right now, as I'm writing this, I'm 28 years old and I will probably be 30 by the time I finish. For all I know something might happen between now and then that will make me put all of this in perspective and say that this was nothing, but for right now, this is what's on my mind and I'd like to get it all off my chest.
I was born in Oakland, California in 1984 and ended up living in a suburb of the city for most of my young life. We lived in a rental house in a not so nice neighborhood that was about thirty minutes away from the nice neighborhood that my school was in. We used my grandmother's address so that I could attend school in the better school district. That was great, except that I was the lower class kid going to an upper-middle class school. We would have coloring time in class and everyone would pull out their giant box of sixty-four colored crayons with the sharpener built right into the side of the box. I would pull out my eight pack that was issued by the school and have to ask if I could borrow a fellow classmate's beige crayon so that my person that I was drawing didn't have to have orange or purple skin. It was okay at first until I started getting questions about why I didn't have those things--both from the other kids and the parents that were coming in to help with the class for the day.
It wasn't that my parents weren't working, it was just that it's expensive to live in California and even with a "good job" it can be hard to make ends meet. My mom was a secretary and my dad was (I shit you not) a rocket scientist who would do firework shows on the side to make extra cash. I picked things up quickly and was able to get good grades on practically everything that we did in class. I credit most of that to my dad who taught me how to read when I was three. I still remember sitting on the beat up sofa with him in our horrible little house that hadn't been remodeled since the '70s (it had the puke-green shag carpeting and faux- wood wall paneling and everything!) and he had his yellow legal pad and would write down words and have me sound them out for him. "Mouse." "Telephone." "Magnesium." I was awesome at it.
I was the kid that would answer all the questions in class, the kid that all the other kids hated early on, but they couldn't quite figure out why yet. We would read a book in class and the teacher would ask us reading comprehension questions and then ask us if we had any questions, and I remember being the smart ass sitting in the story-time circle asking, "But where did Ferdinand the Bull go when he wanted to use the bathroom?" I thought I was hilarious.
It was somewhat challenging for me to make friends, because aside from the crayon issue, my clothes didn't look like all of the other kids' clothes. All the other little girls would come in wearing cute dresses with flowers on them or little sweaters with adorable animals on them. Most of my clothes were boys clothes. I was the oldest between my brother and I, who was only a year younger than me, but it seemed more and more like we were getting clothes that both of us could wear in order for us to save money. I stuck out a little bit, but it wasn't too bad. That is until that fateful day when the county came out to test our vision and hearing at school.
About two months into kindergarten I was the only kid out of my entire class that needed glasses. I remember going to the optometrist's office and having the doctor tell me how lucky I was and how special I was to be the only one to be picked to get glasses. I went home with my mom that day and felt really pumped up. Glasses were cool and only special kids got to wear glasses! Heck yeah! I went into class the next day all cocky and excited and I walked in and everyone turned around and they were completely silent. I thought it was because they were all jealous of my awesome specs. That is, until one kid laughed and then another and pretty soon they were all laughing. I figured that they would get used to it soon enough.
By the end of that week I noticed that the other kids weren't really talking to me anymore. No one wanted to trade lunch stuff or let me use their crayons or play with me at recess. There were a group of kids sitting at the end of the playground and one of them had a marker and was drawing on everyone's hand. I heard her chant the infamous, "Circle, circle, dot, dot, now you've got your Cootie Shot" to everyone in the group. I came over to ask if I could get one too and they looked at me with my gigantic glasses, my boy clothes and my jack-o-lantern smile and they screamed--literally screamed--and ran away. I tried asking what was going on and the girl administering the shots said in the snottiest of voices, "Eww! Don't talk to me Cootie Girl!"
I was really upset and asked one of the classroom moms inside what Cooties were and she told me that "technically they were lice but now kids just say that to the creepy, unpopular boys" so I shouldn't have to worry about it. I heard her say that and ran into the bathroom where I cried for the rest of recess. No one came to check on me and no one asked why my face was all puffy when I came out to join the rest of the class. It was a pretty terrible day. But the hits just kept on coming.
Halloween came and went and I was a cat. I was a cat for the next five years because we didn't buy any costumes for a while. We also had a Fall Harvest party and for whatever reason, we did a square dancing recital where everyone had to get a partner and join hands and dance and shit. My mom loved country music so she went overboard and bought me this hideous purple gingham square dancing dress and bright red cowboy boots. It was terrible and clashed with my partner's outfit. If you were a girl, your partner had to be a boy. That was when I first noticed Derek. He was a little bit different, like me, because he had blond hair that was almost white and his teeth weren't perfect either. Plus he was taller than all the other boys. I guess part of me had noticed him before, but when he got assigned to be my dance partner, it was really the first time that any other kid had held my hand or made any kind of physical contact with me. Even if it was mandatory, it still felt nice.
By that point I had already started to become accustomed to being the Cootie Girl so I wasn't super shocked when Derek told the teacher, "I don't want to touch the Cootie Girl! I'll get Cooties!" I remember that at first she would just tell the kids to stop calling me that, but eventually she just stopped caring and kind of went with it. It was her last year teaching because she was retiring, so I don't think she really gave a damn anymore. She just told Derek to suck it up and be more mature about it. We went through the whole recital and I remember afterwards Derek's mom came up to us and told me and my mom how cute her son and I looked together. It was at that point there that I developed my fascination with blond guys. I would eventually grow out of it as time moved on, but it's crazy how something so simple shapes your view of things for an extended period of time. I didn't realize it at the time, but Derek was my first crush.