An excerpt from “I Only Said” ‘yes’ so that they'd like me

“Melody, what are your thoughts about being alone?”

I feel my face flush. I don’t want to say but everyone looks at me and so I feel as if I have to.

“I’ve always felt alone, apart from when I was with Buster, that’s my dog. Even when Mom and Dad were home, and Danny too, my twin brother, I felt alone. We didn’t talk to each other.”

“What about at school?” Miss Tina presses me.

“That was ten times worse,” I say, feeling a sudden urge to cry, and not being able to stop the tears from seeping out of my eyes. “No one bothered with me at home but at least they didn’t bully me. At school I’m bullied every minute of every day.”

I tell them about being a nerd in the front row and about the girls who gang together and make my life miserable.

“Do you want to hang out with them?” Miss Tina asks as I blow my nose noisily.

“Not really,” I falter, “they’re not very nice, in fact, they’re mean, but it seems that if you’re not in with them, they’ll make your life a living hell.”

A girl looks at me and nods. “That’s how it is for me, too.”

I can’t help it but the first thing I think of is whether she’s pretty or not… she’s pretty, and then I don’t get it. If she were at my school she’d be in the back row with the in-crowd. Why is she saying that she knows what it’s like to be bullied at school?

“The girls at school wanted me in their gang and I felt…” she looks down at the floor, “…I felt flattered and a bit relieved. I didn’t want to be left out, or suffer what the kids in the front row suffered, so I did everything I could to fit in with them. It kind of felt like I’d be protected if I was one of them. In a strange sort of way I felt forced to follow them, although no one made me… I just felt safer being in with them rather than… well, you know… on the outside.”

I know what’s she’s trying to say; she’s trying to say that it was better to be in with the girls in the back row, even though they were mean, than to be a nerd in the front row. I look at her and my feelings are mixed. I want to hate her for being the type of girl who makes my life miserable, yet I can hear pain in her voice, like she knows what it’s like to suffer at the hands of those girls too. I feel confused.

“So are you saying that you were afraid to be alone?” Miss Tina asks her.

She sits in silence for a moment and then looks at Miss Tina, and says, “I don’t think I was afraid to be alone but I think I was afraid of what those girls could do to me if I wasn’t in with them. Does that make sense?”

“What d’you think, Melody, does it make sense to you?”

My head’s spinning and I don’t know what to say.

Rick jumps in and as he talks I look at him with admiration.

“I think that school is like being in a jungle where the fittest survive and the rest suffer. Kids band together through fear of being the one in the front row that gets bullied… no one wants to go through that and so they stick together. I think it’s sick, because if you were to ask each kid, most would say that they didn’t want to be with kids that’re mean, but they’re just too scared to stand up for themselves and stand alone… they’re scared that they’ll get bullied too.”

He shakes his head and looks at Miss Tina.

“Honestly, it really is like a jungle at school. You have to fit in, be the same as everyone else, or you’ll get picked on. I think it’s crap, oops, sorry, but that’s how it is. Everyone’s so fake, so busy fitting in, so busy trying not to get bullied by the in-crowd. I don’t give a…” He shakes his head. “I don’t care. They can’t hurt me…”

He seems so strong; he knows how it is but he doesn’t care. I wish I felt that way.

Freddie speaks out, “Yeah, but that’s you, Rick, maybe you’re stronger than the rest of us. What if it really matters to you to fit in… being alone would feel awful.”

Rick shrugs like he doesn’t care.

I know what she means because I’ve longed to fit in, just like Danny does. He doesn’t have any of the problems I have because he’s in the in-crowd.

“Well, I guess so,” Rick says, “I guess it’s like Miss Tina says, it has to do with how you feel about yourself inside.”

I listen and my stomach churns. I don’t feel good about myself at all.

“What do kids do to cope with not being in the in-crowd, to protect themselves?” Miss Tina asks, looking at us.

“Band together?” Paul says.

I don’t say anything because I’m ashamed. I don’t think he’s right, because most nerds don’t want to be associated with other nerds. I remember the spotty guy who picked up my pencil in class… I thought he was a bigger nerd than me and so I’d be scared to be around anyone like him in case the bullies picked on me even more.

Freddie says, “Find just one person to hang around with.”

Miss Tina nods.

“Some kids will try to buy their way into the “in” crowd,” Tammy says. “They do what they have to, to be accepted.”

“Like what?” Miss Tina presses.

“Please them… do what they want.”

“Like what?” she asks again.

“Well, it’s virtually impossible to be accepted by the girls if they don’t like you, but if you want to be accepted by the boys you have to give them what they want, and that’s sex. It’s sick but that’s how it is.”

“You give sex to be accepted by the boys in the back row?” Miss Tina asks, raising an eyebrow.

Several kids murmur “Yes,” and I glance around, feeling safer than I’ve ever felt before, because these kids know what I’ve been through.

Tammy looks Miss Tina in the eye and says, “You’ve got no idea how bad it is at school if you don’t belong, or if you’re alone, or different.”

“Yeah, but if you felt okay about yourself inside you wouldn’t feel the need to do anything just to be accepted by the in-crowd… who cares about them?” Rick says. “What about your self-respect?”

“You’re a guy; it’s different for girls,” Tammy says.

“Is it?” Miss Tina asks. “I think it’s probably the same for girls and guys. I think Rick has the answer… how you feel about being excluded from the in-crowd depends upon how you feel about yourself inside. If you have self-respect, if you believe in yourself, then being separate from the in-crowd won’t matter so much, and you won’t feel you have to do things that will rob you of your self-respect in order to be accepted. Having low self-esteem leaves you feeling vulnerable and less able to cope with standing alone or being bullied.”

I feel miserable. I don’t feel good about myself; I have no self-esteem and I have no self-respect either. I had sex with those two guys in order to try to fit in, to be accepted, and to not feel alone. I feel so stupid. Why couldn’t I have been my own person, to be comfortable being alone, to hold my head up high and walk away from the kids who bully me, to not care when they hurt my feelings? If I felt better about myself perhaps I could do those things, but I can’t.

Miss Tina smiles at us. “Let’s move on. I want to read you a story to help you understand loneliness and how you can be taken advantage of when you’re feeling vulnerable. It’s called “The Golden Purse.” I hope you like it.”

Far away in the land that bobbed in and out of view depending upon the sea mist, there lived a young shepherd girl who tended her sheep on a hillside overlooking a town. She had no friends for she had to spend all her time taking care of her sheep, making sure that they didn’t wander along high ledges or fall into deep ravines. Her sheep were her friends and she knew each one by name, for they were very special, a rare breed, whose wool was the color of golden corn. Every evening as the sun slid down over the hill, each sheep cast a soft golden shadow over the grass.

Although she loved them, every one, she longed to hear the sound of laughter and to know the joy of friendship with another human being.

“I love you, my friends,” she said, stroking their wool, “but I need someone to talk to.”

They licked her face and she laughed, but sadness rested in her heart.

High up on the hillside that evening in her little hut she spun the sheep’s golden wool into thread by candlelight, and after eating her supper of goat cheese and bread, she began knitting golden sweaters to sell at the town’s market place. She had a pile of sweaters that she’d already made and every few weeks she would journey down the hillside into the town to buy the goods she needed with the money she made from her knitting.

As she walked through the town, people flocked around her to see what she’d brought, for her sweaters were spoken of in every town for a hundred miles; everyone wanted one. They nagged at her to sell them cheaply on the street, but she pushed forward and walked into the market place where she sat at her little stall and laid out her wares.

“Me first,” a woman shouted, nudging everyone out of the way.

“I was here first,” another woman argued.

“She always lets me have the first one,” someone else said. “I’m her friend.”

The young shepherd girl looked perplexed for she didn’t have any friends; who was this person saying she was her friend? She didn’t even know who had said it, for there were so many people scrambling to get to the front of the line to buy her sweaters.

They were gone within minutes and suddenly her stall was empty. She was alone and no one had said anything to her other than, “How much?”

With a heavy heart she bought her goods and trudged back up the hillside to her beloved sheep, who welcomed her without words.

That night she didn’t knit another sweater. Instead she knitted a fine golden purse in which to put all the money she’d made from selling her sweaters, and stayed up long into the night until it was finished.

“Beautiful,” she said to herself. “Just beautiful,” and she put all the coins into it for safekeeping.

Weeks went past and she talked to her sheep to stave off the loneliness she felt, and through their wordless bleating she imagined what it would be like to have a friend, one that would share jokes and funny stories, and talk to her.

Her sadness at being alone filled her heart so much that she made a special trip down the hillside into the town and sold yet more of her sweaters to those who pushed and shoved to get to the front of the line.

Not one person had bothered to ask her how she was or how her sheep were doing, not one, and as her loneliness threatened to overwhelm her, she decided not to go straight back up the hillside, for she was desperate to talk to another human being. Looking around her, everyone was too busy and didn’t seem to notice her, so she walked over to the local tavern and pushed the heavy oak door open.

It was dark and everyone turned around to see who was coming through the door. She felt her face flush with anxiety, but she forced herself on and walked up to the bartender.

“Please may I have a glass of lemonade,” she said, and as she opened her golden purse, suddenly she was surrounded by people all wanting to talk to her. Her face was flushed with pleasure; someone wanted to be her friend at last, and one by one she bought each of them a glass of lemonade until all her money was gone.

She stood alone with her empty golden purse. Everyone had gone back to their seats, drinking the lemonade she’d bought them, but not one wanted to stand and talk to her once they’d gotten what they wanted from her. She had given everything and yet she was still alone with no one to talk to.

Tears sprung into her eyes and she ran out of the tavern, down the main street, past the deserted market place, and began to climb the steep hillside. She was sobbing with pain and loneliness by the time she had reached a ledge that ran around the hill, and there she stumbled into a traveler wending his way from town to town.

“Why are you crying?” he asked her.

She sobbed as she told him of her loneliness and how she’d hoped that if she’d had a golden purse full of money, she could find friends who would talk to her.

“The world is full of greed and trickery,” he said, “but do not let that blind you to what goodness there is in people. You just have to be selective, for if you open your golden purse you will attract all those who are filled with greed, and whose hearts are shallow.”

“Are you saying that I shouldn’t give to people then?” she asked him.

“Oh, no, not at all. Sharing is the most wonderful thing in the world, for no one can truly grow without sharing and learning from one another, but you must be selective. Do not stand with your golden purse open for all those to see what’s inside, and to rob you of everything you have and hold dear. Stand among them with your golden purse closed. Then when someone stands beside you who truly wants to talk to you and know the truths in your heart, open your golden purse and share what you have.”

She dried her eyes and carried on up the hill towards the only friends she knew and rested from the experience.

She spun the golden wool into thread and knitted sweater after sweater and soon she had another pile to take to the market place in the town.

Stroking each of her golden sheep as she left, she made her way back down to the town, with her head held high. She ignored the crowd that tried to get her to sell her sweaters before she got to the market place, to buy them cheaply and cheat her of her worth, and she remained firm and resolute.

The sweaters were sold in a few moments and her golden purse was full of money, so she walked to the tavern and opened the door.

The bartender said, “The usual, Ma’am?”

“Yes, please,” she said, “one of your fine lemonades, if you please,” and suddenly the room was full of the sound of chairs scraping against the stone floor, as virtually everyone rushed towards her and her golden purse.

She stood with her head held high, her chin jutting out in determination, remembering the stranger’s words. Her purse was closed and she stared ahead at the bartender, as he passed comment on the weather and asked her how her sheep were doing. As she kept her golden purse closed, little by little the crowd around her whittled away, leaving her alone.

She felt confused, for she’d done what the stranger had said, yet she was still alone with no one to talk to; the bartender was busy and had gone on to someone else to pass comment on the weather as he poured their lemonade. She felt uncomfortable, and loneliness crept upon her like a chilling morning mist, making her long to race back up the hillside to the comfort of her silent sheep, but something made her stand still. It was the stranger who had said, “If you stand there with your golden purse closed and protected, those who long to talk to you, to know your stories and your truth, will come forward and then, only then, can you open your purse and share as much as you want to.”

She ignored the discomfort, although it felt more terrible than she had ever imagined, for she felt that those she’d rebuffed were back in their seats talking about her and laughing at her loneliness.

She sipped her lemonade until there was just a shimmer at the bottom of her glass, and just as her resolve was about to take flight and she was about to run out of the tavern, someone tapped her on the shoulder.

“You’re the shepherd girl that makes those wonderful sweaters, aren’t you? I bought one to give to my mother and she loves it. Can I buy you a lemonade, please?”

The young shepherd girl flushed with pleasure, and didn’t need to open her golden purse since the man opened his own purse. And as they sat there talking through the night, sharing each other’s stories and truths, she opened her golden purse only when she wanted to, and no more or less than he did.

Chapter Four

I sigh, I know I do. That story is about me, I know it is. I want to cry but I manage not to. I know what it feels like to have no friends and people who only want me for sex, not for me, for who I really am.

Miss Tina smiles at all of us. “Cute, isn’t it. Did you like it? Do you understand it? It’ll probably mean different things to each of you. What are your thoughts about it? What do you think the purse represents?”

Freddie says, “I think that the purse could be several things, her self-respect, her friendship, affections, or sex.”

“I think so, too,” Miss Tina said, “Well done. What do you think the sweaters represented?”

“The same?”

“Say more.”

“Well, things that people wanted from her. I suppose it could mean her talents; after all she made them, so she had talents.”

“It could have represented something that she had to give that keeps you warm, because sweaters keep you warm.”

“There are no right or wrong answers,” Miss Tina says. “The point of the story is to make you think and to help you apply it to your own situation.”

Julie says, “It showed me that when the girl was lonely she let people take advantage of her, like my boyfriend did when I was feeling vulnerable.”

Miss Tina nodded. “Can you see how easily it can happen? The young shepherd girl was lonely and wanted friends; she didn’t really do anything to deserve the way those people in the tavern treated her. Her loneliness, and perhaps her inexperience, blinded her to the fact that some human beings can be greedy and self-centered.”

Rick sounds angry. “You make it sound like all boys are just after one thing – sex – but not all of us are like that, you know.”

“That’s right,” Miss Tina says. “They’re not, but some are. Are you saying that you are the sort of guy who came up to the shepherd girl at the end of the story?”

He goes a bit red. “I’ve got lots of friends that are girls and I haven’t tried to have sex with any of them, nor would I.”

He sounds angry.

I can feel my face getting redder and redder. I blurt out, “I know how the shepherd girl felt, especially when she gave them everything and they all sat and laughed at her. That’s what happened to me. Those boys tricked me into giving them sex, then laughed at me afterwards.”

Rick glares at me. “We’re not all like that, Melody.”

“I think that people are shallow and greedy,” a girl says, who is usually quiet, “and I think it’s better to be alone and lonely than to have people taking advantage of you, so that you lose your self-respect.”

Miss Tina says, “The story shows how bad the shepherd girl felt when she’d been taken advantage of. It also shows how uncomfortable she felt when she was determined that she wouldn’t be taken advantage of again. Do you think that she was brave to hold her head up high, keeping her self-respect, even though when she returned to the tavern to face the people who had used her, she was hurting and felt very lonely?”

“Yes,” I murmur. “If it were me I’d have run out of there; I don’t think I could have stood it to hear those men jeering at me… I’m scared to go back to school,” I say, as an afterthought.

Freddie says, “But the story shows us that even though the girl was hurt once she didn’t give up. She wanted to make friends and tried again, but the second time she believed in herself and was more choosy. You can go back to school, Melody. Be the shepherd girl. Stand tall, they’ll soon get fed up with picking on you if you show them that it doesn’t bother you.”

“I can’t,” I say, feeling stricken at the thought.

Miss Tina smiles at me gently. “Do you feel like you lost your self-respect, Melody, like the shepherd girl?”

I nod miserably.

“Y’know, wanting to be liked costs too much if you lose everything you’re worth, your self-respect, but if that’s happened to you then you can always get it back by changing your behavior and the way you think. The shepherd girl was humiliated when she thought all those people liked her but all they wanted her for was to buy them a lemonade; she had opened her purse to everyone, but she changed her behavior and the way she thought, and then got her self-respect back again. You can do that too, Melody.”

Freddie’s nodding at me, and so are the others. I give them a weak smile.

Freddie says, “My mom and dad say that it’s not a good idea to have sex before you’re married, and I’ve just thought of something else that’s in the story. The shepherd girl was trying to get to the market place with everything that was valuable to her, but people kept trying to make her give it to them cheaply. They were trying to cheat her - they didn’t want to pay the full price for the sweaters. And that could be the same as men trying to get you to have casual sex with them without the commitment of a real relationship or marriage.”

“Well done, Freddie,” Miss Tina says. “I hadn’t noticed that, but you’re quite right.”

My head is full of thoughts. Can I get my self-respect back? Can I find friends? I hope so, but right now I’d rather be the young shepherd girl up on the hill with sheep for friends than go back to school where everyone is laughing at me.

“You’ve all done really well today. Let’s stop. It’s Friday, and you all know what that means, don’t you?"

Celia Banting 2006

This excerpt can be found in the novel, "I Only Said ‘Yes’ So That They’d Like Me"