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Facing Your Demons

All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los AngelesMake March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered.  Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 25), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.

To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ve asked all our contributors here at the website to focus on books and comics for kids, or the books or comics that meant the most to them as kids, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.

Today’s piece is from novelist Adam Korenman:

Losing friends is hard at any age, but nothing can prepare you for your first real fight. Not a squabble, where you disagree over the best flavor of Mountain Dew (it’s none-of-the-above, by the way), nor a fistfight, which might end with you closer than before. I mean a real, no-holds barred emotional throw down, where things are said that can never be taken back. I mean those fights that truly end friendships.

I was in fifth grade when I had that fight. My good friends had been playfully teasing me for weeks, but the tone was turning a bit sour. I tried reasoning, at least as best as an eleven-year-old can, but to no avail. We were already the outcasts of our age group. While the rest of the kids played football, we played tag. When everyone else excelled at basketball, we made up weird sci-fi/fantasy storylines and acted them out. The prospect of losing what little friends I had terrified me.

Fifth grade was an important year for me. It was the year I discovered my passion for writing, the year I established my love of all things science, and the year I lost my first friend.

Now I had “lost” friends in the past, it’s true. My chums from kindergarten faded into memory, and many of my friends from Fort Worth simply disappeared without enough contact. I felt that the only real friends I had were those at my school in Dallas. If I couldn’t keep them, no matter how much I tried, than what was to become of me?

It was about this time that my sister introduced me to a book: The Boy Who Lost His Face. Also by the esteemed Louis Sachar of Holes fame, this was the story of a boy trying to fit in with the cool kids, who discovered that losing friends is just one part of growing up.

I don’t want to run through the entire synopsis, but here’s the gist. David, our protagonist, has been trying to fit in with the cool kids at his school. He sacrifices his own desires, and indeed his own agency, just to be around the people he considers his friends. When he joins them on a prank against an old lady (known to be a witch), he ends up feeling particularly distressed. This is in part because, as they fled the scene of the crime, the woman called out a curse to David.

“Your doppelganger will regurgitate on your soul!”

As any reader of the Necronomincon can tell you, that’s not a real curse. However, David begins to exhibit many cursed traits. He becomes uncoordinated, aloof, and incredibly distracted. He loses touch with the people he considered his friends, so much so that they forcefully abandon him. When he goes to speak to his school crush, his pants fall down. Yeah, it’s no “murdered by Deadites,” but it’s not great for a middle-schooler.

Sure, the story didn’t exclusively cover down on the emotional roller coaster of losing friends in school, but it resonated with me. David and I shared a common trait: We wanted to fit in at all costs. We bent over backwards to be the kind of people that others would like. It was, in a word, exhausting. In fact, throughout most of high school and even into college, I felt as though I wore different masks based on the people I was around. Some called me a social chameleon, but to me it felt like I just hadn’t belonged anywhere yet.

David found his group, even if they were initially loveable losers. He faced his demons and the people he once called friends, even though he lost the physical battle that followed. He found that a crush has to be mutual, and that it’s okay just to be friends.

Like most major emotional events of my childhood, my sister saw me through to the other side. We were battle buddies in private school, suffering the daily stresses side by side. It’s one of the reasons we’re so close even to this day, despite the fact that she’s a gross butt-face and has cooties. After I finished reading the novel, my sister and I spent hours talking through my fears of losing friends, of failing in this world, of never really fitting in. Thankfully, she chose that moment to forgo her older-sister instincts and mock me. Instead, she encouraged me in every way. She told me about the friends she had lost, and of the new and better ones she found.

Like David, I did end up losing friends, but I wasn’t afraid anymore. I knew the hurt would go away. I knew that, around the corner, brighter days waited. That gave me the courage to keep going forward, to keep meeting new people, and to think positively.

The Boy Who Lost His Face took me on a journey through a feeling I hadn’t yet put to words. It gave me an outlet into a whole new range of adult emotions. Most of all, it told me that things can get bad, but that’s never the end of the story.

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Welcoming the Future, Treasuring the Past.