By Charmaine Peggese, 18, Cerritos HS (2010 graduate)
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Charmaine says the friendships she has now will last forever.

I’ve always had problems fitting in. In elementary school, the other kids thought I was weird because my favorites movies were Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. They thought those movies were for losers. But I wanted to fit in so bad that I didn’t care that they made fun of me. I just wanted to be liked! I talked to this one girl every day until she became my best friend. After a year of all that hard work we became really close. Then I made other friends.

In middle school, there was a group of popular girls. They were always loud and laughing. Everyone knew them and always said hi to them. They wore the stylish clothing, like Baby Phat and Ecko Red. I ditched my friends from elementary school to hang out with them. I didn’t even think twice about it because we would still talk, but this was my chance to create a new image for myself. I’d buy $100 outfits to fit in better. I didn’t want to be that uncool girl everyone talked about.

When we started high school they had grown out of their middle school ways. They would talk about boys, clothes, shopping and parties. I wanted to talk about different stuff, like authors, writing, movies and science fiction.

They started to dress differently. They wore tight shirts, skinny jeans and dresses. I stayed with them because I didn’t want people to see me by myself. I liked popularity and I wanted to have a lot of friends. I’d wear stylish clothing like Ed Hardy and I always had Jordans on my feet.

But even though I was looking nice, dressing to impress wasn’t me. In 10th grade I stopped always shopping for new outfits. I hate shopping. I don’t like to wear flashy clothes unless it’s for a special occasion. School is just school. I’d wear things I was comfortable wearing. I didn’t think anything about it until my friends started saying, “It’s hot outside, why are you wearing a sweater?” They were always trying to tell me how to look. My hair would be in braids or in a bun. They’d say, “How come you never get your hair pressed?” I would say it was too hot and I didn’t want to sweat it out after paying about $50 for it, but in my mind I was screaming, “Shut up! Who cares?”

I didn’t want to hang out with them anymore. But I didn’t think about finding new friends because I felt like no one at school shared my interests and everyone was judgmental.

I gave up on school

Illustration by Amy Fan, 16, Temple City HS

I was upset all the time. Why do people care about how I dress or how I look? School felt like a place just to gossip, not for learning. I didn’t want to be at school anymore so in class I never felt like doing anything. I’d open up a novel I was reading or space out and daydream. I never did my homework or studied for tests. I was so far behind I stopped trying.

In middle school, I got mostly Cs but now I had Ds and Fs on every report card. I had to go to summer school to make up classes but I knew they’d still move me to the next grade. My parents would say, “You’re smarter than this.” I’d say, “I know” and walk away. I didn’t tell them about my problems because I wanted to handle it on my own. What were they going to do? Call the school? I didn’t want any more attention on me.

I wasn’t doing anything after school so I started going to the liquor store. I’d use my allowance to buy Snickers and Twix. I would go home and watch TV and read books and eat. I kept eating even when I was full because I was bored.

My friends started getting on me because I’d gained weight. They’d make indirect comments like, “Maybe we should go to the gym” but some would say, “You know you’re fat, right? You need to go on a diet.” I wanted to say something but I didn’t want any problems. I would try to laugh it off but their words would be stuck in my head. You think I’m fat? It would make me sadder and I’d eat more.

I couldn’t fit in my clothes anymore. I’d wear a long T-shirt so nobody would know that the zipper of my jeans was down. To hide my weight, I covered my body with big jackets I took from my brother’s closet and sweat pants from Walmart. My hair was never combed. I would get in trouble with my counselor and the security guards every time I wore my pajamas and house shoes. I figured I was going to school to sleep anyway so I didn’t feel the need to bother changing. My parents would ask me, “Don’t you want to look nice for school?” but that was the problem—it was just school, the last thing I cared about.

I would still hang out with my so-called friends during snack and lunch, even though they rarely said anything to me. I didn’t want to sit there with no one talking to me so I would read a book. I’d be reading and eavesdropping. They would say, “lets go to the mall” and “lets go to the movies.” They’d invite each other but not me. It sounded so fun. How come I wasn’t invited? I felt really left out. It was me and my books, they were the only friends I had.

During junior year I started maturing. I noticed that no matter what I did to try to fit in, it was never enough. I realized that I was never going to be like them and my style is different because it’s who I am. I would never be popular or the partying type, but I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to be that girl always worrying about looks and boys! I was getting sick of pretending.

When they talked about me I would say something back. When they made jokes about my weight, I would say, “Look at yourself.” They’d say, “I was just playing” or “Don’t take it so serious.” The jokes slowed down.

I was happier alone than being someone I’m not

I started sitting across the room from them in class. I felt better because I was separating myself from them. I didn’t have to try so hard because I was just with myself.

In January of junior year I got caught with a pocketknife in my bag that I had used to secretly peel an orange in psychology class. I was sent to the office and three cops came and arrested me. I got a ticket, went to court and had to do community service.

I was kicked out of my school and transferred to Cerritos High. I felt like I had a chance to start over. Before I started at Cerritos, I started going to the gym and went on a strict diet. I drank only water and ate salads, vegetables and fruit, no meat or carbs. I lost 20 pounds in two weeks! I took off the big coats and baggy sweats. I wore jeans and T-shirts. I still had more weight to lose but I knew my look wouldn’t change overnight. Everything from then on started to fall into place.

My friends from elementary school were at Cerritos. My friends introduced me to other people. Making friends was easy because everyone was friendly and I had confidence. I didn’t have a reason to hide.

On the first day I met a girl in my video game design class through my other friends. She introduced me to everyone in class. She said, “This is my friend Charmaine” and everyone said, “what’s up.” That class became my favorite. The other students would give me advice on my drawings so I could get better. The teacher was chill so he would never get annoyed about us making jokes in class or even at times not doing our work. I felt so comfortable with everyone that I would make jokes too.

One day this boy Josh and I were sitting next to each other talking about my drawing. He said, “You really suck at this.” “What?” “Yeah, you’re terrible.” He said it in a sarcastic way so I knew it was a joke. From then on we were always talking in class. He would change my name from Charmaine to Charizard or Charmander from Pokémon. He would say, “I’m just kidding!” after everything and we would laugh about it and then I would insult him, saying stuff about his big ol’ head or goofy laugh. And then one day he said, “What’s your number?” We started texting each other during and after school. He became one of my best friends. I know that I can always talk to him.

My friends and I had so much in common

At lunch there was no time to read books because I was busy having conversations. I talked with my friends from elementary school and some of the new friends I’d made about movies and art, what we wanted to do when we graduated, and what colleges we wanted to go to. People brought up parties and going out every once in a while, but it wasn’t the same as before when every weekend my other “friends” went to some party.

One day we were talking about books and stories. I said I like to write. One of my friends said she likes to write stories too. Everyone joined in, talking about the authors they liked and their favorite books. It was probably the nerdiest subject ever but we were all having a great time.

I’m glad I got kicked out of my old school. If I hadn’t, I would have still been the outcast. Going to Cerritos, I made more friends and I was really happy. I found myself there. That was the turning point that made me want to do so much more.

My grades improved to Bs and Cs. I wanted to stay healthy and keep the weight off so I started doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and muay Thai, forms of martial arts. I graduated and am going to a community college and plan to transfer to a university.

I look back at what I went through trying to make friends and I think of how much I’ve grown up. I was trying too hard to fit in. Do your own thing and hang out with people who relate to you because you won’t have to worry about stuff you do or what you say because they will accept you for who you are.