When I was younger, I wasn't very popular.  And though I wasn't necessarily picked on, I always felt people kept me at a distance because of how I looked.

After my mom died in 1994, I cut off all my hair, ballooned up to 240lbs. I was wearing my pain on the outside.  My body spoke for me because I hadn't figured out a healthy way to express my hurt with words.

The most amazing thing happened, though.  People rallied around me.  Some of the most popular kids in my grade became a protective shield for me -- checking in with me, saying hi.  Just the basic kindnesses.

By the time I got to HS, I was put into a bereavement group with other kids who have lost a parent.  J lost her mother, F1&V lost their dad, and F2 lost his dad I believe.  These people became my part of my family.  To this day there is a very special place in my heart for them.  Even when I went off to college and really experienced the grief over the loss of my mother for the first time in a sincere way, I knew that I wasn't alone in what I was going through as I carried them with me.

Before he graduated (he was a year ahead of us), F1 pulled me aside and said "One day people are going to wish they were nicer to you.  You're going to be a knockout."

I mean, even as I am writing this, I'm getting tears in my eyes.  One of the most popular and well-liked guys in the whole entire school really got me.  Not only that, but he let down the barrier of HS social protocol to tell me.  On my worst days I remember this.  On my best days I remember this.

I remember his coming home from Marine Boot Camp the following year and barely being able to get out of my car.  I just cried and cried after seeing him because I was so proud of the man he had become.  And I was thankful for what he did for me -- he basically said that all the jokes at my expense, all the lonely nights crying wishing I had a better lot in life would be worth it.  I didn't care whether I'd be a model in others' eyes, all I really cared about back then was at least being worthy of being looked at, talked to, respected, and even loved.

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<3 Robby