When I was in third grade, my family moved from Virginia to Arkansas in the middle of the year. Let me tell you–it wasn’t an optimal time for me, and making friends with girls who have lived in a small town together all their lives is about as easy as joining The Skulls.
Except way harder.
I was permanently labeled “the new girl”. Those Arkansas girls’ cliques were locked down by that point–I felt sick on the way to school and I cried on the way home. But I was fortunate enough to have my sisters, and my parents, and my art–because at 8 years old, I could draw like a mofo. And I did so, like, a lot. Teachers noticed and encouraged me to enter a few of my drawings in the school-wide art contest. I totally pwned with a detailed cityscape in color pencil on construction paper, and walked away with a blue ribbon. 3rd grade was looking up.
Until one day, in my front row desk, I heard a snotty voice strike up right next to me. “Ug, you know that new girl, Toni?” asked a teeny pretty little girl named Kristy. “Yeah, ugh, I cannot stand her,” piped up another girl named Mary, who sat directly behind me. “Her city drawing is soooo stupid.” “Oh, I know and the ‘Hotel’ letters were all crooked. I can’t believe she won first prize.” I remember tears welling up in my eyes as I tried to ignore them. They had a good laugh and went on to talk about something else, but I was stuck in that moment for the rest of the school year.
I don’t know what Kristy and Mary were trying to prove with their uglyass crayon scribblings of what appeared to be mutant ponies, but I do know that their blatant diss of my treasured city drawing crushed my little artistic soul that day. I hated school. I hated the drawing. I hated my blue ribbon. And worst of all? The ‘Hotel’ sign in my city drawing was crooked.
Things eventually got better. I made a bunch of other, way cooler friends, who knew artistic expertise when they saw it. I kept drawing and playing and ignoring, and letting whatever other passive-aggressive insults that were flung my way roll in one ear and right out the other. Whatever had crawled up Kristy’s and Mary’s butts eventually became dislodged, and they were nice to me. And so there you have it–my bully experience.
Funny thing: I kept drawing that same old city–tall buildings, rows of windows, streetlights. I perfected different versions: what I thought New York City would look like (similar to Sesame Street, apparently), what I knew Naples, Italy to look like. I drew Pensacola complete with a boardwalk and (wait for it) hotels. A few generic cities and, most recently, this little baby. It was super fun to create, and I figured, a future buyer might be interested in a little bit of backstory. Also please notice the stunning lack of “Hotel” signage. It is for a good reason I left out this tiny detail.