Slightly Different
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“Slightly Different,” Friend, Feb. 1985, 36

Slightly Different

Pam had never really thought of herself as being different. She had always known, of course, that she was Korean and that she had been adopted by Mom and Dad when she was just a baby. She loved to hear the story about how her parents went to the airport to get her and how excited they were to have the baby placed in their arms. She enjoyed looking at the special album her mother had, which contained her medical report, a brief history, and several pictures. She giggled at the two small pictures of the chubby baby in the strange Korean woman’s arms. Her mom always told her that she and Dad had taken one look at those pictures and said, “Yes, we want that child!”

But today she didn’t feel wanted as she huddled in a corner of the school yard and tried to keep the tears from falling. Just a few minutes ago their teacher, Mrs. Macy, had lined them up by the door and asked,

“All right, who’s turn is it to be the line leader for kickball today?”

“Me! Me!” Randy had demanded loudly.

Mrs. Macy had been gentle but firm. “Randy, you were leader last week.” After checking her list, she had given the ball to Pam.

When they were outside, Randy had come up to Pam and demanded to be the leader.

“It’s my turn. I want to do it,” Pam had said, clutching the ball more tightly.

“Come on, Pam. Let me do it.”

“No.”

“You dumb Chinese!”

The words had come out harshly and spitefully. Pam had frozen. Randy, pleased to be getting a reaction from her, had continued, “You don’t even belong in this country. You’re not like us at all! Why don’t you just go back to where you came from?”

Pam had felt the eyes of her other classmates boring into her. No one had said a word. Pam had dropped the ball and had run across the field.

It was hard to go back to the classroom when the bell rang. Pam slumped down in her seat all afternoon and didn’t speak to anyone. The minute school was over, she rushed out of the building and raced home. She gave her mother a brief hello, then locked herself in the bathroom. She stared at her slanted eyes, olive complexion, and straight black hair. She was different!

Pam barely said anything during dinner, but it all came pouring out when her mother brought out a pink brocade Oriental jacket she had bought for Pam.

Pam’s thank-you for the gift was barely audible.

“Don’t you like it?” her mother asked. “I think it’s beautiful.”

“No, I don’t!” Pam burst out. “It looks Oriental. I want to look like everyone else!”

Her parents exchanged glances. “What happened today, Pam?” her mother asked quietly.

Pam told them about what Randy had said and how the rest of the class had stared at her.

“Randy is mistaken,” Dad said. “First of all, you are not Chinese; you are Korean. You’re certainly not dumb. And what is most important to us, you are our daughter, and we love you very much.”

Talking to her parents helped. Pam felt secure in their love for her. But she still dreaded going to school the next day. She waited until the very last bell had rung before hurrying to her seat. She stared straight ahead throughout the class period, and when recess time came, she went to a corner of the field and stayed by herself. She didn’t talk to anyone the whole day, not even to Patti, her best friend. When school was over, and Patti started toward her, to walk home together the way they usually did, Pam hurried away.

Pam kept to herself the next week too. She didn’t play with anyone at school, and she spent her time at home reading in her room. Her mother urged her to go out and play with her friends, but Pam just shook her head.

The following Monday she walked home slowly. There was no need to hurry anymore, because Patti no longer tried to catch up with her. Pam was just heading into the field across from the service station when she heard a low whine. Something or somebody was in trouble! She stopped and listened. There it was again, a whine of pain just to her left. She hesitantly walked toward it. Bending down, she saw a dog tangled in some brush so that it couldn’t get free. While she spoke soothingly to the dog, Pam gently freed his trapped leg.

It was after she had untangled the dog and he was licking her hand gratefully that Pam got her first real look at him. He was the funniest-looking dog that she had ever seen. He had one huge black patch around one eye, and his nose was bent to one side. His ears were way too long for his short body, and Pam saw that his legs were short and bowlegged.

As Pam started for home again, the dog waddled along right behind her. “Go away now!” Pam told him firmly. “Go home!”

But the dog kept following her. When she reached her house, she wondered, What am I going to do with him? She knelt down and scratched him behind the ears. Again the dog’s tongue licked her. Pam sighed and went into the house, her new friend right at her heels.

“Pam, what is that!” Mother exclaimed.

Pam explained how she had found the dog and how he had followed her home. “He’s awfully skinny, Mom—can I feed him something?” she pleaded.

Worried about the dog’s ownership but happy to see Pam interested in something again, her mother went to the refrigerator for some leftover meat.

Pam spent the rest of the afternoon with the dog. She decided to call him Hector. After she gave him a bath with the garden hose, she brushed his coat until it was dry and shining. Then she found a stick and tried to teach him to chase it. When Hector got the idea and bounded eagerly after the stick with his curious lopsided gait, Pam laughed with delight. By the time her father came home, she thought Hector was the cutest dog she’d ever seen.

“What’s that?” Dad asked.

Pam giggled. “A dog!” She explained again how she had found him. “I call him Hector. Can we keep him? Oh, please! Can we?” she pleaded as her mother joined them in the backyard.

Her father knelt down beside her and Hector. “OK—but only if you check the newspaper. He probably belongs to someone, honey.”

“I will, Dad, but I’m sure he doesn’t! There’s no collar or anything. Please. I love him!”

“That funny looking thing?”

“He’s not funny looking!”

“What do you mean? Look at that patch, that nose, those legs.”

Pam drew Hector protectively into her arms. “But I like him! Just because he looks a little different from other dogs doesn’t mean that he isn’t the most super dog in the world. I love the way he looks.”

Her father stroked her hair. “Why, Pam. Do you mean that a dog—or a person—can look different and still be very wonderful and very loved?”

“Yes! That’s what I like about Hector. He’s different! He’s—” she stopped as she realized the point her father was making. Maybe she was a little different from the other kids, but Dad and Mom and Mrs. Macy and her friend Patti liked her just as she was!

Dad went into the house, and Pam sat outside for a long time, thinking and stroking Hector’s back. At last she got up and went into the house, with Hector following her. Her parents were sitting in the living room.

“I’m going to call Patti,” she said. “I want to see if she can come over after dinner and meet Hector.”

Illustrated by Beth M. Whittaker