Dear Shel Silverstein,
As a child, reading your book Where the Sidewalk Ends was one of my favorite things to do. My parents, who also read your book when they were children, introduced it to me so that we could experience it together. Before I could read they would recite the silly, yet profound, poems from this book out loud so that I could experience them. As I learned to read on my own I continued to enjoy your words and the comical world they depicted. It was a joyous time; a point in life when innocence ruled, laughter was abundant and the sun always seemed to shine- a time when "everyone hugs instead of tugs, when everyone giggles and rolls on the rug."
When I started grade school I began to move on to chapter books that had more plot action. I put your book back onto the bookshelf where it remained for a long time, like a forgotten friend. Throughout elementary school I was playing with friends, learning how to multiply numbers and become a better reader. I was still happy, but my happiness was rooted in reality; I did not have to run to a fictional world to find joy.
During my first year of Junior High I met many new friends, but in 8th grade a series of events led to the loss of all of them. I matured much faster than most of the friends I had made which had made it very difficult for us to relate to each other. We did not like the same music and I wore different cloths than most of them. They did not accept that I was stepping out of the cookie-cutter mold than they fashioned themselves after. People who I used to consider my best friends started calling me names and making me feel like an outcast. Because I wore a lot of black clothing, people would shout out "emo" or "freak" when they saw me. The lowest point was when two of my closest "friends" started calling me a "whore" because a boy that they liked started giving me more attention. After being besieged with this malicious abuse for so long, I began to believe that what they were saying tebe was true. I was so overwhelmed by the negativity that I allowed my mind to convince myself that their insensitive words were true and that I deserved to be alone. I became introverted and I started to isolate myself from everyone. Suddenly all of my friends were gone and I felt utterly alone. I told myself that it was my fault; I had driven them all away because I was the weird kid that did not fit in. I found myself hating the person that I was and in a futile attempt to make the pain go way I started cutting myself. The sun I once relished was replaced with a blackness that consumed all the light that used to shine inside of me.
One night, when the emotional agony was "almost too much to bear, I was preparing to scar my body yet again when I looked over to my bookshelf and saw my old friend that I had tucked away years ago. Desperate for any ray of sunshine on this, my darkest day, I retrieved my worn out copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. I began to revisit this world that once brought me unending happiness. As I read the fanciful poems, I slowly began to escape from my dreary reality. Soon I stumbled across the poem "Rain." I have no idea how many times I had read these lines before but suddenly they took on a whole new meaning. The first words are "I opened my eyes" and that night I wiped away my tears and did just that. I realized that the "rain" was all of the judgmental criticisms that my insensitive classmates heaped upon me. Each word, "emo," "whore," "freak," a new raindrop that had "flowed into my brain," building puddle after puddle, threatened to drown my inner light. And what had I done? Just what the child in the poem did; I stepped "very softly," and I walked "very slow." I let their false accusations, their lack of understanding, cause me to tread lightly, to not "do a handstand," I let them take away my will to live. I had given them the power to turn my thoughts "wild crazy."
That night, thanks to my old friend, I decided to allow the sun to shine again. I had let those nasty words, those fat raindrops of hatred, to drown my soul and to take away my inner sunshine. I knew that that sad, withdrawn girl was not who I was; I was better than that, stronger than that. Who cares what my so-called friends thought? I could be whoever I wanted to be as long as / was happy with the person I was. Why had I given them authority over my happiness? I am a smart, creative, free thinking individual and only I control my own destiny. I did not need to watch the rain as it slowly drowned my soul. I could go out and dance in that rain! I would let those raindrops full of hateful words bounce right off! So thank you, Mr. Silverstein, for being such an influential part of my life and for providing me with the perfect support at a time when things were anything but perfect. I am once again basking in the sunshine as I have realized that I need to "just listen to the voice that speaks inside," because it is an amazing voice that should not be quieted.