I had a hard time as a teenager in school. In fact, I think that’s putting it lightly. As I was going through it at the time, I always focused on a light at the end of the tunnel. One day all of it would be over. This became the torch I carried with me through six years of general non-stop embarrassment. As I got older, though, I slowly began to realize that wasn’t the case. The high school films of old made it look so easy. You take off your braces and you became an adult and the past would fall away like a dead weight. Needless to say, I was very wrong.
There were a couple of issues that made my educational journey a difficult one. The first was the feeling of being overlooked. My sister and I went to the same high school, though not for very long. With five years between us, she was always on the way out just as I was coming in. She was everything I wasn’t; tough, popular, witty, able to command respect without even trying. So long was her shadow, that year after she graduated people would still come up to me and ask if I was her sister. My actual name never factored into the conversation.
My second problem was another thing that was completely out of my control; my face. Everyone knows that the years of adolescence are years of upheaval and transition. Your body is doing things it has never done before. But something I don’t think is discussed enough is how much your face changes during this period. It slowly starts to take on the contours of what you’ll look like in young adulthood. It’s often unsettling and confusing. Having people call you ugly right in front of you definitely doesn’t help matters either. Nevertheless, that’s what happened to me, over and over again. It goes without saying that it did lasting and profound damage to my self-esteem which I am still trying to address and heal to this day.
Almost ten years separate my adolescent self and young adult self. Still, I revert back to my fifteen-year-old body and mind when I run into a classmate that was part of a social hierarchy that I never had access to and still don’t. There are clear lines, after all, this time between those who are cool and those who aren’t. It’s quite clear which side I fall on. I wish I could say that once I exited my high school campus for the last time it ceased to matter to me, but that would be a lie.
The recent Christmas vacation brought all these conflicting emotions into focus for me. I went back home. The familiar faces were everywhere and the work I have done to rid myself of lingering feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem was put to the test. I usually try to avoid places where I know there will be a large congregation of ex-classmates, but I chose not to do that anymore. I determined to start doing things and addressing things that make me uncomfortable. It’s through this discomfort that I know I’m growing. I simply cannot hide anymore. I suppose I could, technically. But I won’t and didn’t.
This isn’t to say I was a perfect person in high school. That was never the case. I made some wonderful friends during this period of my life. I learned to be resilient and not to run away from my problems, but to find ways to cope with them, some less healthy than others. It isn’t even to say I was a particularly kind person either. I could be petulant, annoying, hurtful and spoiled. It’s easy to make yourself the protagonist in your story because the only perspective that’s readily available is yours. However, what sets me apart is that I am well aware of this. Not only that, I made strides to grow mentally and spiritually. I wanted to be able to look back and see how different I was, in a good way. High school may never end for some people in their quest to preserve the strict sects of social groupings (to what end? I don’t know) but for me, moving into a new decade and a new chapter in my life, it finally has.