As far as I know, I was never popular. I never won any beauty pageants and the one I came in first runner-up at was a fluke because I wasn’t there. At the time my accomplishments were great enough (for a 16-year-old) that I nearly won the whole thing. On paper.
The smart one. The bookworm. The wallflower. Sometime in either late elementary school or early junior high I figured out the labels that best fit me and embraced them. I was clumsy and would never be athletic. I was chubby and awkward and would never be a cheerleader. Never be homecoming queen.
Words that came from my mouth were never eloquent. I stumbled and stuck my foot in my mouth all the time. Give me a piece of paper to write on though and I could spin you a yarn. Write you a poem. Plot out a letter to make you change your mind. Make you believe.
I was a dreamer and a thinker. Content to read my books and revel in my hopes and wishes for the future. Always watching, I can be truthful about it now — I never felt like I was a “part” of anything. Ever. In my entire life before college, I never felt like I fit in. It’s not something that I lament nowadays. Looking around me, I see some of the things that I was spared. One thing that does stick with me though is that I never felt like I was anyone’s best friend. Throughout my life I have gone through a handful of what I believed to be bosom friends (there I go with the Anne-speak again), but I never felt (or knew) that there was anyone who would choose me over everyone else. As a child I chalked it up to me being different from everyone else.
It was as if I had figured out my place in the world (for the time being) and I was going to sit quietly and wait my turn.
I’m not sure what I expected. When “my time came,” what was it going to look like? My senior year I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” I would like to know what my classmates thought success was back then. To be honest, I can’t remember too much about what my view of success was.
What I knew, from a very young age, was what I was good at. If there was nothing else in this world that I could do, this would sustain me.
You see, I could write.
In my mind, there was very little hope for me outside the pages of a book. I can remember sitting at a slumber party in middle school, watching Never Been Kissed and being petrified. Luckily in my school experience, I had never been really terrorized. Never had an entire cafeteria full of kids shouting a cruel name my direction. But seeing that character onscreen…all I could see was me.
And all I could think was, I have to stop this from happening.
Because, the frump thing? Totally plausible. Spouting off ridiculous grammar rules and thinking they’re impressive? Oh yeah. And the whole, I never had a boyfriend until I was 21-years-old, much less had I been kissed – thing? Ding ding ding!
This entire post is some kind of crazy tangent, but I promise you there was a reason I started it and I’ll get there somehow. Just circling the barn a few times.
Good on paper. I could ace any research paper or essay exam you handed me. Write my way out of a rabbit hole. Draw up a resume to impress the best. And I could cover letter my way right into your heart. Somewhere along the way, I let the “me” on paper define who I was. It wasn’t until I reached a point in my life where my accomplishments didn’t impress anyone outside of my little town that I was able to let go and just be.
There were moments in college when I thought that big university was going to swallow me whole. There wouldn’t be anything to it. I could disappear into that mess. But I didn’t. When I started out, I had gone the practical route. I was going to be a teacher. After a few semesters I realized, however capable and qualified I was to be an educator, that was not my passion. I changed my major and took my first writing class. And in that class I wrote a monologue about a little girl, a whole lot like me. It wasn’t until I was up in front of that class, giving that monologue, that I realized she was me. That voice in the story was the same one from my mouth. When her voice cracked, so did mine. When her sorrow became apparent to the audience it was because it was authentic and personal. And mine.
I was always good on paper. It’s where I found myself. And I’ve never been the same.