It is my belief that many of us have a handful of memories that seem to be etched on the surface of our very brains and exist in such sharp vividness that will never be forgotten.
For me, one such moment occurred in primary school. To be fair, I’m sure we all have more than a few painful stories from our time in primary school, despite many adults in our lives insisting that this was one of the best time in our existence.
I was twelve-years-old and ready for primary school to be done. At this point I had little no friendships and often found the lunch bell anxiety-inducing. Would everyone notice I was walking out to the yard alone? Would the teachers give me that thin-lipped, pitying smile?
It was May of 2007 and we were blessed with weeks of sunshine. I remember this because I debated using my severe hay fever as an excuse to stay inside during lunchtime more than once. Even if I would be called a loner and a loser, it seemed preferable. Perhaps it was my fledging stubborn streak that made me walk outside alone.
My baby cousin ran to me as I walked through the younger kids’ yard eating some cream crackers. He hugged me hard around the waist. God, that hug felt good. That is, of course, until he asked; “Why aren’t you with your friends?”
The sting lasted until I made it to the yard designated for the older kids. Girls huddled in corners of the basketball court, eyes lighting up when they saw me alone, drove me to my usual refuge – soccer. On this particular day, I was rewarded for my choice by being made a team captain, much to every boy’s irritation. Still, my chest swelled with a little spark of joy as I picked my team. I picked kids not for their soccer skills (which, in hindsight, may have helped me live a quieter life), but based on who was usually picked last, alongside myself.
The losers, loners and so-called fridgets (I shudder at the word) of our small community were now my unruly band of misfits. It’s worth noting that we were all deeply untalented when it came to soccer but I didn’t care. We’d all been chosen first for once and it was not likely to happen again.
My team cared though. By the time the second half was coming around, we were losing both brutally and predictably. Hoping that I could usurp the role of my childhood literary heroes, I gave a Hermione Granger worthy speech, bravely and dramatically commenting on the importance of perseverance and endurance. I think I might even have compared winning a lunchtime soccer game to climbing Everest.
It goes without saying that it didn’t go over well. I stood boldly, hands on my hips, when the soccer ball was kicked with force into my face by my own teammates.
“Why do you always have to be like that?” One of the boys demanded of me, before spitting on the grass and shoving past me.
Why do you have to be like that?
The question ricocheted around my skull, seeming to hum the knowledge that not just who I was, but HOW I was as a young girl, was fundamentally wrong.
Now, as I approach my twenty-sixth birthday, this feeling of shame has become a regular costumer at the bar of my life, pulling up a stool every time anyone (typically men) put me down and I am insecure enough – or simply so young – that I believe them. These are the moments that my mind will not allow me to forget.
“Come on, don’t be like that-” A colleague whispered to me at a work event even after I had said no.
“Sometimes, I just don’t like what you have to say.” An ex’s words are branded on my heart, rattling the courage of my convictions for a moment that seems to stretch into years.
“Sometimes your betters just know what’s better.” A family member said as a joke that seemed to be missing the laugh track.
“I miss the old Jen! She was so much fun!” A friend comments innocently, not realising that hazy memories of nightclub tears swirl in my mind like a bitter poison from the past.
“I’m honestly not in the mood for you right now.” A resounding rejection that I took personally, despite telling myself that this wasn’t about me.
“Have you ever tried to lighten up for half a second?” Another family member at another family event. Everyone else laughed.
All of these surmount to one single question, asked by the masses, of so many of us as we try our best to get through the day;
“Can you just not?”
Not be you. Except the messages are always mixed, shuffling constantly like a deck of cards. Opinions change like the weather. Liven up, quieten down. Speak up, don’t interject. Be confident, but never loud. Can you just be anything other than how you are?
Without realising it, the words we say to others can inflict untold amounts of damage. This leaves us with heavy hearts on drives home that would have been entirely different if we had just thought before we spoke. I don’t doubt that my own words are branded on others in this world and that is an irresponsibility I choose to learn from.
If you have ever been told that your means of existence is incorrect; I cannot make that pain go away. But remember this – the world has never been made better by the blended masses with hate in their hearts, used to mask their own insecurity. The world is reborn and remade by the dreamers, the unique, the elaborate and the honest. Feel how you feel, be how you are, exist fully and wholly in the knowledge that the world is made better by your existence, ever before you change yourself to fit in. Pick a soccer team of losers, loners and fridgets who simply needed to be picked.
Take up space. Loudly.