I hadn't wanted to leave the safety of my private Christian school, where I could be free with my faith. It was only after the first day of public school that I realized that I had been so blessed to have gone to a Christian school. So blessed to have Christian parents that shook me awake every Sunday morning.
At the time, I had thought that it was the wrong decision to move. But when I thought about it now, I believed that it was the right choice. It was a new town, a new place and a new city. It was a new path to take, and although hard, I had learned.
At my private Christian school, I had great relationships with everyone. My teachers were considered my friends. My friends were always there for me. Even some of the people I didn't talk to a lot smiled at me when we passed each other in the hallways. Perhaps there were cliques and popular people, but never to the extent of public schools.
I remembered walking through the double glass doors at the front entrance, my eyes were wide at the sheer size of the school. My school was infinitely smaller, only three hundred students. I had searched for my friend, Fiona, who went to the same school. We went to the same church and met only a week before. I was glad I chose to wear inconspicuous clothes. I didn't want to stand out in a place like this. With my black jeans, white shirt, maroon cardigan and old sneakers, I faded into the background. There were girls who were cute dresses. I blanched at the length of them. There were slits in the back, showing the smooth skin of the small of their backs. I would have gotten a lecture if I wore that to my previous school. I silently observed the people that walked by as I waited for Fiona.
Fiona never showed. I didn't see her the entire day. Instead, I met new people. They were Christians as well, blending into the background. They loved God as much as I did, but they didn't do anything about it.
This school was so different. Soon, two weeks passed.
I was a smart kid. I did all my homework before the due dates and never procrastinated. When I handed my tests in first, the kids stared at me as if I was disgusting. I smiled at my teachers and the kids that passed me in the hallways. The other kids thought I was crazy. I was puzzled. I had thought everybody joked with their teachers – at least they did in my old school.
It didn't work like that.
In the showers after P.E., I sang Christian songs. Fiona had told me to shut up because nobody liked it. After that day, I started to change.
It wasn't a good change.
I started to stand out, but for all the wrong reasons. I didn't stay quiet in the showers, but I sang pop culture songs instead. Songs with horrible, tasteless lyrics. The message was all wrong, but people loved me for it. They told me I had a beautiful voice, but only when I was singing pop songs. During tests, I would wait until I was the last person to hand in my tests. I would never show anybody my test scores, for I was afraid they would be disgusted when they saw the A's. I stopped smiling at other kids and I stopped talking to my teachers.
It was a slow change. By the end of the year, I was popular. I had beautiful friends who hung on my every word. Fiona, who had ditched me in the beginning of the year, called herself my best friend.
I wasn't popular because they liked who I was. I was popular because I changed myself. Because I was friends with other popular people. Popular because I was the captain of the volleyball and basketball team. Because I was pretty and had a nice singing voice. I was mean to the kids that were not as well-liked as I was. I called myself a Christian, but in truth, I was the opposite.
I was changed.
The next year, I noticed the most popular boy in school look at me. Jason. During our mutual classes, he would shoot side-glances at me. He would sit next to me during homeroom. He became a close friend of mine.
I tried to change back to how I was before. A devoted Christian. But I couldn't. The desire to fit in and to be popular overwhelmed me. Jason was my close friend only because he was popular. That was the only reason for my 'friends'.
The previous year, I had felt guilty when I bullied the other kids. I had felt disgust when I laughed at inappropriate jokes. Now I felt none of that. I was numb.
I was at the top. I earned it. Why would I ever change? I called myself stupid for trying to change back. I continued my dominancy. Cute boys would wink at me as I passed them in the hallways. I winked back and flipped my hair. I didn't flirt with them because I liked them. Only because they were good-looking and popular. I was shallow and self-centred. I gossiped with others and my previous values were forgotten. Fiona had approved of my behaviour.
My 'friends' didn't mind at all. They leeched onto me, just as I did to them. We fed off each other's popularity. Jessica was only popular because she had a gorgeous figure. Fiona was only popular because she was one of the biggest gossipers in school. Carly was popular because her boyfriend was a quarterback on the school's football team.
I giggled with them about the stupidest things. About sex. About boys. About a dance that was happening soon. I dressed differently and I spoke differently. I hid it all from my parents.
I was stuck in a cycle. I told myself I was content, but a hole was in my heart. A craving filled me, as did hopelessness. I didn't know where it came from. I continued to popular, but it didn't satisfy me. I told myself I just needed to be even more popular. I
I didn't pray. I didn't read the Bible. I didn't praise God anymore. I forgot Him, but my heart could never forget someone as great as the Almighty God.
Winter came. Jason asked me out. He asked me to the Winter Formal. I could only say yes. Who could say no to a beautiful, blond and blue-eyed boy? His appearance was all I could see. I couldn't see his heart underneath. I used to be so observant. That was gone.
I dressed up nice and pretty for the Winter Formal. My friends gushed over me, just as I gushed over them. It felt so false. I wore a maroon dress because they told me I looked great in maroon. The hem of the dress touched the floor as I walked gracefully, arm in arm with Jason – the most popular boy in school. The back of my dress was nothing but ribbons. If you untied one of them, the whole dress would fall apart. The dress' corset clung onto my curves while the skirt flowed out. I would have never worn this dress before.
Jason told me I was beautiful. That was all that mattered.
I was slowly becoming too powerful, though. Jessica started to hate me because she liked Jason. She spread rumours about me. Jason didn't listen, though. Carly, however, was a different story. They sent me messages filled with hate through Facebook. Fiona stopped talking to me.
I still had some friends. I was still popular.
Everything fell apart when Jason broke up with me. He was the only source to my popularity. I was humiliated. Jason told me I wasn't the girl he liked from the first year. He told me I was different. I told him that he needed to find a better excuse and I stalked away from him, brushing the tears away as I fled to the bathroom.
Popularity lost, friends gone and boyfriend missing, I fell back into the background. Nobody remembered my name. They didn't bother remembering a name that nobody cared about. I was bitter. Jason glanced at me occasionally in the hallways. I would stubbornly look away.
I found myself back with the Christians who did not speak.
"You changed," one girl had said. I found out her name was Sophia. "You used to be the best out of us. The one who showed the school that being a Christian was something different and good. Now you're nothing but a clone of them," she said bluntly, pointing to the popular clique who was sitting down at their table.
I used to sit at that table.
I shut my eyes. A tear leaked through. I had changed and I finally saw it. I didn't see Jason, staring at the tear that fell onto my oversized hoodie. I realized later that it was his hoodie.
Sophia became my best friend. My true best friend. We would talk and laugh. This time, I didn't' feel guilty. I dressed decently, but with taste. My clothing was simple, modest and stylish. Never scandalous. I sold my maroon dress on eBay. I sold every maroon item in my closet. It was too painful. I couldn't wear maroon again. I decided to wear navy blues instead.
With my old sneakers, I braved the hallways again. I smiled at my teachers. I didn't bother to wait until the last minute to hand in my tests. I sang Christian songs in the shower and would only sing louder when people told me to shut up. Sophia would join in. It gave me the strength to go on. I would say please and thank you and never swore.
A girl had walked up to me one day. "I'm glad you're back," she said. I found out later that her name was Rachel. She became one of my closest friends later on.
I began to pray again. I asked the Holy Spirit to renew my heart. That night, I cried myself to sleep. Not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy, because I could feel God embracing me, holding me and protecting me.
He was always there. I just ignored Him.
One day, Jason walked up to me and asked me out again. It was so tempting. I wanted to be his girlfriend. I wanted to be popular again. But I couldn't fall back into that black hole. I politely said no, but offered to be friends. He looked a little melancholy, but agreed.
The messages of hate didn't stop. I deleted my Facebook, my Ask FM, my Tumblr, my Snapchat, my Google Plus, my Instagram. I deleted every social media website I had. The messages didn't stop. They texted me. They told me I was hideous. That I was using Jason to be popular again. They told me I was a wanna-be – a person who was false and wanted to be popular.
Sophia and Rachel grew mad. They had a shouting match with Fiona, Jessica and Carly. I was grateful for them. I thanked God for friends like them, who supported me.
After an in-class essay in English, I went to the girls' bathroom, meaning to wash my face. I was tired because I hadn't gotten much sleep last night. Studying for a Social Studies test had never been harder.
I sighed as I walked into the bathroom. I heard gagging sounds when the door shut behind me. Concerned, I knocked on the only closed stall door. "Are you alright?" I asked. There was no response. "I'll call a teacher," I decided and when I moved to leave, the door opened.
The toilet flushed before she said, "Don't." Fiona stood in front of me. I wrinkled my nose. Her breath was awful. Then I realized what was happening. She had just purged the food she ate at lunch. Before, I had marvelled at the fast pace she ate. I had wondered how she was so thin. Bulimia nervosa.
She began to cry, falling onto the tiled floors. "Don't tell anybody," she pleaded through her tears. I knelt down in front of her, making sure she looked into my green eyes.
"Why do you do this to yourself?" I questioned. It was a stupid answer. I already knew the answer. Because I'm not beautiful. Because I'm too fat. Because I need to be skinnier.
Fiona didn't realize she was already so beautiful. "Do you know that you're beautiful?" I asked abruptly. "You know that I am a Christian. You used to go to church. I believe that God made you. He made every fiber of your being. Because of that, you are beautiful. He loves you so much and he knows everything about you." I didn't know where these words came from. Normally, I was an awkward speaker. "The craving you have… to be loved, adored…" I paused. "God can fill that desire. You are His creation. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Don't you ever forget that."
I stood. "You don't need to be like those models on billboards. You are so beautiful, because you are created by the Maker."
I walked to the exit before turning around, Fiona's eyes still on me. "I won't tell anybody, but you have to promise to see someone about this. A doctor. Your parents. Tell your grandmother who can't speak English. Tell someone."
I went to my locker, where Sophia and Rachel met me. I forgot to wash my face, but that didn't matter. I was already wide awake.
Slowly, my friends and I gained respect among our peers. We were no longer hiding in the background. We took risks with our faith. We made a Bible club. My math teacher supported this and we managed to create one.
Christians and non-Christians alike came to our weekly sessions. We cried together as the presence of God filled us. We laughed together as we bonded. We supported each other in a school where Christians were scarce.
I spearheaded the club, refusing to back down when the popular cliques scoffed at us. I met their gaze with my own.
Jason sat at our weekly sessions sometimes. He stayed in the back, a thoughtful expression always on his face. Sometimes, I would see him pray. I never felt happier.
One day, Fiona walked in, her head down and eyes on her feet. We welcomed her in with open arms.
We were starting a change and this time, it was a good change.
Basketball season came. I was chosen to be captain, even though some people didn't like my presence on the team. I prayed before every game and clapped for the other teams. My coach gave me a prize for best sportsmanship.
I was not the best player on the team, but I enjoyed the sport. Every morning, I would go to school early and practice by myself. The coach allowed me to use the gym before school started and I would work on my dribbling and shooting.
One morning, I found another person in there. Sweating profusely, Jason was shooting threes. He missed every one. He sprinted down the court, dribbling with his right hand. He did a lay-up and missed. He shot from the free throw line. He always missed.
I was surprised. He was the best shooter on the team. Growling in frustration, Jason chucked the ball at the wall and sank to his knees. I jumped.
Jason looked up and finally noticed me there. His blue gaze pierced me as I neared him. He stood abruptly and made for the exit. He brushed past me and I reached out. I grabbed onto his wrist. "Wait."
Jason was silent. I didn't know what to say, but he had frozen and I needed to say something. "Are you okay?" I winced. That was the stupidest question to ask.
"Fine," he said stiffly. He started moving again and my hand slipped into his. I didn't dare lace my fingers through his like I used to.
"Fine always means bad," I told him. He didn't reply. "Please," I said earnestly. "Talk to me." Jason was my good friend. I couldn't stand to see him like that. He was lost. He turned to me, his blue eyes shining with unshed tears as he gazed down at me. He was much taller than I was. I was slightly intimidated, but I didn't back away.
I had loved him, I thought. Jason used to be my number one priority. I ditched church and youth group for him. That couldn't happen again. I emptied my head of bad thoughts.
Finally, he wrapped me in an embrace, burying his head in the crook of my neck as he shook with sobs.
I sat him down on the bench and kept my hand in his. I did the only thing I could. I sat quietly and listened.
His mom died of cancer just last week. He found out that his youngest sister was dealing with depression at the age of twelve. He was failing his favourite subject, English, and his English teacher was disappointed in him.
"If God was real," he had said bitterly, "why would He let this happen?"
Then I began to speak. I told him of my failures and my past. I had let popularity consume me. I had questioned God and yelled at Him when I lost my popularity. I empathized with Jason, crawling back into the black hole that he was trapped inside.
A month later, he accepted Christ. A month later, he asked me out.
I said the only thing I could say.
Struggles still met me, all the days of my life. Believing in Christ doesn't magically make your life brilliant. In fact, it makes it harder. But it is worth the pain and toil. Christ died for me. My pain was only a fraction of what he felt. Sometimes, I failed to resist temptation. Other times, I succeeded. God was by me the whole time. Jason asked me to marry him. We felt the overwhelming love of Jesus Christ as we exchanged our vows.
When Jason died, I almost broke down. I was forty-nine. A car accident was what took him away from me. I questioned God. I asked him why. I was so frustrated. I screamed at Jesus. Why would he do this to me?
But I couldn't abandon my three children. They needed me. I couldn't abandon them to the harsh cruelty of the world. My eldest child was only twenty-four. She was considered an adult, but in truth, she was just a child. Just like I was.
It took me four years to heal. Four long years of being angry. Four long years of screaming why. Four long years of crying, alone at night, wishing I could feel the warmth of Jason on the other side of the bed. It was always cold.
One day, I accepted it. It was God's plan to take him away. God's plan to make me stronger. Jason didn't have to feel the pain of the world anymore.
I was eighty-nine when I died. My eldest child was already retiring. Dying wasn't like anything I thought it would be. It was simply darkness. And when I woke, I waited at the gate of judgement, and Jesus let me in. I found Jason. I found my children. God's overwhelming love filled me. It was the only thing I needed to survive.
I wanted for nothing.
This is not a true story. I wrote this because I felt like many teenage girls were struggling through some of the aspects of this story as well. I just wanted to write this. It's a mess, but I know at least one person can relate to a part of this.