Rose Reatherford • staff writer

I think I stopped listening when I turned 18. All my life, I only heard what I never wanted to hear. When I talk to people about what came out of their mouths, people tell me they are things that no one should ever have so casually tossed in their direction. I think it started when I was seven. I’m not really sure anymore, as I’ve come to realize I have some form of brain damage that occurred when I was 13 or that I have all together suppressed the memories of my childhood out of some self-defense mechanism. I had always been a huge fan of reading. I’d read things way beyond what I should have been able to understand. I loved escaping into the world of words that danced around my head day and night. Looking back, I don’t question what I was trying to escape from.
I had always been a little different from other kids. I think I knew that I was. They avoided me, and, at night, I would cry because I was so lonely because I had made no friends. I didn’t feel hated, though, or like there was some great conspiracy to avoid me. There was always the strange child who everyone made up stories about or called gross. I wasn’t that child. No one ever spoke of me, but no one ever spoke to me.
So it was one day that my aunt asked me if I’d made any friends at school. I mumbled and stalled on the question. Finally, I managed to mutter out a “no”. She looked down at me then, squared me in the eyes and said, “Of course, no one would want to be friends with a girl like you.” Then I looked at myself: Quiet, mousy, always a book in hand, and far too chattery when you got me talking. I looked at myself and I felt ashamed. For the first time, I felt ashamed of who I was, what I did, and what I looked like. I hated myself. I was seven years old and I hated myself. I hated everything about me. Who would want to be friends with a girl like me?
From that point on, I only heard harsh words. “You walk with your head down, your shirt has spots, you say weird things, you read too much, your hair is greasy, you… you… you….” The list goes on. So I stopped being myself. Somewhere along the way, I used those words as ammunition and buried myself under a pile of self-hatred. I plastered a mask on and took up the role of someone else. It was only when I turned 18 did I truly look at myself and the mask I’d worn. I changed it out to fit the image other people wanted me to wear. I was tired of hiding. I was tired of people telling me who to be and what to look like.
It took me a long time to stop listening. It took me even longer to stop hiding. I still find myself putting up a mask and having to stop it. I think I like this better though. I like knowing that my friends like me for who I am, not who I’m pretending to be. I lost some friends, but I lost the friends who didn’t love me for who I was, just who I could be for them. I wasn’t ashamed to laugh at the things I laughed at, dance awfully to the music I loved, or wear clothes that made me comfortable. It was hard, and it took time. But it’s possible.

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