How It Feels to Be Shy Me

You make up stories about what I was like before you knew me, as if I were a character in your latest narrative, working title: My Life.

You know who I am. I am the girl who wears big round glasses and clothes that were never in style. I am the girl who sits by herself at lunch, silently reading a book, sometimes moving her lips to form inaudible dialogue. I am the girl who gets to class before everyone else, picks a front-row seat, has color-coordinated folders and notebooks. I am the girl who doesn’t say anything unless it’s to answer a question. I am the girl who walks by herself to and from everywhere.
I know you whisper to all of your friends about how I am a nerd, or a know-it-all, or a loser, or an outcast, or a loner. You make up stories about what I was like before you knew me, as if I were a character in your latest narrative, working title: My Life. You pretend to know who I am, but you have no idea. When you look at me, you see what you want to see; do you want to know what I see?
I see a girl who cries herself to sleep at night, because you never say hi, or smile, or even acknowledge her existence unless it’s to call her a name, something clever like “Bonifat” or “Four-Eyes.” I see a girl who pretends to feel sick in the middle of class to escape the looks you give. I see a girl who is afraid to approach you, to tell you how she feels. I see a girl who looks at herself in the mirror every morning, wishing she could look more like you. I see a girl who sits in the bathroom, feet propped up on the toilet seat, legs squashed against her chest, gasping and choking on the preconceived notions you shove down her throat every day.
Someone mentions Emily Dickinson, or Charles Schulz, or Franz Kafka, or J.D. Salinger, or that kid from the Virginia Tech shooting, and you say I will be just like one of them in a few years. Maybe you think I don’t hear you say these things, or maybe you simply don’t care. When I do hear your words, I pretend they don’t sting, because “words will never hurt me”; but they do, and my tears leave streaks across my face, fading signs of the wounds you inflict. Only, I will never forget; your words will echo in the recesses of my mind for years, convincing me I am not good enough, or smart enough, or athletic enough, or pretty enough, or strong enough to succeed. Every time I try to prove you wrong, to break free of this shell you built around me, your words will bombard me, pushing me to the ground and making my next attempted escape that much harder.
But eventually, I will break free. And when I do, I will realize what you have unknowingly done to me. Your harsh words will have made me more sensitive to the feelings of others. Your dirty looks and dismissals will have led me to books and a love for the written word. You will have taught me to be an observer by ignoring me. You will have placed the pen in my hand, wrapped my fingers around it, and whispered, “If you can’t say it, write it down.” You will have made me struggle. You will have made me persevere. You will have made me more confident in myself, in who I am and want to be. You will have made me… me!
And yes, I will still hesitate before sharing my feelings, or saying anything controversial, or choosing sides in a debate; but I won’t hesitate for long, because I will know where I stand. I will owe this strength to you, you who told me I had none. Oblivious of your influence, you will have molded my spirit, my mind, my personality.
And after all of this, I will realize I have judged you just as you have judged me. I always saw what I wanted to see, but now I will see you in a whole new way. You will no longer be the bully, or the jock, or the cheerleader, or the prep, or the snob; you will just be you, because I will just be me.

Backstory

Those who love Zora Neale Hurston will recognize the reference to one of her short stories ("How It Feels to Be Colored Me") in the title. In one of my writing courses, a professor asked us to write a piece using that story as inspiration; I loved the story, so I was really excited. Unfortunately, I had a really tough time coming up with something at first. I was lying in bed one night, about two days before the story was due, and suddenly it hit me. I jumped right out of bed, rushed out into the hall, and wrote the whole thing down in about twenty minutes. Of course, I edited later. I never claimed to be perfect!

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