When I was 16, I was desperate to be anybody but myself. I chose my outfits based on what the latest cool girl was wearing, religiously watched youtube videos that helped me paint the face I dreamed of and counted my calories to squeeze into a pair of my older sisters jeans.
In high school, I was always late to class. I was late because I would take extra lengthy routes just to pass by all the people that I admired. Beautiful senior girls that always looked like they walked off a California beach and gorgeous senior guys that held open doors for female teachers and high-fived the Principal on their way to class. I had their class schedules memorized and most of them will never know my name.
I sat in the very back of my Sophomore Spanish class. I had the kind of teacher who hated being a teacher. And so we all hated that she was a teacher. For most of the course, I kept my head down avoiding eye contact out of fear of public humiliation over mispronunciation. One morning, a senior that I recognized from my 4th period commute knocked on the doors of my Spanish class. He was there to retake a test and the retaking was going to take place in the desk next to mine. I remember trying not to stare as he crossed the room to sit down. I hope you’re imagining one of those cliche scenes in slow motion with cheesy music playing. Because I was your ultimate teenage cliche.
Ten minutes into the class, my teacher left to talk to a faculty member outside the room. The boy then looked at me and started cracking jokes about the teacher. I was startled by the sound of his voice and the idea that he was actually acknowledging me. His name was Kyle. He played varsity lacrosse and was in level 5 honors Spanish. He had an infectious smile and made the entire class laugh with one joke after another. In those 10 minutes that my teacher was gone, I thought I had learned everything that I needed to know about Kyle. And it was probably the highlight of my entire Sophomore year. Which is problematic, but then so is High School.
I spent the rest of the year taking an extra walk after my lunch period just to see him on the way to Spanish class. I was 16 and in love with many things, Kyle being one of them. And to be fair, I owe a lot to Kyle. His acknowledgment is one of the first moments in my young life that I can pinpoint as feeling beautiful. For whatever reason that day he chose to talk to me. And in my teenage logic, something clicked that told me I must be worthy and must be pretty. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that one day I would feel that way without male affirmation but I suppose that wasn’t a part of the universe’s plan. By my junior year, I had forgotten all about Kyle. He had graduated and I was beginning to blossom, moving on to better conquests.
I grew up and became many things. But most importantly, I became the kind of girl that other little girls take extra long routes to pass by in the hallways. And I’ve realized that the only difference at the time between myself and those girls I used to look up to, was that they had already learned how to be enough for themselves.
I’ve spent little time in my small town since graduation; splitting my months and ambitions between Chicago and Philadelphia. And as much as I love my town, it’s hard not to feel like I’ve outgrown so much of it. I am privileged enough to realize how lucky I am to have grown up in a beautiful place where most of my concerns where centered around who smiled at me in the school hallway. But even though I may still be evolving, it’s reassuring to know that some things never change.
I recently returned home for 4th of July weekend. One night, I ran into the convenience store on the Main street to pick up some last minute things before a wedding. While I was walking out, I heard a man yell at me and mumble something about my body while a guy next to him laughed. I impulsively turned, ready to give this man some very public insight on the kind of woman he was dealing with.
But I was frozen mid-sentence, because there was Kyle. My Sophomore Idol… catcalling me in a convenience store parking lot. While his friend drunkenly stumbled backwards against a town trashcan.
And so instead, I smiled, made small talk and got into my car. Choking on laughter as I remembered the best day of my Sophomore year and thought about what 16-year-old me would think if she only knew the future. Teen Amelia would probably be overwhelmed with excitement over the idea that Senior Kyle wanted to give a public compliment and offer her a beer. But 21-year-old TheAmeliaBurns, was disgusted that High School Kyle was catcalling in a parking lot while offering her a warm beer from the back seat of his car.
But maybe thats just growing up.