Be yourself

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

When I was in high school, I got into a huge fight with my friend Kasey. It was mid-winter and late at night. I remember closing my hands into fists to fight off the bitter cold; in hindsight, I'm happy Kasey didn't see this and assume I wanted to fight. I am not and never have been capable of winning a physical fight. It would have been a massacre.

We stood between our cars in a secluded residential area screaming at each other, not thinking we might disturb anyone in a nearby home. I angrily told Kasey what I thought of her. It wasn't nice, nor was her response.

"Well, Samantha," she sputtered, "everyone at school thinks you're weird! That's what all of us say about you when you're not around!"

"Well good!" I screamed back. "That's true! I am weird!"

It was true. I was weird. During high school, I was the kind of weird you'd associate with modern teenagers who constantly post on Tumblr and dye their hair crazy colors. I never got around to dyeing my hair, but I did wear bright orange tights in public. I also insisted on always talking about "Lost," which is something I will never regret. It is, after all, the best television show of all time.

I knew I was weird, so being called out on it didn't really upset me. Kasey's comment wasn't an observation or a compliment, though; she meant to insult me by calling me weird. That, I think, is what made hearing it sting so much. Yes, the remark still hurt despite my response and how comfortable I was with my personality.

It hurt because it was meant to hurt. It hurt because I realized how much of an outsider I could be in certain situations. I had many friends in high school, but I never felt I really fit in with most of them. Many of my friendships felt like window shopping; I'd stop by, say hello and look in, but knew I could never do more than that.

That's not to say I didn't have good friends. Two of my best friends are from high school. It may surprise you, but Kasey is one of these friends. We reconnected after graduating from high school and put all that negativity behind us. Today, she has a 14-month-old baby boy named Kaleb. I am his godmother.

On a recent trip to Texarkana, I met up with her. We hung out like we did when we were in the eighth grade, when our biggest woe was being deleted from someone's Top 8 on Myspace. While talking about our friendship, Kasey told me something that shocked me.

"You've never cared what anybody thought about you. I always admired that about you," she said.

In that moment, I realized that she, too, worried about fitting in. She was one of the popular girls in high school; she was on the cheerleading squad, involved in several sports and dated boys in the popular group. I didn't do any of those things. No sports, no cheerleading and especially no traditionally attractive boys.

If she admired me for refusing to follow the popular crowd, I realized, she likely had problems being accepted in that group as well. That realization is one of the most defining moments of my life so far. Even the popular kids struggle with fitting in. The kids who are considered "weirdos" really aren't much different from anybody else.

A few months ago, I wrote a column about bullying I overheard at the Carroll County Fair. I ended that column by asking bullies to take a look at what they're doing before they end up hurting others. Nobody wants to realize years later, I wrote, that they were bullies.

Today I urge all high school students -- not just bullies -- to take a look at who they are. Do you like the person you are? Do you ever feel like you don't fit in?

To answer that last question, we all do sometimes. Try not to let that prevent you from reaching out to others. It's cliche, but the best way to create genuine friendships is to be comfortable with yourself first.

Just be yourself, even if you're a big weirdo like me. Others might follow.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com