Dear Junior High Me:
Well. Life’s not so great is it? You’ve just moved to another new school … what is this, the fifth one? The sixth? Ugh. It’s not anybody’s fault; your dad gets transferred to new military posts, or goes overseas so you and your mom move somewhere else to wait for him to come back from deployment. A new place. A new house. A new start.
But truth is, it sucks. It sucks being the new kid. The one who’s ahead in some classes and stupidly behind in others. The pale, sickly one who sneezes a lot and has bad eyes. Who’s bad at sports.
You still haven’t forgotten getting shoved around and punched in a schoolyard in South Carolina, or bounced so hard on a see-saw by a particularly malicious boy that a hand-sized piece of wood broke off and jammed itself deep into your inner thigh (that was in New Mexico, and the tetanus shots were so fun). Or just being so lonely and isolated in your California school that you hardly said a word to anyone for the whole year, and felt like a ghost. And that was all just elementary school. Now it’s junior high. Bigger kids. Bigger problems.
I know you feel sick to your stomach at the thought of getting out of bed and facing up to a new class, again. Being behind in some of the classes because this school moves at a different pace than the last one, or the one before that. Having teachers dismiss you because you seem to be slow (like your third grade teacher, who told your mother that you would never learn to read properly, because you were too stupid). You’re afraid that other kids will call you names, shove you around, steal your stuff. It’s happened before.
But here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to learn the best lessons of your life. You’re going to discover music, and the thrill of playing it well. You’re going to discover a huge passion for something, for the first time. Seems crazy, doesn’t it? But you’ll form friendships because of music, not just inside your school but in other schools, up through junior high, to high school, to college … and some of those friends will stay with you even after you’ve moved on from music. You’ll learn self-discipline. You’ll learn achievement and confidence. You’ll have something to be proud of. And that will help everything else in your life.
What about those bullies, you’re wondering. What about that tough girl who confronts you in the locker room and wants your money when you’re fifteen? Good news: you’ll live. You’ll carry a scar on the inside of your left thumb to remind you that once, you stood up to a girl with a knife over a twenty dollar bill, because your parents were poor and that was a lot of money for them to trust you with, and you were supposed to use it to buy new sheet music that you really needed for a contest.
Thing is, she’ll be as surprised as you are that you didn’t just hand over the cash. And her cutting you? That is, believe it or not, an accident. She doesn’t even mean to do it. She’ll come to you later, without quite apologizing, and ask for your help in English class. And you’ll give it. Because she’s changing. You won’t be friends, but you’ll be … okay. You’ll write a little story for her one day, about her fantasy boyfriend asking her out, and this tough girl, she will be so happy she hugs you. True fact.
You’re changing. Everything’s changing. That’s what this is. It’s hard. Sometimes it’s so hard that you’ll cry yourself to sleep, you’ll beg your parents to stay home, you’ll throw up in the girls’ bathroom between classes because of what other people say about you, because if feels like there’s a giant, white-hot spotlight on you, and everyone is watching you.
But want to know a secret? They’re not. They’ve got their own spotlights to worry about, just as big, just as hot.
You’ll be tempted to quit writing when a bully steals your notebook on the school bus and reads what you’re writing aloud to his friends, and every word of it sounds awful and painful to you. No amount of crying or begging will make him stop. Then he will rip all the pages out and throw them at you, and everyone will laugh, and you’ll arrive home tear-streaked and humiliated and you will throw away all the things you wrote so far. Four notebooks full of stories.
But in just a few more days, your English teacher will put you on an independent study course and ask you to keep writing, because she thinks you are good at it. And that will matter. It will matter so much.
When that boy you think is cute when you’re fifteen ends up mocking you because you’re a four-eyed loser who reads stupid science fiction books, that’s okay too. He’s going to find you at your fifteen-year high school reunion and tell you that he always liked you, and he was afraid to like you. So he hurt you instead. And he was sorry.
When you have to go to your junior prom alone, wearing a dress your mother made for you … well, I’m not going to tell you that will be okay, because that would be a lie. But your senior prom will be better. I promise. Oh, and the stupid girl who couldn’t read? She’s going to get a full scholarship to college.
If it sounds like there’s a lot in front of you to get through, there is. Some of it will seem like nothing at the time and grow amazing in retrospect. Things that seem overwhelming will get vanishingly small in the rear view mirror. That’s how life is.
Dear me-that-was … you’re okay.
And you’re going to be better.
Now get up and go to school.
I pledge to take a stand against bullying each and every day. #OneVoice
~ Rachel Caine, author of Prince of Shadows and The Morganville Vampires Series
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