Dear Teen Me:
Remember your first kiss? It began with a crush on a boy named Chris at church camp. You didn’t want to go to church camp, but Mom thought it was a good idea, a way to make some friends because you’d not had the best of luck making new friends since Dad got transferred to a new town and you had to move. So you went to church camp and were kinda bummed that the kids from your own church were there. You didn’t like those kids, mostly because they didn’t like you. All those horrible Sunday evenings when Mom made you go to youth group and you were always a wallflower. You figured out you could sneak in a book and read in the bathroom until it was time for Mom to pick you up.
But church camp was different. There was no escaping those kids. But you did your best to pretend they didn’t exist and made friends with other girls in your cabin, girls from other towns, other churches. You participated in all the camp activities, like canoeing and swimming and archery and eating and singing Kum-Ba-Ya in a big circle around a campfire. And you met a boy. I don’t remember now much about him except his name and his blue eyes and blond hair. He was older, already in high school and you were on the cusp of eighth grade. You tried so hard to be cool, and were just as awkward as most every other thirteen year old.
The last night of camp, there was a hayride. You were thrilled when Chris climbed up and sat beside you toward the end of the trailer, right there next to you in the scratchy straw. You’d managed to talk to him a few times without stammering and blushing and being so totally obvious that you liked him, but you had no idea he might like you back. Your elation was enormous. It was the best feeling in all the world. The hayride commenced and he held your hand and you thought you’d die of happiness. And then the most amazing thing happened.
He kissed you. Your first kiss. And when he put his tongue in your mouth, you freaked a little and didn’t reciprocate, because all you could think was, what is happening? Why would he do that? Ew! And he leaned back and said, “Haven’t you ever kissed a guy?” You, wanting to pretend you were worldly and hip to all things adult-like, said, “Of course! It’s just that it’s a little strange to kiss somebody in front of all these people.” He glanced over his shoulder and said, “Most of them are doing the same thing.” Remember, this was church camp. Shit gets real at church camp. Everybody knows that. But the key word here is most. Most of the others were sucking face, but not everyone.
So you kissed him, with tongues, and thought it was the strangest thing to do, but then it was kinda nice, and Chris was so hot. The next morning, Mom came to take you home and you said goodbye to Chris and never saw him again. You thought about him and that kiss. You grinned to yourself and blushed and felt happy when you remembered. He liked you. He really liked you. And that was simply marvelous. And you felt so grown up. You finally knew what the big deal was about kissing.
Then you went to church. All those kids who disliked you were openly hostile, and one of them informed you that they’d prefer if you didn’t come to any more youth group nights, that they didn’t want to associate with a slut. You were crushed, and incensed at the injustice of it. A slut? Really? Your first kiss made you a slut? It was so unfair! Any tiny hope you’d had of ever being accepted by those very perfect, very rich, very private school kids was toast. You sat down in the pew next to the family and told your mother you would not go to any more youth group functions, ever.
And you didn’t. Not until the school year was underway, and you met a guy while you were lurking around outside before services, avoiding the slut shamers, and he said his mom made him go to youth night and he hated it as much as you did. He went to public school as well, so he was also considered a heathen. At his urging, you went to youth group that night and hung out with him and a girl who was in your same predicament. His name was Rob and hers was Laura. The three of you would become close friends and remain friends all the way through high school, through college, into adulthood. Others would join your circle of friends and one of them was the maid of honor in your wedding. You all were together to attend Laura’s funeral when she fell victim to breast cancer. They were lifelong friends, true blue people who made a mockery of those stuck up snotty kids at church. You moved on and went to another church with your friends, and forget those kids, and their names. You learned what is fundamental to any spiritual journey – compassion. By being on the receiving end of their taunts and accusations and outright shunning, you were more aware of how your actions affect others. You swore never to be unkind or judgmental.
You will wonder on occasion whatever happened to Chris. You were pretty sure nobody back in his hometown called him a slut, and even then, even at thirteen, you knew that was messed up. You knew it was unfair that because you were a girl, you were supposed to be experienced in some way in order to attract a guy, but completely untouched to avoid being called a derogatory name. As if you had to choose between being accepted and being liked by a boy. As you finished growing up, you came to realize that there will always be judgmental people who point and call others out, but there are also people who accept humans for what they are – human. You will always gravitate toward those people and call them friends. And it will take a long, long time, but you will finally reach a place in life that allows you to ignore the others. Because there is no power in cruelty. There’s no power in accepting cruelty as something unavoidable in order to be liked. True power lies in kindness and compassion. It’s all that matters, and the rest falls away.
I pledge to stand up to bullying through the power of kindness and compassion. #OneVoice
~ Trinity Faegen writing as Stephanie Feagan, author of Only You (Mephisto Covenant Book 3)
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