You're probably reading this because you found it in your lunchbox during recess. Why do I know this? Because I'm you 10 years later. I know, I know—this sounds too Phil of the Future to actually be real, but hear me out.
When you were 7, all you wanted to be was popular. You wanted to hang out with the tall big girls with the nice long hair. You wanted to be friends with the people who had the biggest Littlest Petshop animals & Sylvanian Families. You wanted to be so much like them, you even bought tons of hair accessories—from clip-on highlights to oversized bows—in hopes that the more physically appealing you looked, the more the chances you had to be popular.
You weren't satisfied with the 3 or 4 friends that you had. You only kept them as arm candy. But even with those few peers you had, every time they were absent, you still found yourself eating alone in the bathroom or at the guidance counselor's office. When they chose each other for class projects, you were still the one who had to be paired with whoever was left.
And you wanted that to change.
You did everything to stray from who you really were. You kept chasing those popular girls until third grade, literally running after them until you wore your legs out and made you give up.
But in 5th grade, you finally got your wish. You unknowingly became best friends with a girl who, ultimately, became friends with the most adored student of the batch. And eventually, you became friends with her, too. Suddenly, you were at the top of the middle-school food chain and nothing could wreck that feeling of contentment and pure bliss that you had.
But little did you know, The Incident—which you will choose to call it, a few years later—was just around the corner, waiting for its turn to pounce.
Because you had your head stuck in the clouds, that down-to-earth part of you started to float away. It was an unconscious decision, when you started to gossip about, well, everyone. If you weren't backstabbing your classmates, your teachers, or even at some point, your own family, you were discussing some other shallow topic. Your new friends loved what you had become—not because it was a better version of you, but because it wasn't you. It was all of their nasty quirks combined into one person, that somehow just looked incredibly sassy.
One of the many qualities that you inherited from them, was the insatiable thirst to always, always, always, bring someone down. You didn't know it then—you thought that you were just pointing out other's flaws for the sake of making conversation—but you were actually loading your subconscious with other schoolmates' insecurities, so you wouldn't have to think about your own. And when talking about a random passerby became boring, you had this oh-so brilliant idea to bash your friends, too. You'd talk about Kim in front of Sally, and vice versa. It started out as just a simple lunchtime topic, but then it slowly progressed to the only topic. It fueled you. It fueled you to think about how much higher you were compared to other people.
It was all going great, until The Incident decided to give you a taste of your own medicine. And according to Doctor Karma, you needed more than one teaspoon.
Word travelled fast and friends turned into two-faced companions; everything you ever told this girl about that girl, somehow managed to reach the entire student body. All at once, your friends kicked you out of the group, and left you sprawled in the road for the mob of angry schoolmates to run over you. At that point, you were fortunate enough to have at least a few allies left, but they didn't even last 2 weeks either. So from 13 friends remaining, all you had was four.
But even with those few peers you had, every time they were absent, you still found yourself eating alone in the bathroom or in the guidance counselor’s office. When they chose each other for class projects, you were still the one who had to be paired with whoever was left.
And as much as you wanted to change that, you couldn't.
You felt this indescribable pain everywhere you went. You feared waking up every morning, because that would mean another day in school. People whispered and stared disaprovingly as you trudged down that seemingly infinite hallway to your section. And once you entered the classroom, some people would turn excitedly in hopes to see their friend, but when they realize it was you, they'd turn back around disappointed with a frown and mumble, "Oh, it's just her." When you stood up to recite in class, people would snicker if you got the wrong answer or if the teacher reprimanded you. When everyone had to switch seats for the term, people groaned when they found out they were your tablemate. And when they'd tell their friends, they'd pat their backs sympathetically and whisper, "I feel bad for you. Good luck."
You'd never cry though, because wherever you were, you had to be strong. But you couldn't find it in you to smile either. So you just kept quiet and tried to escape to somewhere safe. So you started listening to music as much as you could; it helped created a silent haven in your mind where you weren't judged by anyone, where you weren't a huge disappointment to the people around you, where you weren't just a needy burden of a teenager, and where you knew it was okay to feel sad, to come undone.
But it was that one Tuesday afternoon, when you were practically forced by your teacher to present with the girl who started The Incident in the first place, that really sealed the deal though. The moment you stepped up on that platform to begin your presentation, you felt every inner demon you tried to silence, poison your system when the class started to laugh and whisper. Laugh at how miserable the girl looked standing beside you. Laugh at how pathetic you looked while standing beside her. Laugh at just how much of a joke you were. It may have subsided after Ms. Decks finally had enough of the noise, but they were still laughing even with their mouths shut.
You just knew it.
The night you got back home, that's when everything fell apart; all those months of keeping in the tears came out in a loud, pained sob. You tried to keep quiet by covering your face with a pillow and pretending to be asleep, but your violent shaking gave it away and soon, your sisters were crowded around you with anxious expressions. You told them everything then, from the beginning to end. And all they could do was curse the bullies, comfort you, and say that you're the only one who could help yourself. As much as they wanted to storm into your classroom and teach those girls a lesson, you weren't in kindergarten anymore. Big sisters didn't threaten bullies anymore.
You broke yourself. They may have caused the fall, but you let yourself shatter, and the only person that could fix that is you.
It took time and it was difficult. But of course it was. It's always hard when it matters.
It took months of humbling, pep talks, reading Candy, visiting the Chapel every day, letting go, apologizing, and realizing things for everything to start healing itself.
The process was definitely not as easy as the movies made it out. You had to individually make amends with the people you hurt. You had to start genuinely seeing the importance of your family and your real friends. You had to start accepting who you were while also letting yourself become a better person. You had to deal with people rejecting your apologies. You had to cope with losing the people who mattered before. But most importantly, you had to come to terms with one of the greatest truths.
Pain? It's real. And at some point of our lives, we all feel it. Some pains are worse than the other and some pains don't seem as important to the people around you. But nevertheless, one thing that'll always remain the same no matter the situation, is that, in the words of John Green, it demands to be felt. But only because it's meant to teach you something. (Three things in specific, as you've come to learn.)
1. You are not who you always thought you were. It breaks that fake image of what you believed you saw when you looked in the mirror.
2. It's inevitable but it isn't indestructible. Help and guidance is always welcomed in tough situations, but in the end, the only person who truly knows what to do, is God, and through the mind that he gave you, you will uncover the right path to reparation.
And 3. Everything is a choice. When things get rough, it's your choice whether to make excuses and stay miserable, or get up and try to fix things. It won't be easy to put everything back in place. But it's better to sweep away the broken glass than keep it for someone else to step on.
Now that you know, I hope that you've learned something. But if even at this point, you haven't, please, out of everything I've said, at least remember this: Before you push away your friends who will tell you in exactly 5 minutes that it's not worth it to wait for Sally and Kim to invite you to play hopscotch with them, please, for the love of God, believe them.
Because they're right—those two aren't worth it.
But you know who is? The person reading this letter.
You will always, always, always be worth it.
Believe me, I would know.
Frances Beltran is 14 years old.