I like to tell myself that I’ve escaped my high school demons. That the idea of a conversation with a stranger or a big party event doesn’t still make my heart beat at an uncomfortable rate and tie up my tongue to the point where it numbs my mouth. Or that the strange hierarchy that existed in my high school is defeated here, that I have no reason to avoid eye contact or nervously crack my knuckles when I talk to someone who isn’t like me. Not like me in the sense that had we gone to the same high school, they wouldn’t have even bat an eye at my existence.
A common theme I’ve noticed is that a lot of this is self-imposed, that I purposefully “other” myself to maintain my identity and push this narrative that I don’t quite fit in. But it’s become so much of a habit that I truly don’t feel like it sometimes.
Surrounded by pretty, skinny, pale East Asian girls clad in their tight-fitting black dresses and perfect eyeliner, my tan skin and clunky shoes and overall just height made me feel like a clumsy giraffe among the rest of the herd. Every ounce of self-esteem I had was gone in an instant. My dress felt too tight, showing off the pudge of my stomach. I would never have their flat stomachs, their slender legs, their porcelain skin. Everyone seemed to know each other, screaming out each other’s names on sight and placing air kisses on each other’s cheeks. Whip out the phone and take a photo.
The moment I stepped in the house I knew I had made a mistake, that this night was already off and I had fabricated something out of nothing. I clung on to my friend because I knew she would anchor me throughout the night. Had I gone alone, I probably would’ve spent five minutes there and then made up some excuse (“I’ve got a pset I forgot about!” “Whoops, left the stove on haha…” “Yeah, my roommate needs me”) to get out as fast as possible. I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t high school, that I could fit in with this crowd. I could belong here if I wanted to.
Quick, just do what they do. “Oh my god, hey! I haven’t seen you in so long. How are you?” High pitched, strained, forced. Trying too fucking hard. Tone it down.
“Hey look,” my friend said, “we know her!”
Maintain a conversation. Maintain a conversation. Maintain a conversation. You’re a fucking human being, how hard is it to do this?
Make something up. “We should definitely meet up soon!” Yeah, this will never follow up. “Yes! I’d be so down.” I wish I could be like you. “You’re so pretty!” Throw a compliment back. “Oh my god, stop, look at you!” Am I doing it? Is this blending in well enough?
Distract yourself. You don’t have enough content to keep this going. “I’m going to go grab more non-alcoholic! :^) and food.” Panic, panic, panic, run. Stuff your face. God, now you look even more awkward just hunched over the food to avoid conversation. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic, go back.
I return back to the sofa. My friend excuses herself and I try and distract myself with my phone. E-mail. Instagram. Back to my e-mail. Refresh. No new e-mails. Snapchat. Front cam. Fuck, is that what I really look like?
“We should take a picture!” No, I look awful. “Oh my gosh, yes!!”
Take the picture. “We look so good in this.” I’m awkwardly posed next to them, hovering over them by a couple inches with my hair askew. They look great, though. “Haha, yeah!”
Get me out of here. Shit, where did she go? I frantically look around for my friend. I am without an anchor. I am drowning. I am lost in a sea of unknown faces.
Suddenly, I see her talking to someone. Don’t interrupt her, she’s in conversation. But I really need to because if I stand alone any longer someone’s going to notice and then someone’s gonna pity me and then someone’s gonna talk to me and I can’t have that.
Interrupt the conversation. “Hey! Sorry, lost you for a bit.”
“That’s good, have you met ____?” No, I haven’t. And I just missed her name. God fucking dammit. Carry conversation like a normal human being.
I gotta get leave. But then it’ll look bad if I leave.
After some food and comfort, I go downstairs with my friend. I feel more relaxed. Okay, you can do this now. Maybe. Yeah, no, whatever. Just sink into the background and no one will notice.
It’s loud music and everyone’s singing along and I sink back into my chair and sing along with my friend, as I rest my head on her shoulder and scream out the lyrics.
I’m here because I thought this night would go differently. It was my stupid way of showing myself that I had grown up from high school, that parties didn’t scare me like they used to. That I could talk to whoever I wanted to without feeling afraid. That I could hop around social circles with ease because that’s the kind of person I wanted to be.
But now I’m mad at myself because I don’t know why I needed to do this in the first place. It was some stupid ploy to what? Prove something to myself? Prove what? Or maybe I saw it as a chance to live out my dreams of feeling like the popular kid and go to a party and shed away all that high school awkwardness. I wanted to be those girls I saw at the entrance. I wanted to be beautiful and slender and pretty. I wanted to have a boy on my arm and have him introduce me to his friends and I wanted to have a large circle of girlfriends and just walk into that party and own it because I would be in my element. Just this once, just this once, I wanted to be that girl. I wanted to feel like that girl and so I put myself in this situation and forced myself to do it, thinking naively that I could be her for a night, but all of that was thrown out the window when everything came flooding back and I realized I couldn’t and I would never. Ever. Be that girl.
And with all my anger and frustration, mainly directed at myself, I left. “Thanks for the invite, have fun.”
And I found refuge in a quiet dorm with three good friends, listening intently as I recounted the night and covered my eyes with my hands and let out a sigh. I had fucked up the night. And my dreams of having a nice fun night where I would grow into this person I had wanted to be in high school and college were destroyed.
It was then when I came to the realization that maybe I shouldn’t try to be that person. That I didn’t need to go out to parties and force myself into awkward social situations to feel better about myself. That my high school demons are, in fact, gone because I overcame my fear of living on an all girls floor after having bad interactions with female friends my entire life. And that in and of itself was a huge step forward. I had a loving friend group that was significantly larger than any I’d ever had before, which was another step in the right direction.
Looking back on the night, there was a lot that happened. I had the first panic attack of my college career, though it wasn’t as obvious as previous ones. Short quick breaths in a cramped bathroom stall, hands shaking as I forced myself to steady them. Looking in the mirror trying to primp myself up to make it look like I wasn’t on the verge of exploding. Adjusting my dress so I could feel as good as I felt when I first left rather than when I arrived. I realized I didn’t need to force myself to be this strange, falsified image of what I thought was cool and could instead just be.
I know that there are plenty of these kinds of moments that are going to happen, where I’m going to be out and about and suddenly every bad memory from high school comes flooding back and my feet are glued in place and I want to scream but nothing comes out. And I want to cry but no one notices because I don’t want them to. There’s still some trauma left there, where I become hyper-aware of my every move. Every hand gesture, every word spoken, every stride. I start to panic and wonder if the person I’m with can sense it, too. If they can feel the awkwardness practically oozing out of my every pore like sweat beads. If they can read the fear written across my face.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love parties. But I don’t like big ragers with 70 strangers piled into basement so sweaty that the walls are wet to the touch. I enjoy smaller get togethers with fun games and movies and good company.
I’m slowly coming to a point where I’m okay with myself, where I’m not going to force myself to go out to uncomfortable events for the sake of molding myself into someone I’m not. But at the same time, I’m going to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone, just in a…less toxic way. I’ll go out to more study breaks. I’ll try and make more friends in other dorms. But I’m not going to do it for the wrong reasons, like this one. I’m not going to go to be something I’m not, I’m going to go to learn more about the someone I already am. And that’s good enough for me.
- non-alcoholic! :^) back to text ↑