I was sitting at the back of the cafeteria wall against the sweaty wrestling mats, surrounded by my friends, as I was eagerly awaiting my turn on stage, my nerves were acting against my will to calm them down. A last minute crisis churned within my brain; I doubted my choice of poem. If I read my first choice, Jeffery would have known my deep crush for him after four years of friendship. If I read my second choice than people would have thought I was suicidal. If I read my political poem, I might have been booed off stage and pelted with tomatoes. Dilemmas were closing in as the act before wound down. I asked Tony, a fellow writer and close friend, what I should do.
"Tony, I don't know which poem to read! If I read this one Jeff will know my feelings! If I read my political poem, then I don't know the consequences. I certainly cannot read my second choice, you know, the one about feeling what it would be like to die."
"Lauren, this is your only time to share your work before you graduate. Take a risk for once. Read what you want the world to know."
There was a roar of applause for the act before me, and him and his one-man show, walked off stage. I flipped to a poem that was different from the previous choices. This poem I promised myself I would never let the world see.
"It's time to take a risk Tony; let's hope I don't regret it."
I walked on the makeshift stage that Fine Arts Day, a day for the exhibition of visual, literary, musical, and dramatic arts, for the first time in my four years at my high school. This was the only time I was brave enough to stand on stage and share my talent. Some people such as my friends, and a few people in my classes, knew I was a poet, because whenever we had to introduce ourselves, I would say that I write poetry and short stories, and that was as far as I would let people know me. My friends knew I was the editor of the literary magazine, and a few people to whom I showed a poem or two had their eyes wide open for my appearance that day. This was the day I shared my art with the small world, which had become my muse.
"This poem is called 'So Young.' It is about being abused, physically, emotionally, mentally, and the rebellion that ensues." I cleared my throat as I was getting over a cold. My right knee was shaking an earthquake, and I hoped my building of a body could withstand my own destruction.
"I am young and strong/ but I already have arthritis in my hands/ from beating myself down/ and I feel you scratching at my throat/ I always knew you wanted me dead/ I always knew you wanted me."
By this time I was reading the poem and in a land of words all its own. I had to force myself to speak up and into the microphone, and I remember that I messed up once, but the most vivid memory was the reaction when I read it; the noisy cafeteria was next to silent. When I was done bearing my soul, I stepped down from the stage and into my friends' hugs and congratulations, for I had stood up and read something in public of my own emotions and experience, and an audience had welcomed me with open arms.
It took me awhile to get to my first public reading, especially to find out that I even could write. It started with all the pain and sorrow that anyone could have felt, and it ended with me being rewarded with the only talent that I can claim for myself. I never could run fast, jump high, I always fell and tripped over air, stairs, sticks, and stones. I could never draw or paint just right, I could not even handwrite right. I sung so quiet in the choir no one ever heard me; I read more than I ever talked before my junior year in high school. I would not have it any other way.
What other way could I have been myself except through writing? All I knew what that I was not a people person, having been teased and tormented my entire life for what I could not do. I started writing poetry in eighth grade, needing an escape from my cruel harsh world. Even then it was always twisted, talking about death, violence, and destruction. Twisted in everyone else's eyes, but it was beautifully morbid in mine. I wrote in a poem once, "I am glad the only eyes I obey are my own." Indeed I live it when it comes to poetry. My other writing was fantasy and science fiction stories, intertwining other themes like love and the lack of religion despite me being a spiritual person. When I hit high school this enjoyable venting was the only thing that kept me sane, or maybe alive.
My freshman year was the start of my everlasting love of writing because the seed was sewn within. I was an afraid little freshman, looking up at new faces and looking around at new places. I was too scared to talk because everything I said made me the object of ridicule by many different people, but most specifically a certain group of popular girls. I still would not forget what they would say to me about the clothes I wore, "Where did you get that from? Dress Barn," let alone what they did one day in chorus. I walked in to the chorus trailer, as the school was quite small, and three girls had set up a chair for me, and all three of them. One of these girls I had known since first grade, as we had been going to school together all that time, this one's name was Ana. Nicole, the girl who had muttered the Dress Barn insult, shouted when I came into the room.
"Welcome to the Ana and Sadie show Lauren! Today you are our special guest!" Immediately she grabbed my hand from the door and forced me to sit down in a chair. When I tried to get up, they forced me down again with their hands.
"Welcome one and all to the Ana and Sadie show, Nikki is our bodyguard and our special guest is Lauren Croughan."
"Let me go! Shut up and let me go!" I started shouting and Nicole forced me into the chair again, holding me down.
"It's time for truth or dare! Lauren pick truth or dare." Sadie looked at me with a big grinning smirk on her face.
Unable to get out of the chair I started to tear up, and then picked truth.
"Okay Lauren… Who do you have a crush on?"
As if someone stabbed me with a dagger in my stomach, I hurt inside, because I knew he would never like me back. His name was Connor, and he was in five of my classes. He was good looking, athletic, not too smart, but he knew my name, and used it as he was thanking me for using a pen, because he always forgot a pen, and I sat next to him as seats were in alphabetically order.
"I won't tell!" I said, struggling to get out of the chair.
"Oh yes you will. Your face will tell me. Is it Mark Smith?" Sadie guessed.
"Or is it Andrew Palmer, I saw you looking at him yesterday in gym." Ana guessed.
"NO, I bet its Connor! She looks at him all the time in biology, in Spanish, and even in gym. She stares at his big strong muscles!"
How could I help myself from blushing? Moreover, my incessant struggling gave it away and the teacher came through the door.
"Ana, Sadie, Nicole, what are you doing?"
"We were just having a little fun, getting to know Lauren and such."
Nicole let me go and I stared at all the other girls in the room who saw the whole thing. They never said a word that day, to the girls at least. One girl who was always nice to me told the teacher what had happened, and the teacher assured me nothing like that would have ever happen again. He kept his promise, and The Ana and Sadie Show was canceled.
What did not help with that group of girls teasing me was that I tried out for cheerleading, since I had had three years of the cult in middle school. More people got in on making fun of me, as more cheerleaders picked on me, and eventually the coach barked to me, "You don't have what it takes. Go home, and don't come back." No wonder I did not talk to hardly anyone except for superficial conversation for two whole months. Some people came and went by my table asking me if I wanted to join them, and I always said no; I had some homework, or this book was too good to put down. John Grisham saved my sanity in between classes, but only poetry could get me through Algebra I.
For fifth period for one school year, I was thrown into hell, which mathematically was a place of gnashing of numbers and grinding of erasers on loose-leaf paper, and socially was worse. Those three same girls made me their guinea pig, and stuffed me full of insults, quips, degrading statements, and any teasing they could muster. I just looked ahead, absorbing it all like a sponge. Every word hurt, every insult beat me up physically and mentally. My grades were horrible for me as a student; for the first two quarters I only had two A's. Mentally I was going down hill, emotionally too, because of the girls and the many others who played "Torture Lauren." One day, I do not know how exactly it happened, but I started writing poetry in algebra class. I wrote one about a crow, another about drowning, another about death, until I ran out of room on the back of my worksheet. I let it flow, and there I found not only my muse for the next three years, but my one and only talent.
When I found friends in late October, my life started to get a little bit better. At a dance, a girl named Jenny, I knew from cheerleading and volleyball tryouts that past summer invited me to hang around that night with her and her friends. There was a girl named Jamie who was "Goth" and in fact a Wicca, but was a very talented writer herself, there was Lisa, a painter, Kristen another Wicca, and lastly there was a boy named Tony, who was a writer, a poet, and was willing to be a good friend and beat those girls up. In my freshman class, as all those were sophomores but Jamie, There was Jeffery, a great actor who has since become on of my best friends. I knew I was going to have a great time with these many people, and I found my first audience for my rant filled depressing poetry that cried for some solace. They all said that I had a lot of promise and potential, including my friends that I have met since my first year, and every single one of them encouraged me to keep writing through it all. Wrote through it I did. Even though my life has been smoother sailing, I still have moments where the sad things are indeed my muse, as well as the darker side of life because that is what I am accustomed to living. I think I have only written one or two happy poems in my life. While I wish to not bring horrible things upon myself, I take each moment where I am distressed or angry to reflect and to write down my thoughts so I may use them to quickly get over them. One thing about my poetry that is often misunderstood, is that the sadness is only passing, as nothing in life ever stays, and while this is what I might feel like at the moment, it all is one with the wind, and it will quickly blow away.
Still reading that poem on that stage culminated my suffering at that school. It allowed me to move on as a person, to leave it in the ashes, and to start anew. Yet I could not leave the school until I told my muses thank you. A strangely found gratitude, where I realized without the suffering I encountered I would not have made the friends I did, or find the one thing I could do well, or to exhibit promise in one area. It was my talk to show that I am stronger than those words, because I can combat them with my own now. I am not that defenseless freshman anymore, as I have built my sword with the words they threw at me.
Even though I went through a lot of suffering to get to where I am, with my vivid poetry gaining fans through new friends and new mediums, I would not change it for the world. I found who I am through my writing, I found ways to connect with people, and I found something that expresses all my baggage that life throws at me. The end of my poem that I read that day at the Fine Arts Festival read something familiar, "Do not assume that because I am young/ that I do not know pain/ I know it more than you know/ Since I remember my youth everyday." Writing is a part of me, and I would feel like I was torn apart if it was taken away. That is why I must share it with the world, the big cold world; because I have something to say that might make it warmer than the world I once knew.