Sunday, 4 January 2009

A Head Full of Beauty Prelude - Part 2 - High School

My father died when I was 11 years old. I suppose you could say that that’s where it all started to go wrong. Somehow, between then and now – a period of ten years – I have managed to leave behind one life for another and grow into a woman that I deny is truly me. When my Dad died, I was left with no-one but a mother who oppressed and domineered over every part of my life. I had no other family to turn to when in need.

A few months later, I left the only friends I had ever known behind at Primary School and went to a new High School. This is when I also left behind the bright-eyed and confident child I had always been. It’s a difficult time for most children, but when I came home in tears, I found there was no one there to help dry them. Making new friends was hard, simply because I had never felt so lost in my life. The death of my best friend, my father, had hit me harder than I had ever realised. If I could go back, I would have taken the support and counselling that was offered to me. But I was proud even then. Maybe it’s only in hindsight that I can see how much I had drawn all my strength and love from my Dad. I didn’t feel it while I was still at Junior school because I was settled there, and had close friendships. But the second I was flung into the unknown and hostile environment of High School, I realised just how much of my strength had been drawn from my Dad in times of loneliness, confusion or pain. He died just before I needed him most. Without him, the confident happy child couldn’t grow, so she died.

I was full of spirit. Once. I lived life passionately, filled with adventure and excitement. Oh the world was a beautiful creation, one in which I fully intended to leave my mark in and blossom beyond my wildest imagination. But the world wasn’t ready for me, or rather, I was not ready for the world.

High School was once a part of that adventure, a dream which I had longed so hard for - it was to be my first step to success. But without my father, all that consumed my life was fear, just fear, and I couldn’t fit it. Maybe I didn’t want to; I don’t really know. I just hated it. Everyday was the same, the same bleak bus ride in the morning, the same empty house in the afternoon. I used to get dressed in the cold and dark, afraid to see who I was, or perhaps just wanting to save myself the pain of hating what I saw. Every year saw me deteriorate more and more, growing uglier and uglier in my minds eye, sinking further and further into my seclusion and fear. The world was so cold in those days. In every memory I have from those seven years at high school it is always dark, cold or raining. It is always winter. The days in the science labs, maths block, computer rooms, technology, english, history, french, you name it, it was bleak and lonely. Seven years of memory. Wasted on that. And that uniform; a badge of who I had to be, hanging off me in drags of shame. Even today when I see girls in that same uniform it makes me cringe. It turns off the warmth and light in my mind, sends me back to those memories and the way that uniform used to make me feel.

In year seven I was crying every night. By year eight I was walking to school because I hated the attention of walking on to the bus and having everyone look at me. I hated people looking at me. By year nine I was spending all my time creating stories for me to live out, and by the end of year ten, I was obsessively writing lists of every single calorie I ate. Through year eleven, I believed every laugh I heard was at me, and my imagination, my dreams were becoming more desperate and I began to live in those fantasies rather than the real harsh world around me. By the time I was doing my GCSE exams I was sleeping three or four hours a night. For all those five years, I carried on and held my head high as if there was nothing wrong. I did not admit the truth. I was too proud.

I battled depression, anorexia, anxiety – but primarily I suffered from an intense hatred of myself. I hated myself for not being able to be happy. I used to clutch at little rays of sunshine in my life, musical films, ballet, Justin Timberlake, tennis, classical mythology – they were all just some of the ‘obsessions’ I had over the years to keep me going. But I was always top of the class in everything. There was no subject in which I struggled, from art to science I was always A* standard. But I worked hard for it, don’t think my success came from natural ability, I worked day and very often all night to get the grades that I did. I was certainly never what you could call lazy. Not like I am now. My mother taught me that happiness came from success. I can tell you from experience, that is not true.

Things began to break down again when I started Year 12 – the year which also saw me start my new job at WHSmith. That job was like stepping outside of the bubble that I had lived in for so long. It was one day a week when I was not shut up at home or trapped at school. It was one day a week where I was free to be someone else, someone who looked good and wore makeup. Someone who was ‘happy’. It was like the real world came and touched me for the first time, and it shook me, badly. After that I didn’t work as hard as I used to. Makeup and CDs were far more important. But still my school and home life remained the same. My mother kept track of everything I did and everywhere I went – which basically meant that I went nowhere.

The first boy in Smiths was Lewis – nearly a disaster, but luckily my star was looking after me and I had a lucky escape. He was a loser, in every sense of the word. A horrible, pathetic little boy who, despite being three years my senior, was ridiculously immature. All he wanted was sex. Horrified, I declined. And he broke up with me. Of course. Then came the whole Elliot fiasco. The beautiful boy with a girlfriend. Sadly, having been locked up from society for so long, I didn’t think that trying to steal him from her was necessarily such a bad idea – after all, I was prettier than her. It didn’t work out. So I turned my attentions elsewhere – across the road in fact – to Clarks. Here there turned out to be four boys of interest, named suitably Clarks Boy 1 - 4. But it was Clarks Boy 1 who had drawn most of my attention, perhaps because he was the one who looked back at me one time, I don’t really know. Anyway, all my pride to one side as usual, I went and got him, and he turned out to be Kieran, my boyfriend for nine months and love of my life for all eternity – or so I thought at the time. Yes, at times he was amazing, but it was the fault of my small world that I didn’t know any better. He was someone who loved me, and I hadn’t been loved very much in my teenage years. He gave me everything I had ever desired – love – no matter how ugly I was.

I come to university, and suddenly I’m beautiful, as if I’m an ugly duckling. Suddenly the reflection I see is pretty, and it’s not just me who thinks so. Boys. Absent from my life for so many years, I suppose it’s natural that I have a problem with them – I’m crazy about them.

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