1. For so long I was nothing, but now I start to do. I start to feel. I start to understand the world around me, and I get comfortable with it real fast. I push the limits. At the top of my play thing is a small mobile. It circles above me in an enchanting way. My arms are short, but I reach for it. I reach, I reach, I reach, and I miss. But I am not discouraged, I have done something. Maybe I will reach again tomorrow. Maybe the day after I will succeed. Maybe in a week I will walk.
2. I learn to memorize, and then to read. I pick up my favorite book- The Little Engine That Could. It's time to give my parents a show. I open to page one, just as my father does, and begin to recite the words. I look at the page, but I don't need to read. I've heard this so many times that it doesn't matter- I know it by heart. But the tiny actor I am, I pretend I am reading. I am expressive in my words, elaborate with my gestures, grinning wildly. I am glad they are recording this, I am glad they are impressed. The words flow from my tongue as if they are my own. I feel fantastic.
3. The first blow to my self esteem comes in preschool. That small room with dress up, toys, and paper dolls. A snack area and a curtain drawn to separate the two halves of the room. A little counter at the back of the snack area, where I am sitting. It's early in the morning, because none of us like to be late. My friend Megan arrives with her mother, and she makes a beeline for me. I do not look up from the small teddy bear I am coloring with crayon. The colors are rainbow and beautiful, this is art. I am proud. Megan arrives and she looks at my drawing. "That's just scribbles," she scoffs. "I could do better." I am crushed. How could she not like this? This is amazing! Her mother scolds her and tries to comfort me, but the damage has already been done.
4. Kindergarten comes. I am growing up faster than I know how to fathom, and I place too much trust in my teachers. I have not yet learned skepticism, I do not take things with grains of salt. When my teacher tells the class to line up at the door in the middle of the day, I am first, maybe second, in line. None of us know what is happening, but we are buzzing with excitement. One of my classmates suggests that it is a field trip. We've heard nothing of this, but perhaps it is true. That would be fun- something new for a change. We walk together out of the classroom, out of the school, onto a bus. We are taken to the local theatre, where we see a production of Knuffle Bunny. I am in utter awe, but my mother is mad when she finds out. She did not sign permission for my teachers to take me out of the school. She is furious. We could have been ANYWHERE! I don't know what she is talking about, though. I am just lost in my own head. I think it is a movie at the time, because I don't know the difference between a movie and a play. But that doesn't matter. The spark is there. This will fuel my fascination and love for theatre much later in life.
5. I have been sucked into a whirlwind of romance- I have a crush on a boy in my class. This is my first love, and I am infatuated, to say the very least. I will later come to learn that I am not attracted to guys, but I don't know that yet, and this boy is everything. His name is Nathan, and he's nice to me. We ride the same bus, but I don't have enough courage to talk to him or tell him I like him, but I like to watch him. His hair is brown and he likes the color red, so he wears it a lot. The bright red of his shirt stands out against the black of the leather seats. In two years I will forget his face, forget his voice, but I will never forget his plaid red shirt.
6. For the first time ever I get in trouble at school. For something incredibly unreasonable, and it doesn't seem fair that me and my best friend Grace have to sit on separate benches for the rest of the 30 minute recess. The benches are green and uncomfortable, and I pout the whole time, digging my feet into the tan woodchips that got me in trouble in the first place. Grace and I had been playing with two other girls who's names I have forgotten, but we were friendly with them. They were swinging beside each other on the swings, which there were only two of. Grace and I were talking to them. We wanted the swings, and eventually we got mad. We started throwing woodchips at them, which they were largely unfazed by. They thought it was fun, funny, a new game. They wanted to pretend the woodchips were popcorn. And despite the clear 'no throwing woodchips' rule, Grace and I continued throwing them, to the chorus of all our laughter. This continued until a teacher noticed and stopped us. This day leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and I rarely get in trouble again.
7. My life is ending. The one thing we all as children fear is happening to me. I am switching to a different school. This had been sprung on me in a gullible state of wanting salad. Ever since I had been to a restaurant with a salad bar, I'd been obsessed with them. I'd never much cared for salad until I could actually make my own. And today my mother takes advantage of this. She asks me what I think about a school cafeteria having a salad bar. I am intrigued. She also suggests that they have soup, which I haven't yet learned to like but still find fascinating- my school doesn't have anything like that. She builds things up, stacking items of intrigue until she os ready to drop the bomb. "What if I told you there was a school nearby with all these things?" I am confused. "What if I told you that you could go to that school?" she says, but I know there is no option. This had been predetermined without my input, and I am not okay with this. I walk out of the room, retrieve our landline phone, and hand it to my mother, simply telling her to call the school and tell them she'd changed her mind. My mother does not listen, and this results in a breakdown from me. I run all around the house, making my poor mother with her bad back and bad knee chase me. Eventually we plan to go to Ben and Jerrys later in the day. My parents get me ice cream, and then they bring me to my new school and let me play on their fantastic playground. This, surprisingly, is all it takes to change my mind. I like this new school. I like it a lot. I'm in.
8. My previously calm life has been turned into drama since I switched schools. Now with a much smaller class and a more formed brain and sense of morality, everything is hectic. I'd made plenty of new friends- Madeleine, Ari, Carlie, and Emily- but Ari doesn't seem to like me so much. I know this because they'd started a club to rally against me. Every single girl in the class is involved. The club is called the SSSS. I never learn what each S stands for, but I'm pretty sure one of them is "Stealing" because that's what the club is about. Madeleine and Ari are best friends, and when I came to the school Ari thought I was stealing Madeleine from them. They wanted to put this to a stop. Nothing more than note passing in class ever happens, but I am a little shaken by just the knowledge of the club, and now and then I still stop to wonder if they really actually like me.
9. As fourth grade turns to fifth, everyone around me starts growing up faster and earning more freedom. They're getting phones, which my cousin Tiana and I really want. They look so fun. We don't quite get the concept of social media, but I know that when my family go to a restaurant and my mom lets me play on her phone while we wait, I have so much fun and the time flies by faster than I understand. All I'm looking to have is games like hangman, Minecraft, and the Lion King music videos I watch on Youtube. But no matter how much I barter and beg, the answer is always no. I feel like an outcast, even though none of my close friends have phones yet either. Even so, I waste so much time wanting a phone and not interacting with the world around me free of ties to technology, that by the time I actually get a phone I didn't know how to do that anymore.
10. Ever since I can remember, I'd hated summer camps. "Typical camps", as I started calling them, were the utter bane of my existence. I hate organized sports, swimming, applying sunscreen, and having to be outside in the summer heat with the mosquitoes. I have to go to these camps, though, because my parents work in the summer and I'm too young to stay home all day with nothing to do. The thing that really gets me, though, is that my best friend Madeleine doesn't have to go to typical camps. She goes to interesting camps. Ones with a local theatre company, where they devise a show together and then perform it for their families at the end of a two week session. After months of begging and pleading, my parents finally decide I could try out the camps. And I absolutely love them. I get to play a mother who dies of tuberculosis, and even with my seriously underdeveloped acting skills I'm better than a lot of the people there. I cry at the end of the camp, and I haven't stopped doing theatre since.
11. Back in kindergarten, I'd asked my mom if I could marry my best friend. I didn't know the word "gay" at the time, but that was the beginning. Now, in 7th grade, I revisit that idea. I'd learned the words "gay", "lesbian", and "bisexual", but I'm still at a loss. I don't know what started this chain of thoughts, but I'm pretty sure I'm bi. I'd never had a crush on a girl before, but it doesn't seem totally unreasonable to me. I google things like "Am I Gay Quiz" and get yes. I look at girls and think "hm". And finally I meet someone who introduces the term "pansexual" to me. And it fits. At the time, at least. And not long after, I realize I'd developed a crush on a girl in the grade above me who I'd always wanted to be friends with- Ellie. I come out of the closet quickly, and embrace my newfound homosexuality.
12. For so many years, I'd been taught internet safety. Careful what you search, don't talk to strangers online, and tell a trusted adult if you see something suspicious. I follow these rules well, until I meet someone who I can't manage to stay away from. Her name is Tess and she lives 2,469 miles away from me. I meet her on a kids game called Animal Jam. We both start Youtube channels, and when we grow out of the game we keep in touch through Youtube, but it'd hard to have conversations through a comments section, so eventually we turn to the messaging system Youtube has briefly. But that isn't much better, because we can't send photos. So after a little while we exchange phone numbers and start texting. We find ways to prove that the other person is real and not a 50 year old creep, and we become best friends, texting every single day. She's like a twin to me. We are so close until mid May, when she stops texting. I don't panic, because this has happened before, but days turn into weeks and I grow worried. I message her over and over and over again until she finally texts back to say that her parents had found out about me and we aren't allowed to text anymore. This is May 22, 2019, at 7:08PM. And I am utterly broken.
13. No one expected the pandemic we found ourselves in, and no one expected that we'd find away to make things work in such a crazy time. Thankfully, though, my middle school finds a way for us to have our graduation, which I am so elated about. For so many years I'd hated my school, and only stayed because I love the way they do graduation, and I am determined to see it through. Of course, it's not the same, but it's still so gratifying. I plan my outfit perfectly, and my friends and I give the graduation speeches. We still get our baskets of cute crafts made by students from each grade, and it's the sweetest thing ever. The whole occasion is bittersweet and nostalgic, but even so I'm 100% ready to move on to high school.
14. This year isn't over yet, but it's so important because I've become more me. I've learned to embrace my clothing style, my interests, my appearance, my personality, my quirks and idiosyncrasies. That's something I've always struggled with, so I'm so happy that now, with the help of my close friends, I'm learning to accept myself for who I truly am. I can't wait to see what the rest of this year, and this lifetime, brings.