In high school I felt like the girl walking in the shadows–the shadows of those who had gone before me, the shadows of my friends, the shadows of everyone and everything around me. It wasn’t that I felt completely invisible. People did see me, they just didn’t make a big deal about what they saw, and I learned how to live in the shadows.
Living in the shadows had it’s advantages. I wasn’t worth talking much about, and the things people did say were usually benign. If I had a reputation it wasn’t anything that made me gossip fodder. In fact if I had to take a guess, what most people thought of me was that I was a good girl who didn’t get into any trouble. Well, they were sort of right. I didn’t get into much trouble, and I was mostly good. However, I gained a lot of knowledge through experience, but I didn’t go around telling everyone about it.
It wasn’t that I was secretive, I just didn’t go around telling everyone my business, not even many of my friends at the time. Sometimes it was because I was afraid to share my experiences with peers, sometimes I was ashamed, but mostly it was my mom saying, “That’s nobody’s business, but your own. They don’t need to know that.” She ingrained in me this notion that I didn’t HAVE to tell people everything, and if I did choose to share then it was only to be shared when appropriate–like maybe I knew something they DID need to know.
One of the best examples of this happened in high school in Chemistry class of all places. I was sitting behind a girl who was talking to two other girls in the row next to us. Apparently one of the girls wanted to have sex with her older boyfriend, but she wanted to get birth control pills first. That was the only intelligent bit of information in the conversation. The rest was made up of speculation about how you got birth control pills, if one could steal their mothers, and what a visit to the gynecologist was like, which sounded like something out of a horror movie.
I finally looked up from the book work I had only been pretending to do and said, “OK, stop it. Just stop it. You’re scaring me, and it’s nothing like that. I know, I’ve been.”
Three heads whipped around in my direction so fast I was sure whiplash had occurred, and I almost regretted saying anything. This definitely went under the category of things that were nobody’s business, but my own. I mean, good girls didn’t go to the gynecologist and certainly weren’t on birth control in high school. The only kind of girls who were on birth control were the kind of girl one of these were talking about becoming–a word we didn’t even say out loud unless you wanted to start a fight.
But it was too late. I’d already spoken and the whispering began. I should be thankful for the whispering. I mean, as indiscreet as they had been mere moments before, they suddenly hushed their voices without having to be asked and listened with an attention that they never showed the teacher as I explained that no you couldn’t steel anyone’s mother’s pills because of how they worked, that you had to get a prescription for them, that you had to go to the gynecologist to get the prescription, that as an underage girl you had to have a parent with you, and that though uncomfortable and invasive the gynecologist was not on par with any horror movie.
Somehow even after divulging all that first hand knowledge, I went back to being little more than a shadow. None of those girls talked to me any more or less than they ever did before. The school was not abuzz with gossip about me, I did not have random people come up to me asking about birth control or the gynecologist, and I did not have a surge of guys interested in dating me after finding out that I was on the pill, which totally would have happened if they knew because of the stigma that goes with that bit of information.
And so my high school years went with me walking in the shadows. If I gained a reputation for anything it was only as the girl you could ask a question and get a real answer from. I was the girl who knew things. Yes, I read a lot. Yes, my mom was very open and honest with me. I don’t think many people knew that mostly I spoke from experience, though, when I spoke at all.
Struggling to find self-worth isn’t easy when those around you seem to only value certain things about you. What We’re Worth: A Community Collection explores this. Come and read more, and add your story.
*Photo: 8/52 my shadow by Scarleth White, obtained through Flickr.