The feeling of rejection is the monster you tuck into that far corner of your brain before you go to sleep at night, so you can pretend it’s not really there. It’s glowing deep orange in the dark, so I squint and clench my fists and try to get the burning image out of my brain of the way the the floodlights brought everything to life from the sequins on her uniform, to the copper specs in her eyes, beaming with color, when she told me she was going to homecoming with Josh. It’s tucked beneath my superficial thoughts of how I missed the notes on that one song, the times I got out of step on the field, the close proximity between us when we warm up our instruments in an arch. There it goes again, making it’s way through the dark. The only way I can set aside this monster is to blame myself. Maybe if I was prettier, more reserved, more interesting. I doubt my self worth until I’m holding a bottle of shaving cream, judging my legs like I’m a band in a competition. I look at my body and tell myself I’m too fat, too pale, too hairy, too ugly to be wanted. Before this monster reserved itself a slot in my head, I had called myself beautiful. Maybe that wasn’t even the word I used, maybe I said handsome or something in between, but right now this creature is telling me to pick a side: She’s bisexual and maybe I don’t fit that spectrum for her. My shaking hands can’t push it away any longer, and a load of self hatred is dumped on me. I dissect myself like a frog, telling myself my quirks and my humor make me all too much. I shrink my personhood when the monster grows to make room in my head, and I just need to sleep but it’s too bright in my room and the blankets can’t protect me from myself. So I let it all go. I open the cage of my ribs and leave it unlocked. I take the memories of her head on my shoulder when she doubles over as she laughs, the dimples on the edges of her chin when she grins, the way she’d fall asleep sitting up after hours of practice at band camp, and I let them wash through me. When I open my eyes the orange monster is gone, and I can sleep peacefully again.

—By Claire B., 14, Ohio