Illustration by Alanna Stapleton.

Here’s a confession: I am in my late thirties. I’ve published two Young Adult books. I write for this website, which is so bursting with talent and I thank my lucky stars every day that I’ve been asked to contribute to it. I thank my lucky stars because deep down I feel unworthy. I feel outside. I always have.

Here’s another confession: Despite the tattoos, the dyed hair, and the various other proud badges of outsiderdom that I have donned over the years since I was eleven or twelve, all I have ever wanted was to be “in.” To have a girl gang like the Pink Ladies in Grease. To pass the test and gain acceptance like Mitch and Sabrina, the coolest freshmen in Dazed and Confused. (Sure, they were hazed, but it was over in less than 24 hours.) To move to a new town and immediately find my way into the in-crowd like Brenda and Brandon on Beverly Hills 90210. Or perhaps above all, to live in a space where it seemingly didn’t matter if you were punk or nerdy or into film and theater because no one seemed to fight or make fun of each other for these things and there didn’t seem to be “in” or “out” like on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High.

This is probably a big part of what screwed me up. I’ve always been an imaginative person. I’ve always wanted my life to play out like a book, a movie, TV. I took my ideas of “inside” and “outside” from that and it never played out the same way in real life. I never felt myself click magically and perfectly with a group. I never felt transformed in such a way that I was completely comfortable in my own skin–able to be my true self in a crowd or be genuinely okay with being on outside. And you’re supposed to be able to be one or the other or both of those things, aren’t you? Clearly, something is wrong with me.

Illustration by Alanna Stapleton.

These are the reasons I have always told myself that I can’t seem to fit in comfortably anywhere:

1. I am shy. Introverted. Far more comfortable under the covers with a book than out in the world. I like science fiction and fantasy. I liked doing my homework.
2. I didn’t realize that anything was wrong with any of these things until I moved to a new town in third grade. There was a popular crowd at my school. A queen bee who deemed me a cheaply-dressed nerd from day one. I tried so hard to fit in with them and then I chose to give up and be myself. But those three years of trying left me feeling permanently branded. OUTSIDER. UNCOOL. These words seared on my soul.
3. I had capital-P Problems with my closest outsider friends in middle school. Two of them were incredibly jealous, especially of each other. I lived in a constant state of anxiety, unsure of when or how I might set them off or if I would be able to fix it. Another one blabbed my secrets and got me put on suicide-watch at school. TRUST NO ONE, this taught me. Not even your allies.

These are reasons. They are things that happened. They’ve also been crutches, shields, excuses for assuming that I don’t fit before assuming that I do.

Illustration by Alanna Stapleton.

In seventh grade, I joined stage crew. I liked it–enough that I braved the fallout when I told my best friend (one of those people I was always afraid of setting off) that I’d decide to devote my Saturday mornings to that instead of gymnastics, which I’d never been very good at. The summer between seventh and eighth grade the play was Grease, though. My favorite. So I decided to try out for a role onstage and I landed one. A Pink Lady. A character that was made up for our version of the show and only had a single line, but I was in.

A group of girls from the other school that was part of the production bullied me though. It was related to that friend who blabbed my secrets. It made my dream summer a living hell.

That was the reason, I told myself, that I would not try out for any plays in high school. It wasn’t the truth, though. I tried out for plays throughout eighth grade since those bullies weren’t around and while my smaller parts got slightly bigger, I never landed anything close to the lead. I decided I wasn’t good enough for acting in high school without even trying. I didn’t join stage crew either. I looked at those pages in my yearbook–for the actors and for the crew–and wished I was part of them, but I chose not to be.

Illustration by Alanna Stapleton.

Here’s yet another confession: When I started high school, I still secretly wanted the movie things: Dances. Giggling groups of girlfriends. And despite the fact that I wasn’t really into sports and had given up on being part of the in-crowd a couple of a years ago, I even super secretly wanted to go to pep rallies and the Big Game.

My freshman year I went to the required pep rally and felt claustrophobic and small. I stood outside the homecoming game for five minutes scanning the crowd for anyone I knew, anyone that would make it worth paying the five bucks for a ticket, and then left, avoiding the claustrophobia but still feeling small. I went to one informal dance and again felt claustrophobic and small and told myself that it was because the dance was stupid, mainstream high school culture was stupid, and I didn’t need it.

I never went to one more traditional high school thing. Not prom. Not even graduation. And here’s a confession I have a hard time even making to myself: I totally regret it.