I knew I wasn’t someone who nobody liked. I had a really cool group of friends in 7th grade, and every day seemed like it was a new adventure being a 13-year-old girl. Girls liked boys, Girls like girly things, Girls constantly chased boys if boys were bugging them. Me? I fell into those categories, but one thing that I had that nobody else in my class had was something I was insecure about. No, it wasn’t my weight that people poke fun of occasionally.
It was the fact that every sixth period, I was pulled out of class for speech therapy.
Since I was a pre-schooler, I was put into speech therapy because I had a hard time speaking properly and I stuttered a lot. Speech therapy, in a sense, forced me to speak and try to formulate sentences that other people were able to understand. In the 5th grade, I remember having to explain something thoroughly in a game of Taboo, which I was surprisingly good at as a 10-year-old. I didn’t know, though, that speech therapy was now something I had to go through in middle school: the years where people poke fun at anything that seemed abnormal to preteens.
I remember my class sucking their teeth in music class everytime I was pulled out of class. I remember the days when I was able to attend music class, my music teacher pointed out that “Elizabeth has been out of class for half the year and she still knows more about her part on flute than the entire class.” It was humiliating.
Although I was a pretty outspoken pre-teen, I still never felt like I was heard. I wasn’t remembered. I was just the girl who had a bunch of guy friends who seemed to only be friends with my tomboy best friend at the time. No boys liked me or paid attention to me like they did with the skinny girls, despite me having the hugest crushes in middle school. In a group of skinny girls, I felt like the ugly fat friend. It seemed like people only listened to me when I was singing on stage, to which then everyone took the time to notice me as Liz and not just another girl in the super smart class.
I noticed a couple of girls in my class occasionally write and share the poems that they would write, and somehow that interested me. How can these girls that everyone mistaken as “stupid girly-girls” write so sophisticated and… real? I decided to then try writing a poem on my own. It was called “You Found Me”. I shared it with those girls the following day at lunch, and for once, I felt heard.
I regret not putting sunblock on my body when ditching school for “senior ditch day”. High-school was officially coming to an end in a couple of weeks, and what not better way than to spend it with my friend and her circle of friends at a beach? I came home as red as a tomato. I know that’s so unoriginal for me to compare my skin with, but it’s the honest damn truth. Other than that, I had a good time. In a sense, I needed a day away from the drama that lived inside that school. For a performing arts school, you would’ve thought everyone majored in drama because everyone was in someone else’s drama. I had a lot of it in the recent months in 2012. For once, I felt unsafe at my school; I felt like a ticking time bomb and at any given moment, I was going to explode. I didn’t know who was watching me, talking about me, being fake towards me, but it felt like I heard something new about myself every single day.
Up to this point, my nights have all ended in me crying on my bathroom floor, feeling alone as one does at 3am in the morning. I spoke to God a lot, even though at the time it was very hard to believe in him when he had me in a situation I thought I’d never see myself coming out of. This particular night felt different; I thought for once I’d be able to sleep without any lingering thoughts in my mind.
Of course, that little hope only lasted for a few.
I received a phone call that frightened me. It was one that was intrusive, disrespectful, and manipulative as hell. To this day I still think about it. I hung up the phone afraid, hurt, and in shock. My actions as a dumb and naive 18-year-old got me to the point where it was now affecting those around me. It was my fault everyone around me was now involved. Most importantly, I hung up the phone defeated.
Sometimes I remember that night and think that was the night I didn’t want to live anymore. I think that night or that morning perhaps would’ve been when I’d attempted suicide for the first time. At that point, I didn’t feel like there was any way out of the torment I was living. I didn’t have much fight left in me. I think I remember that night so lividly because deep down I know that it easily could’ve been the night I gave up living.
I did what I did best at that time of my depression: I wrote a poem simply entitled, “Elizabeth”.
I posted that poem on my Facebook page as a note and tagged all of the “poetry people” who enjoyed reading my poems. In a sense, I wanted people to care and pay attention to me for once, I wanted someone to read that shit and read in between the lines and realized the little-hidden messages of me wanting to kill myself, I wanted a human-fuckin-being in this world to care that I fucking exist.
They felt the “hurt” in that poem, but I was nothing more than just an angsty teen who wrote poetry to express their overly-dramatic emotions. Still, it was enough for me to go to sleep that night and wake up the following morning. Knowing that I’ve written my truth and what I’ve feared for months on end was enough for me to see another day. I still remember that night.
To say it as bluntly as possible: I was fucking nervous. Sitting in the front row of the lecture hall with my name around my neck was nerve-wracking to me. Presenting in front of people was never my thing, especially if it was on something that I actually gave a damn about. This presentation was different than all the others I’ve done in my grad-school career. I was now only weeks away from graduating with my master’s, and here I am, presenting my 40-page Master’s Thesis for the annual graduate research conference. I had 5 minutes to present the work that I’ve done within the last 5 months, and again, it was extremely nerve-wracking.
I was number three, and the first of the English majors to present on the research that I made. This was it, as I stood up in front of the podium, looking at the small audience and my thesis advisor who walked in just in time to see her student present the body of work she helped me on. I was never the greatest academic writer; getting A’s on final papers in college was never an easy task, and they always came when it was about creative writing: my specialty. Taking my first ever graduate-level writing course changed the way that I saw writing and how it is viewed through a scholar’s perspective. Writing my thesis took two years to complete, and submitting it officially a week before the conference was an emotional roller coaster, to say the least. I mean, I cried the night I had it officially printed out for review if that gives you a picture on how much this thesis meant to me.
It was now time for those who didn’t know me or my studies to know the exact things I was passionate about.
As a student myself, it’s important to be a part of an academic community that allows students to be themselves in their classes. Classrooms aren’t just lectures anymore; they are writing workshops and student-driven discussions. All voices are important, and they need to be recognized and heard more in college classrooms.
The five minutes were now up, and my last presentation as a grad student was officially over. I looked up to the people clapping and felt this immense feeling of accomplishment in me. For something I questioned myself doing in months prior has become one of the days I’ll never forget in my grad school career. People came up to me afterward and congratulate me on my presentation. Some even expressed their interest in one day reading my Master’s Thesis! I thanked my thesis advisor for helping me and encouraging me to be heard on a topic that is important not just in English classrooms, but any type of classroom where professors are authorized more than students. I left my student career doing the one thing I’ve wanted to accomplish in all 6 years of college: to be heard.