A Mislead Perception I was incredibly awkward in middle school: tall and uncoordinated, fitting the mold of a nerd with a high grade and science and a low one in self-esteem. Even though I had friends, I didn’t necessarily fit the seventh grade standard of being popular. I remember the day Austin came to our school. She was from Brooklyn, and she brought along her unbelievable stories of mischief making her instantly popular. She told us of how she had snuck out at night to meet older boys, and how she would smoke in the park.
She was slightly overweight and her teeth were crooked. That did not matter though, because she walked around like she was better than all of us put together. She was intimidating, outspoken, and aggressive – a person you would never want to cross. While Austin stomped her way around campus, I tried my best to go unnoticed. If I was to steal her spotlight or stand out, it could only result in one thing: confrontation. I convinced myself that I needed to act as if I was a chameleon, blending in with my surroundings and to remain the shy seventh-grader that I had always been.
My actions were to remain coy and reserved. My wardrobe needed to be modest and unrevealing. I let my wardrobe consist of my All Star Chuck Taylors, jeans, and plain t-shirts. Austin and her friends, on the other hand, wore shorts with words like “Hottie” across the seat and they pulled their thong underwear up so it showed. She dyed her red hair black and got a perm like all the other popular girls. All the boys were completely smitten with her appearance and background. I never understood why the boys liked her grungy, despicable style or her loud, boisterous actions.
Even during recess I questioned why, why Austin? I could run for a touchdown, but Austin somehow always managed to be one of the first girls picked in flag football during recess while I was lucky to be picked at all. I was thrown the ball while she stood with the quarterback, conversing about the last keg party she had gone to. I had no idea what even came in a keg and never even contemplated drinking. She was promiscuous and mysterious while I was the prime example of what good parenting and strong Christian morals could produce.
I had never been further than a first kiss, nor did I understand the tactics to get as far as she had gone with a boy. One day, Austin bribed a classmate to ask me to the school dance. My parents had set a prior engagement so I couldn’t attend; I told him so, but I was flattered. I was finally beginning to feel good about myself and accepted by the popular crowd. I felt that they were accepting me for blending in the most perfect way; well enough to fit in and not nerdy enough to stand out. Soon enough however, my world came crashing down. Austin told me one day during science class that she had put him up to that.
If that wasn’t enough to put down my ego, she asked in front of everyone, “Why would anyone ever want you? ” That day, I immediately went home and began questioning whether or not I was an alien. I convinced myself that life would change after middle school. It was clear in my mind that she would never amount to anything while I still had time to grow. Austin would soon be a three-time divorced middle-aged trailer park renter in Texas, with a handful of kids and the same bucktoothed smile, while I would somehow become a successful college graduate with a private practice in a sophisticated city.
I was certain that she would never be in the same league as me, but at the same time, I would never be in the same league as her. Secretly, I emulated her. Through everything she did to me, I wanted to be twenty times better. Although she appeared perfect in everyone’s eyes, I wanted to be everything she wasn’t. Where she was the kind of person who was loud and mocking, I wanted to be reserved and coy. Austin was intimidating and violent, but I wanted to be, and was then, serene and not at all confrontational.
I just wanted to the polar opposite of her, showing how much better I was than her. After a humiliating seventh-grade year, I forgot about Austin somewhere between eighth grade and my junior year of high school. Austin had fallen off the face of the earth, and I was becoming a social butterfly in high school. Looking back, I was and am better than Austin, and though I let her rule over my inadequacies in middle school, I never did again. She was exactly what I hated then and is the type of person I will never let myself become.
I found Austin’s Facebook profile a few weeks ago and found out nothing outwardly shocking. She still had the same chubby face and mocking smile, slyly flipping off the camera. As I continued to click through her pictures, I cringed at some half-naked pictures with captions that say “GET WASSSTED! ” As I read on, I realized that Austin had died of a drug overdose about a year ago. She was seventeen and pregnant at the time. Suddenly, my perception of Austin changed.
I once saw her as a bad influence to a now struggling little girl whose life was taken before she could decipher right from wrong. I wanted everything bad to happen to her, but no one deserves death. My past experience with Austin taught me that although we are all naive in our youth, the choices we make will impact us forever. The people we choose to be will remain a part of us. I will always remember Austin as that loud, overconfident girl and a part of that shy, insecure person I used to be will always keep me humble.