25 years ago I was starting the 5th grade and my parents moved us to a small town in rural Georgia… Wayne County.
That year was the worst of my childhood. I was different. I was quirky and chatty and dorky and too poor for name brand clothes. I came from a town not too far away but much more friendly and diverse.
My eyes still get hot with tears when I think about the names I was called, having milk poured on my head at lunch, and being invited to a sleepover only to get taken into the yard, blindfolded and pushed down a slide covered in old food by girls I thought were my friends.
I easily recall the feeling of seeing everyone draw horns on my picture on yearbook day. I remember my teeth chattering from anxiety every day at recess, counting down until the bell rang and I was safe in my desk again.
My heart still breaks for my child self. I associate so few positive memories with that town that I almost never talk about it. I only lived there for 7 years and I got out as fast as I could. Being there was an uphill mental battle of never feeling accepted or included.
A few weeks ago the local paper there reached out to do a piece on me… a “native”.
I smiled. In that moment I wished I could look at little Katie and hug her.
I would tell her that all the things that people are making fun of her about would one day be her most magnetic qualities.
I would tell her that she didn’t need to agonize over mirroring her peers’ idea of beauty.
I would tell her that eventually she will find her people and it’s OK if they’re not around yet. They’ll come along.
I would tell her to stick close to the odd friends who are unapologetically themselves and to never join bullies to earn validation.
I would tell her…
Don’t compromise yourself for anyone else’s acceptance, and know that one day you’ll be somebody. You’ll be somebody that used pain to tell stories that lift others. You’ll be someone that people want to know. You’ll have more friends than you know what to do with and they will be people who truly see you and the stories that hurt will fade more every day. Hang in there, little Katie. Your past will be your prologue. ❤️