It was 7th grade, and the final field trip of year. The junior high was off to Sixth Flags Great Adventures, where small children can spend a years’ worth of allowance on a soda pop and corn dog that’s not even kosher. I should have been ecstatic to get on that bright yellow bus that would drive me to fantasy land. There was only one small problem: I was in the midst of a mean girl mob and was public enemy number one.
I hung out with 5 or 6 of the prettiest girls my small private school had to offer. Their parents had pools and boats. I wasn’t the most attractive girl in 7th grade. I had braces and slightly orange hair. Note to self: DO NOT purchase Just for Men hair dye at your nearest Rite Aid just because it is on sale. You may save money, but you will pay for it with dignity.
Nonetheless, I weaseled my way into the friend group like the trained KGB agent I am. My year was filled with slumber parties and Aeropostale jeans. Everything was going perfectly until it wasn’t. My friends decided that I was no longer allowed to sit at the cool kids table, and expelled me faster than I could adjust my training bra.
It all went down the night before the infamous field trip to Six Flags Great Adventures. I did not feel like “adventuring.” They had poured salt in the wound by not only breaking my 7th grade heart, but also making sure I wouldn’t get my hands on that overpriced soda. Surely no reasonable twelve year old girl would still go to an amusement park with zero friends, when every roller-coaster in the world requires a minimum of two passengers per car seat.
They were wrong. When I showed up and loaded on that bus, they looked like they had seen a ghost. It may have been my pink fanny-pack, but I like to think they were impressed. I wandered the park alone that day, and sat next to strangers on rides. I held back tears while standing in long lines, and forced a smile during lunch while I ate my meal for one. My day sucked, and I still have vivid memories of how painfully lonely I was. That said, I made a decision when I was twelve years old, that I try to remember today: in life, you have to get on the bus.
There are always going to be buses filled with jerks who want you to fail. There are always going to be people who smile to your face, but whisper behind your back. There are always going to be judgmental, hurtful, spiteful people, who for whatever reason, seem to want to make your life hell. There will always be situations that take you outside of your comfort zone, or make you feel like you are a fool for dreaming. But trust me on this, you still have to get on the bus.
I had a student give a speech in my class the other day, about some wisdom she learned in 5th grade. She had just been humiliated by her own pack of mean girls, and was sitting on a sidewalk crying. A boy in her class, who was known as the trouble maker, sat down beside her.
“You know,” he said, with barrels of wisdom that would far exceed his 10 years, “you will be awesome, when you decide to be awesome.”
The truth is, sometimes validation from other people just won’t ever come. I never got an apology from my mean girl brigade, and none of them seemed to miss my presence in the group. I don’t have a fairy tale ending for you about pushing past fear, or learning forgiveness. I still had orange hair and a pink fanny-pack, but somehow I was okay with that. I can say that if you get on the bus, if you do that thing that you are terrified to do, that makes you feel vulnerable and just completely inadequate, you will learn something about yourself. You will learn that you’re not a punk. You are not someone who will let other people dictate whether or not you can dream, or how happy you should be. You will discover that you are made of tougher stuff than the mud they slung at you. When you get on the bus, you learn that you are stronger than you thought you were.
It’s not always about proving others wrong. Sometimes it is more important to prove yourself right. Sometimes we don’t need other people to believe in us, we just need to believe in ourselves. You will be awesome, when you decide to be awesome.
So pursue your great adventure, and mortgage your house over that cheeseburger and slushy. Who cares if you are actually painfully alone. Take a selfie and post it to Instagram like the rock star you are.
There will always be people who hurt us and don’t look back. You don’t get on the bus for them. You get on the bus for you.
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