Poster Boy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Changing and discovering things about ourselves can be a frightening process because we like to think we know exactly who we are. Usually it takes something drastic, such as a car accident or the loss of a loved one, to finally change our ways. Most would not consider my “accident” drastic at all. It was something that I, along with just about everyone, do every day. I had a conversation. A simple, one-on-one, conversation. But it changed my life.

I was at a leadership school when I saw him. He looked like your typical Abercrombie and Fitch poster boy. Wearing jeans five sizes too big and a shirt five sizes too small, this typical preppy jock was so high on himself that he thought he could walk on water. At least six times a day he called himself a “preppy jock,” in case you got the impression he was anything but that. He was, in a sense, everything society wanted him to be, and he played his role quite well.

He was a heartthrob, or so I was told by many of the females at camp. He was one of those guys who are fashionably sensitive, but too cool to really care about anyone other than himself. I loathed that about him. He hung around me for most of the week, mostly because I was very good friends with the most attractive girl at the camp. By the end of the week, I disliked him even more than I had when I first met him.

Tension grew between us, and people could tell I was irritated with him. I was jealous, and I knew it. Questions started hitting me, one after another: Why is he agitating me so much? Why don’t I just talk to him? Am I really this insecure?

On one of the last nights of the program, I was talking to my attractive friend, among others, in my dorm room, when he came in and joined our conversation. People left, and with her dreamy scent still lingering in my nose, I realized it was just him and me left in the room. We started saying things like, “Wow, the week has flown by.” I wanted him to leave, but he obviously didn’t get my hints, or wanted something from me so badly that he ignored my hostility. I hate violence, so I restrained myself from doing anything physical, but he was pushing my patience. I thought, What am I waiting for? Nobody else is here, and he needs someone to knock him off his cloud for a little while.

“You know she doesn’t want a relationship right now, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, I know,” he muttered.

“Then why do you make it hard for her? Why don’t you just accept the fact that you can’t get this one right now?” I fired, hoping not to get a response.

“I’ve never met anyone like her. She’s real. She isn’t like those other girls who cake their faces with make-up and think it makes them beautiful. She’s different,” he replied.

“I know, she’s great. But she doesn’t need a relationship, especially a long distance one. You’ve really been pushing my buttons by being so persistent in pushing her into this. I don’t trust you, especially with her,” I commented.

“I know things aren’t going to happen, but I want something different. I don’t want to keep living like this,” he said as he fought back the tears forming in his blue eyes.

“What do you mean?” I asked, a lump building in my throat.

“I can’t stand being everyone’s puppet! I’ve become what everyone wants me to be, except what I want to be,” he said with the forcefulness of releasing many years of bottled-up emotions.

This was the first time I saw him as he really was, not what he wanted people to think. Many times during the week he’d admitted to being egotistical, yet he did nothing about it. He denied everything about himself that wasn’t “cool.” Even things he enjoyed, like playing the violin, were tossed aside at the thought – and fear – of rejection. He’d become a walking, breathing poster boy with no ambitions, thoughts or feelings of his own. He was the biggest case of insecurity I’d ever seen. He was a year younger than I was, and reminded me of someone – myself. All my anger turned to compassion, because I knew exactly where he was coming from. He was only a year behind me in becoming a unique individual, so it was like talking to a shadow. I’d had the will power to change, but he didn’t. He needed encouragement from someone who had already gone through it.

I’m not a saint. I’m not completely satisfied with myself, and I doubt many people are.

Society expects perfection, or so we think. I thought everyone was in their utopia except me. I found out that real people have problems, and I’ve also found empathy for those struggling with problems they choose not to show. Thus, I am now slower to judge people. Everything happens for a reason. It may not be obvious, but it’s there. Then it’s your job to do what you’re supposed to do. Fate only takes you so far, and then it’s really up to you. If that guy hadn’t taken an interest in my friend, I may never have talked to him. He would’ve gone in the same direction he always had, which would had led him only to more frustration and anger. I honestly don’t know if he has made any permanent changes, but I do know that I tried to help him. I did what I was supposed to do, and now it’s up to him.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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