Are We the Sum of Our Experiences?

December 15, 2008
Are We the Sum of Our Experiences?

I was raised in a town ruled by perfection. A stroll down main street created a flawless scene. Tall Victorian houses rise above the great oaks lining the sidewalks. White picket fences outline dew covered grass, with flowers as beautiful as an O‘Keefe painting. The smooth sidewalks lead to wood porches, the master and his dog swinging slowly, enjoying the warm weather. Neighbors wave and say a sweet hello as you walk past, and a ‘Welcome’ sign greets you at every door step.

I woke to this sight each morning with a goal, a goal to be the best! You would think of this ambition as the aim of many, but to me it was my life. I would stop at nothing to get what I desired. I did not choose this, it chose me the day I was born in Monticello, Indiana!

From day one it was easy to see that I was a perfectionist. My room was never messy, even as a little girl, every item had a place and if it was moved my bones were restless until it was returned to the proper spot! I began dancing at a very young age and it was extremely important to me to be the best! I did everything from ballet to hip hop. I pushed myself to the limit, sometimes ending class in tears. But I never gave up, I could not, my mind would not let me! Hours were spent at my dance studio perfecting my technique. By ten years old I was performing alongside high school girls almost twice my age. Countless competitions ranked me number one. My most cherished award being the title of Miss Talent Indiana! I strived to be on top. My grades were just as important. Despite my busy schedule my grades never suffered. Between hours of dance every night I always found time to finish my homework. I received nothing but straight A’s, anything less was unacceptable to my standards. I never had to be told to do the things I did, my parents did not care whether I was the vision of perfection or not. But I wanted to be the best, it is just who I was!

As I grew older appearance became my main concern. Having the right friends and wearing the right clothes was imperative! You are who you are with, and I wanted to be better. I knew who I had to befriend. I watched them at school and studied their behavior. They walked together, sat together, and hung out together. No one else was good enough to be in their presence, but I knew I was! I noticed that one of the girls was in my homeroom, so I approached her with delayed caution. Her name was Aubrey Hertzler, She was top three in the state of Indiana for swimming. Her beautiful features, long blonde hair, and tall figure made her appear as if she jumped right off the runway. I marched up to her desk and smiled as convincingly as my nerves would provide.

“Hi, I’m Kayla!” My voice, more high pitched than I would have hoped for! Her eyes shifted up and down as she sized me up. She half-smiled back at me and returned the gesture.

“I’m Aubrey.” Then she turned and faced the other direction. My heart beat quickened and my muscles stiffened. How could she just ignore me? I could not let it go, so I tried again. Slipping into the seat beside her, I leaned forward and began again.

“Do you want to work together?” She turned to me slowly and exhaled the sting of cinnamon gum on my senses.

“I’m already finished,” She started to turn away but quickly faced towards me once more. My adrenaline jumped at her action, and my hopes hit the ceiling! “oh, and where did you get that shirt? You should definitely think of throwing it away!”

My mouth dropped and my eyes felt heavy, I stared down at my shirt then back at Aubrey‘s. Gladly, she was not facing me anymore. I knew the color of my face had to be similar to her cinnamon gum. It burned like my tongue whenever I would chew it. I slumped back to my seat and took notes on Aubrey’s clothing; a pale pink shirt embroidered with an A and an F, a blue jean mini-skirt short enough to enhance the length of her never ending legs, and blue flip flops to match. I glanced down at my own outfit. A plain navy t-shirt, not even close to being form fitting, and my most comfortable jeans, which happened to be a little too long. This made me appear shorter than I would have hoped but before today I would have never noticed. A new goal rose to the top of my list, a fairly easy one to complete.

With new attire I entered school confidently and chose a seat right next to Aubrey. She glanced at me briefly then turned again for another look. Her double take was so obvious I smiled. My cerulean top fit me perfectly, a maroon moose embellished the front. My favorite jeans were with me no more, instead I was clad in a tan skirt that improved my muscular dancer legs quite nicely. I also got my ears pierced, but she had never looked at me long enough to realize they were not already shining with diamond studs.

“Wow I love your outfit! I just bought that shirt in yellow.” Aubrey told me excitedly.

“Really? I almost got that one too, but the blue is totally more my color!” I answered with poise.

From that day on Aubrey Hertzler and I became best friends! I was part of the clique I had dreamed about only weeks before! We all walked together, sat together, and hung out together. My old friends faded into the past and my life was just how I wanted, perfect!

Three years later my perfection seemed to fall apart like sand. An amazing opportunity was offered to my father that he could not refuse. This opportunity resided in the dry desert of Arizona. The scorching wasteland of dust and rock could never compare to the elegance of Monticello. The hour glass of my life dropped the last shiny, grain left at the top. I had to say farewell to my perfect school, my perfect dance studio, and my perfect friends. But I have always tried to remain positive so I flipped my hour glass over and began a new life in a town called Goodyear.

We arrived a month before school began, it was one of the hardest months of my life. A car picked us up at the airport, I can remember the sickening ride as if it just happened. Silence was all I heard, but I know my mother and father were speaking to me. I was in a daze as I stared out the backseat window, lost in the blur of browns and reds. My stomach churned and my eyes felt heavy, full of tears I was afraid to spill. Memories of my friends and family flashed into view as I stared out. But I kept a smile on my face for my mom. I never told her how I felt, it was better that way. I always tell myself ‘emotions are a sign of weakness’ and I am not weak! Now it was only the three of us. But I had to keep looking up, school was starting soon and a whole new set of friends were waiting for me!

By the first day of school I was over the loss of my friends and family, and adjusted to my new life in the warmth of the Valley. My adrenaline was pumping and a smile shone so bright on my face, I could have replaced the sun. I was dressed and ready hours before school would start, I just could not wait to meet all my new friends! I had dreamt up a vision of what to expect the night before. The girls were all lively and gorgeous and the boys were star athletes, with golden brown tans and funny personalities! I was sure that this school had to be better than the small one I was used to. How could it not be?

I skipped in through the soaring green gates that welcomed me to Desert Thunder. My eyes zoomed over all the new sights, and people, but I did not stop long enough to check things out! All I wanted to do was get to first hour so I could meet my new classmates! When I saw the door to room 306 my heart skipped a beat and I held my breath! After adjusting my white pleated skirt and smoothing my fuchsia tank top I hopped into the room! I smiled my most dazzling smile and chose a seat in the front row! I scanned the room checking out my new acquaintances and looking for a new set of best friends! The group of people staring back at me were nothing like what I imagined.

“Hi! I’m Kayla!” I began. But a group of girls interrupted be before I could finish introducing myself to the class. They sat in the back row mocking me and laughing loudly. I felt extremely out of place and scared. I had no idea how to react so I continued my day being nice and cheerful as usual, and meeting as many people as I could.

The second day of school arrived quickly! I was even more thrilled for today because I thought I knew what to expect, I was wrong.

“Hi! I’m Kayla!” I heard a voice behind me speak. I turned around and instantly was thrown into the concrete wall. When my eyes adjusted I was encircled by four Hispanic girls, the same girls who had laughed at me the day before. Their faces’ burned with hatred as they glowered down at me. I was so scared I could not speak, my body trembled and my breathing stopped. My senses were so alert I swore I heard their fists clench. I flinched back and squeezed my eyes tight waiting for the first blow. It did not come. The closest one’s voice rang in my ear as she threatened me. Her nose inches away from mine.

“You better watch out, white girl.” The other girls continued calling me names as they walked into class. Devastated and upset, I steadied my shaky legs on the wall and tried to calm down. I was numb from fear but noticed a red smear on my collared shirt, my elbow was bleeding from the impact. I cleaned it up and finished the day.

The continuation of my eighth grade year went on like this. I felt a constant fear every time I walked into Desert Thunder, the racism and jealousy slowly took away my cheery spirit, but I knew I could not let them tear me down so I focused all my energy on other things, any thing that would keep my mind off of the hatred. I became student council president, joined the cheer team, and played volleyball. My grades were flawless. The more I succeeded the more their anger grew. I pretended not to notice, that did not last long. Soon, I did not want to do anything but hide in a corner and not be noticed. After a hard year I knew something had to change. My family saw how unhappy I was and chose to transfer me to a different school. I did not fit into their world, so I found a new one! My life started over again in Glendale, Arizona. I now attended Mountain Ridge High School.

I was not nervous for my first day, nothing could be worst than what I had already encountered. I was actually, extremely happy, the happiest I had felt in a while! The school leaned on the side of red mountains, it was a spectacular sight. The huge campus reminded me of colleges you see in movies. The parking lot was filled with shiny cars, and gorgeous students that could not wait to begin the new school year. I recognized their faces, not because I had seen them before, but because I knew the expressions that lit up their face. It was the same look of pleasure I had before I moved to the desert. From that moment I knew I was going to like being a Mountain Ridge mountain lion.

The girls were all thin with perfect hair and the boys were all great athletes, just how I had imagined it to be. My life seemed to be back to normal, I had amazing friends and joined the top high school cheer team in the state. I was also a member of the dance line, and student council! Everything returned to the way I had always wanted it to be. Although now the pressure was on. I had to act the right way, dress the right way, and hang out with the right group of kids. This task was more difficult then I had remembered it being. I did not like the way my friends would view other students because of how they were dressed. My friend, Sabrina, and I went to the movies one night after dance class. I do not remember much, it was a night like any other, but I do remember this. We were waiting impatiently in line to buy a soda, when a teenager, no older than us, stepped up. He was wearing tight black pants, and had his face pierced many times. I turned around and smiled at him so I could get a better look. My first thought was, “Wow he is so interesting. I really want to talk to him! What should I say?” The line continued not to budge so I casually said hello. Before he could answer Sabrina gasped loudly, grabbed my arm and pulled me out of line.

“Oh my god! I cannot believe you tried to talk to that freak! He could have like, stabbed you!” I was so confused by her look of shock I laughed.

“What are you talking about!”

“What am I talking about, more like, what are you thinking? Don’t ever do that again! We don‘t talk to people like that!” Her face was completely serious. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Unfortunately I understood her words as clear as crystal, if I wanted to be a part of the group, I could not associate with those unlike us. This rule was unsettling to my conscious but I obeyed. The few friends I had made in Goodyear were left in the dust, they did not fit into my new life.

By the end of sophomore year I realized I was no longer the superficial girl I once knew. I could not complain, I loved Mountain Ridge and all my wonderful friends, but I couldn’t conform to the rules of perfection they laid out to me. I wanted to talk to everyone not just those whose dress resembled mine, I wanted know everyone and be kind to each person. By discriminating my peers I am no better than the girls who treated me badly at Desert Thunder! They took something away from me I might never get back, and I would never want to put another person through that pain.

The economy struggled and our house would not sell. With a month until the end of the school year I was moving back to Goodyear. My mixed emotions were present to everyone. I did not want to leave the world where I finally fit in, but I hoped to gain a second chance with my peers I had met in seventh grade. I began at a high school called Verrado.

After all my experiences I am still the same Midwestern girl. It is still important for me to be the best, and to strive to be great at whatever I do. At Verrado I can be who I want to be, I still dress the same and receive good grades. I no longer conform to fit a stereotype, I am who I want to be. I have learned not to judge people at face value, the most peculiar looking people can turn out to be your closest friends. Most teens my age grow up in the same place, with the same friends their whole life. Although my experiences have not all been favorable, I consider myself lucky to have had this chance. The chance to get to know different people and have so many opportunities to learn more about who I am and the type of person I truly would like to be. There is much more to life than the tiny world of Monticello, sadly many of the residents will never leave. My mother tells me that I have lost a part of my self on this journey. But I feel I have not lost anything, I am becoming the person I will be tomorrow.

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