I've Become Myself

By , El Paso, TX
A thin stream of smoke rose up into the night sky, slowly disappearing as it rose. I watched it go, and looked around the park- it was empty. I was completely alone, save for my dog, Linda, who had woken up in the early hours of the morning after hearing me open the door to the backyard. She had followed me to the park, despite it being around three in the morning when I had left the house. She was a tiny little thing, a poodle and pekignese mix, and therefore was energetic at any time of the day and more than happy to run beside me with her stubby little legs, looking up at me occasionally, as if to say, "What's wrong?"

I took another drag, realizing that i had pretty much smoked my cigarette down to the filter. I threw the butt down on the concrete and stamped it out with my foot and was amused when Linda hopped down from my lap to sniff the remains of my cigarette. Knowing she'd eat anything, I nudged her with my foot.

"Don't eat that," I muttered, motioning for her to come back on my lap. She did and I reached into my pocket for the handful of mini Milkbones I had put in there. I brought out two bacon-flavored ones and put them on my palm, where she happily shoved her face in to eat them. I liked the feeling of her tiny teeth scraping my palm, it tickled.

Something had brought me here this morning, just like all of the other mornings. Something that, despite all these years, I still had not been able to put my finger on. There was this eternal need to get away, this need that was as inexplicable as it was irresistible.

This park held a lot of memories, good ones, bad ones. It was right next to my high school, the place of my adolescence, my growing up, the center of my life for four years.

I looked over at the ditch that ran alongside the park and smiled, remembering standing there with about a dozen other people, half of which I did not even know, every day during my sophomore year. It was ridiculous, really, sharing a pipe with strangers, not really caring that I had no idea who the guy next to me was. The guy in front of me I knew and that was okay. I was also well on my way to being pretty high so, by the end of those lunch periods, it hadn't mattered that I was amidst strangers with only a handful of friends, because now I could go throughout the next two periods of school, unaware of everything except the fact that I was really hungry and that I was so high my body was numb.

I smiled at the realization of how big of an idiot I had been at fifteen- not that I was all better at eighteen. There were many improvements now that I was older, but not enough to constitute me feeling all high and mighty.

I looked at the little pathway leading from the ditch into a row of houses that led to the school. It was a sort of hallway with fencing on either side.I remembered standing next to it that same year, high, talking, and watching my friend Ivan pack another bowl. I knew I was pretty messed up, but if we had more weed, I'd smoke more. I didn't care.

We heard the wail of a police car and it sounded so far away to all of us. We even considered leaving, but it really did sound extremely far away, and so the pipe started making its way around the circle, and once again we were engulfed in thick white smoke.

Suddenly, the sound of the cop car was right there in front of us, loud and obnoxious. We jumped up, confused- how did they get here so quickly? Ivan threw the pipe as far as he could and, as we turned around, our friend Cody had already started running. The park was clearing quickly.

We realized then, as we ran, that nobody here was our real friend. Cody had run without ever looking back. I had done the same, momentarily unpreoccupied as to whether Ivan and everyone else had made it onto school grounds safely. Once I reached the football field, I ran along the side to the front fence so I could get a better view of the park. I stood on tiptoe and grabbed onto the warm metal.

There, through the fence, I saw three cop cars, and a row of about ten students sitting on the grass, handcuffed, being searched one at a time. Amongst them was Ivan, looking down at the grass, so high that he was leaning ever so slightly to the left with his eyes closed. When asked to stand up, I saw that he got up unsteadily and, when they searched him and pulled out the bag of weed from his pocket, I saw him tilt his head back and move around. He was laughing. I felt shame, relief, anger, and confusion all creep over me.

As they pushed Ivan into the back of the cruiser, I sighed at let my forehead rest on the fence. How could I have left him there?

He was sent to the alternative high school and didn't return until halfway through our junior year.

For some reason, I realized that he had never even mentioned us leaving him there. Somehow that fact was forgotten, forgiven maybe, or so I hoped. Or maybe he just didn't see it that way. We had done what was natural, and that was run. He just hadn't been fast enough.

The sun was coming up now. I watched Linda sniff the ground, pawing at ants, and growling when they came too close. That adorable tiny growl that wouldn't even scare a baby. But Linda thought she was tough stuff, and that was enough for her. I smiled, amused by this tiny little dog.

Another memory came to me- sophomore year again, Mr. Miller's chemistry class. I was sitting in the back, as I always did in every class, with Adrian and Kyle. As it turned out there was a substitute and Kyle had a bag of coke.

The door of the classroom was in a position where, had you looked through the little window on it, my seat as well as Adrian's and Kyle's were clearly visible through it. Despite knowning this, Kyle dumped the coke on my desk and borrowed my ID card to make the lines. It was incredible how no one even noticed and, by the time we had cleared all of the coke off my desk, class was not even halfway through.

I couldn't help but feel like a total idiot, remembering how I had walked into my next period class, AVID, high and ever so slightly paranoid. I hadn't even done my work that day, I had instead busied myself with removing the biggest screw from my desk, which I succeeded in doing by the end of the class period. I had wasted a full forty-five minutes trying to take my desk apart.

Ridiculous.

I shook my head, knowing I had effectively wasted about three years of high school. My senior year had been all about trying to get my life back and finally make something out of myself. I had never achieved perfect grades, but I certainly tried. I worked so hard to pass my Pre-Cal class, assisted by my boyfriend (whom I had been with since I was fifteen and am still with), who was already taking AP Statistics. Despite all of his help and my best efforts, whenever it came time for tests or the simplest of assignments, I realized that somehow I had not managed to retain anything that I had studied. I failed every grading period and was consequently stripped of one of my two Art classes and given an e2020 credit recovery class instead. There, I found comfort in the quiet. Mr. Tijerina, the man in charge of the class, ruled over us with an iron fist. It was not like any other class, as we only had about a hanful of students each period, some of which stayed more than one period because they just had that many credits to make up.

Nobody spoke, and the only sound was the occasional typing, as the credit recovery classes are done online. They were easy enough, with mandatory detailed videos before every new section, constant reviews, and a simple test at the end of every section, with the option of NINE retakes so that it was pretty much impossible to fail. You only needed an eighty percent to pass and recover your credit. I passsed with an eighty point one percent. That doesn't sound like a lot to anyone else, but to me that was an amazing accomplishment, because I came into class and worked non-stop until the bell rang. I took detailed notes and paid attention religiously.

I only graduated number one hundred twenty from a class of two hundred and seventy six seniors, but that was good enough for me. I of course did not make the top ten percent, much less the top ten. I didn't care- gold and white gowns were not something I wanted to wear, I was perfectly okay with the traditional black. What I cared about was when I got to stand amongst my class and throw my cap up, it was one of the happiest moments of my life- I felt so free, so accomplished.

Two months later, it didn't mean anything anymore. Here I was, eighteen years old, doing absolutely nothing while waiting to be shipped off to Oklahoma for Basic Training. I had become accustomed to my position of power in my JROTC battalion. I had graduated with the rank of Captain, the fourth highest rank in all of JROTC, with the first highest being reserved for the one in charge of all the district's JROTC and the other two being reserved for the ones in charge of the school JROTC. I had had two classes, two companies.

In one I was the Executive Officer, or second in command, second highest ranking and, by the end of the year, had the same rank as the Company Commander. In my second company, I was the Platoon Leader, third in command of the company as a whole but first in command of the platoon. I was responsible for training my cadets in drill and ceremony. I possessed the biggest platoon in the battalion and still we managed to tie for best marching during inspection with Alpha Company.

I was accustomed to this, the success as a leader, the love from my cadets. I was accustomed with the respect that came from walking around the school on uniform days and seeing the underclassmen immediately render their salute as they saw an approaching senior officer, me. I wasn't stuck up about my position, in fact, I was always ever so slightly embarrassed by my high rank because of the expectations people had. But I was proud that I could fulfill my cadets' and instructors' expectations.

And now all of that was over. I was in the real military now, with a real rank, and it was a low one. I no longer bore the authority of an officer, I was now again at the mercy of those whom I once belonged to, those who, with a single order could make or break you.

Those who could get their way simply by saying so, just as I had done. Once I had moved the entire company into the sun because I was the one who was cold. With no one of a higher rank than me around, there was no one to oppose my decision. I hadn't done it to be mean, or to show off. I had been legitimately cold and was not about to stand in formation freezing my butt off if I could do something about it. It was slightly amusing to see the effect of my words, however.

"Guys, we need to move to the sun. If your XO's cold, you're all cold!" and with that said, I did not hesitate to have them do an about face and march ten steps forward into the sun. I always loved the amused look on their face at my ridiculous stunts. My cadets loved me, they loved my random outbursts, my pretending to abuse my power, and most of all the way I treated them as equals. I hated making them feel like I was better than them, and so I tried to always treat them as though we were the same rank. I put my foot down when there was the need for it, but otherwise, I was just another one of the cadets, subject to the same punishments and rules as they were and, in the end, it worked out. That company won best company in the brigade.

Through all my failures and my successes in high school, I had managed to become the person I am today. Not incredibly mature, but mature enough, I suppose. I was no longer the idiot little pothead fifteen-year-old girl, with the short hair and black-and-gray striped sweater, the braces, the small gauges, unpierced face and heavy makeup.

I was now eighteen, still with short hair, but now it was styled with straightened bangs, a spiky back, and I was a few inches taller. I was ten pounds heavier, but it suited me. I wore a Harry
Potter shirt, a Minecraft diamond sword necklace, skinny jeans and lace up designer boots. I had since stretched my ears and was at a size double-zero, had snakebites, and my braces had long-since been removed. My makeup was expertly done, courtesy of the years of experience in doing makeup working for my mother as her makeup artist as a way of promoting her Avon business.

I've been told I look intimidating, or on the other hand that I look innocent. I don't like either impression, I want to look like me, I want to look like myself I want to look like the girl who I am now, the one who matured and grew up into someone I never knew I could be. I never knew that one day I would be astonished to discover that I turn heads wherever I go. I never knew that one day more than one boy would call me beautiful, more than one stranger would stop me in the street to tell me they loved my makeup. I'm no longer the awkward little girl who felt insecure about everything and hid under oversized t-shirts and drowned out the word with headphones. I am proud to be who I am today, because I know that as I grew up, I changed for the better. I feel pretty now, I feel smart, I feel good. Despite everything that's every happened, I have found in the world a good boyfriend, and a good set of real friends that have helped pull me out of where I was and into the light. I am who I am because of them, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

To them, who never gave up on me and were with me every step of the way, thank you. This little memoir is dedicated to you guys, my friends, who have supported me no matter what. And most of all to my boyfriend of almost three years, thank you for everything.

Everything I do is for you just as everything you have done is for me. My whole life has changed and now everything I do is because of you. From the way I make food to things I have come to love, these were things that I learned from you and now you have become my other half and I don't know what I would do without you. My friends, you guys are the ones who drag me out of my house and take me out to do things I hate and yet I always find myself having fun.

I couldn't ask for better people in my life.





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