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At school, I had always been the unpopular one, the outcast, the geek. Sure, I had friends, but they weren’t enough; I wanted, no, I needed to be popular. I thought it would fix all of my problems, my insecurities, and that everything would be perfect. If only I had known how wrong I was.

Since I wasn’t getting what I wanted at school, I decided to try a different tactic: be popular in swimming. Swimming was the one thing that I had always loved, but I was the quiet one, just like at school. It irritated me that even then, I couldn’t be popular. When I moved up to the highest group on the team, it felt like a fresh start. I thought I could fix everything if I just changed my ways and started talking a little more. I made a promise to myself that I would succeed. I would become popular.

I immediately fell in with the popular girls. They were the ones who talked nonstop, flirted with guys all the time, they were fast swimmers and gorgeous. In other words, they seemed perfect to my shallow mind. Soon enough, we became best friends. I started to hang out with boys, talk more, but most of all, I was mean. It was like I was becoming their clone, I couldn’t think for myself and I did everything that they told me to. Even when they were mean to me, when they put me down, I disregarded it. I didn’t care what they did to me, I was popular and that made everything OK.

Then one day, everything changed. I was hanging out with all of my amazing, popular friends at the mall, but I had also brought one of my friends from school, Claire along. That decision what probably the best one I ever made; it gave me the strength to do what I needed to. We all started out with going for ice cream, and I should have known right then and there that everything was not going to be fine. But, it was just another, regular day, with them ignoring me while I tried to get in on their conversation.

My best friend Nell had recently gotten a new boyfriend, David, and he was a complete jerk. He had come up to me and said, “I don’t know how any guy could ever like you,” and then walked away, leaving me trying to hold the sobs that were bubbling up inside of me. Of course, Nell wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell her this. “I love him.” As if that was enough to excuse his many horrible qualities.

All seven of us (Claire, me, Nell, David, Owen, Kelsey, and Macarena) were sitting around a table, talking. Well, actually, they were talking and I was listening. Soon enough, they all got bored and decided to go to the mall. I, the always obedient puppy, of course went along with Claire trailing behind. They were all bouncing around and fawning over Owen, the only available guy in the group. I tried to join in, but they shunned me, saying to shut up and go away. The comments stung, but I was used to it by now so I just hung back occasionally saying a mean comment or two back. For a while, everything seemed to be going perfectly. My face was lit with a radiant smile, my eyes sparkling and beautiful as I laughed with them, but not while they laughed with me.

Soon though, things got out of hand. Maybe it was the energetic atmosphere that surrounded us, a cloud that was always floating with us, or maybe they were simply bored. Whatever the reason, they decided to turn on me, shooting hateful comments at me. But, I was practiced at this, having participated in countless battles with them. I shot back, and soon, it turned into a full out war. It was them against me and me against the world. For a while, I held my own, dodging the words that they shot at me, as fast and as painful as bullets, and retaliating with my own bombs. But, it’s hard to fight an army if you’re just one lone soldier and eventually, they won. There was no triumph on their faces as they turned away, just the cold, hard expressions that always seemed to linger, no matter how happy they were. This was no victory to them as it would have been to me, no, they were too used to wining to even notice. At that moment, something clicked into place in my mind; I finally could comprehend the awful truth. “Come on, Claire,” I said. And with that, I turned and walked away. I walked away from everything that I thought I had.

They didn’t even notice that we had left, at least not at first. But soon, I got a call from Kelsey. “Hello?” I answered.

“Where are you?” the voice sounded harsher than it ever had before. I almost laughed with joy at that moment; I was free.

“Why does it matter to you?” I composed myself and answered in the same mindless, cold tone that my “friends” spoke to me with.

“We care.” I could hear laughing in the background and as she spoke those simple words, I could hear the distraction in her voice; she wanted to go back and laugh with them. I could tell, I knew, that those words were lies, crafted as easily as all of the ones spoken before. They didn’t care; they just wanted another person to add to the long list of fake friends that they already had. They wanted another puppet to do their dirty work for them while they relaxed and made other people’s lives miserable, and ruin them, just as they had ruined mine.

“Go, just go.” My voice started out softly, but then grew louder and more confident as I went on. With that, I hung up.

Looking over at Claire, I said, “Thank you.”

“For what?” she asked, confused.

“For being there, for being my friend when I had no others.” As I looked into her eyes, I saw recognition. She understood. She was the one true friend, the one that I had ignored, but yet the only one who stuck through me through my good times and bad ones. Together, we stood and walked from that place, passing them as we left. But, I held my head high, I was the confident woman who I had always wanted to be, the one who I thought that I could be if I became popular, the one who I only could become after suffering. I was me.

They tried to contact me after that, but I ignored them. I was polite in person even though they were still mean. Even not being friends, they still put me down, but I never did that to them. They hurt me so much but they also taught me so much. They taught me to be strong and never put anyone down. They taught me a very valuable lesson, that being popular isn’t the best thing that can happen to you, it’s just about the worst.

Even now, I still can’t get over what they did to me. The glitter and shine that I had isn’t there, but instead I sparkle with a subtle confidence that is even more beautiful than the glitz and glam that most people admire. Sometimes, I still find myself collapsing into sobs, depressed over my lack of friends. But then, I always remind myself what happened. I open that drawer in my heart and let the emotions flow. Even though they shattered my heart, I can still put it back together, piece by piece. I may not be the girl I once was, but I am the woman that I always wanted to be.



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