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Author's note: This is inspired by my interest in swimming and the differences between my friends and I.
I plunged my hand into the warm blue water, and threw my head to the side, trying to capture as much air as I could before I went back under again. Three more strokes and my head was up again. Seeing how close the wall was, I slowed down, paddling towards it and breathing hard. Carter caught my eye and shouted, “Good job, Diana!” I went back under the water to hide my grin as I grasped the wall of the pool. Carter was one of the coaches on my swim team. We were the Tallahassee Otters. I wasn’t sure how much I liked being an Otter, but no one really cared what animal your team was supposed to be anyway.
“Okay, just do two more good, slow free style laps and you’re done!” Carter told us. We groaned, mostly because we had just finished doing 8 free style laps, and also because that meant we would have to get out soon, and no one wanted to do that. It was about 65 degrees today, and after swimming in the heated pool for over an hour, walking around in only our wet swim suits did not sound appealing at all.
“Kevin! Go!” Carter said, which informed me I was not going first. I took this opportunity to lift up my goggles and wipe away the fog that had formed there. I liked to be able to see while I swam, though I didn’t know why. It really wasn’t incredibly important. After a couple more kids left, it was my turn.
“Go!” I heard, and was off. I splashed into the water, and started swimming. I felt good, and fast today. But because of that I found myself at the heels of the kid in front of me. After a second of thinking about the best way to get around him, I swerved to the side, got in front him and then swam as fast as I could. When we finished, everyone in my level climbed out of the pool, and into the cold air. I dashed, barefoot to the bench where my towel and flip-flops lay. I grabbed the towel, and wrapped it around myself for a minute. Then I began drying as much of my legs as I could, and slipped my sweat pants on.
“God, it’s cold….” I whispered to myself, feeling like a wimp. But hey, living in Florida did that to you. I thought that was pretty cold, especially when all you had on was a wet swim suit, sweat pants and a towel.
I sat down on the bench and sighed. Now I just had to wait about 15 minutes for my little sisters’ class to end. Then my mom would come and pick us up. She was only 8, and about three levels below me. I was 13, and turning 14 in less than a month. My hair was about an inch past my ear, simply because short hair was a lot easier when you were a swimmer. My sister and I both had blonde hair and green eyes. But unlike me, her hair was long. My sister’s name was Lannie, and we were pretty close. She was just so cute and sweet you had to love her. All of my friends liked her too. She didn’t mind them, but she was a little bit shy.
When I found her light blue swim cap popping in and out of the water, I frowned a little. Every time I watched her swim I realized how much slower she was then the rest of the kids in her level. Her head seemed to be coming up way too often and there was something wrong about her stroke too, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.
“Go Lannie!!!” I yelled as loud as I could, hoping she could hear me, but doubtful she could while she was swimming.
When they finally finished, Lannie climbed out of the water last. I grabbed her towel and walked over to her quickly, so she wouldn’t be cold. Walked up behind her while she was putting away her kickboard, and wrapped it around her, “Did you have fun swimming today, Lannie?”
She just sighed, and walked toward our bench to get her flip-flops. Her reaction to that question was always something like that. I could tell she didn’t enjoy swimming, but we never really talked about it. I loved it, and I never really knew what to say to comfort a person who hated it. Sighing myself, I watched as she walked into the bathroom to take a shower. I sat down on a bench again and watched the other kids in her level leave while I waited for her. As Lannie entered the bathroom, I saw a small group of girls, older than Lannie, but younger than me; I guessed fifth or six graders; looking at her and whispering. I raised my eyebrow, curious about them as the whole group followed my sister into the bathroom. I stood up, and followed them, walking down the short hall, and peering around the corner. The bathroom didn’t have stalls, everyone just showered quickly in their swimsuits. That way both your hair and your swim suit were rinsed of all the chlorine. The floor was slanted, so the water just ran down the little drain under each shower. Lannie wore a bright blue swim suit, her favorite color. The girls I had followed to the bathroom were all wearing purple swim suits. Obviously they had tried their best to all look the same, but their swim suits were all different styles and shades of purple.
One of them walked up to Lannie, and all the other purple girls followed. I almost laughed at the eight year olds’ attempt to look like a little popular clique. Were children becoming so messed up there were gossipy popular girls in third grade? I shook my head. The girl who had walked up to Lannie grabbed the strap of her blue swim suit, pulled it back and let go. The strap slapped back onto her back. My fist tightened. Lannie winced, and slowly turned around.
“Look,” the girl started, with an obvious voice that told me she considered herself better than everyone else, “I don’t know what your name is, but you get in our way. It’s hard to pass people in our group, and you’re slow.”
Lannie didn’t say anything. She just stood there, staring sadly at the girl’s shoes.
“You’re terrible at swimming, you know”, she continued, in her a high pitched, trying to sound girly, eight year-old voice. Lannie nodded.
The girl was silent for a few moments, “It means you suck”.
Yep, definitely trying-to-be-middle-school behavior. They had to be around fifth grader.
One of the girls grabbed her fluffy green towel off the counter, and casually tossed it under the shower Lannie was using, which was unfortunately still running. My little sister just stood there, not moving.
As they walked into the hall, I stood in front of them, my arms crossed, trying to seem indimitdating. They were giggling and chatting happily- until they looked up and saw me.
“That was my sister you just insulted”, I told them, trying to sound, and look, as angry as I felt. They still weren’t saying anything. So I continued. I grabbed the towel of the girl in the front and threw it on the ground. “How do you like that?” I asked her. They didn’t answer. “Yeah, I thought so. Get out of here”. Everyone one of the girls walked as fast as their evil fifth grade feet would go.
“Lannie?” I said, now very calmly. I walked around the corner into the bathroom. Lannie still stood under the shower, the water still on, her head drooped. “Lannie.” I said more firmly. She still didn’t look up at me, “Lannie, stop staring at the floor!”
She looked up at me, her eyes red and wide. She looked like she was on the brink of crying. I sighed, “You really don’t like swimming, do you?” She shook her head, her blonde hair splattering the floor around the shower with water.
“Turn off the shower.” I told her, walking up to her. She turned it off, and then picked up her soaked towel. She wrapped the wet towel around her and shivered. That very sight made just made me feel guilty for some reason.
“Lannie, you can just have my towel”, I offered, taking the wet one off her shoulders and draping mine across them instead. It was a little bit damp, but it was defiantly better than hers. Finding a hook on the bathroom wall that was meant for towels, bags or other things people hang, I set the green towel on it. I pulled my sweat pants and jacket out and pulled them on.
“Thanks…” Lannie said, almost whispering.
“So those girls are in your level, huh?” I asked her.
She shrugged, “I think they might be a level higher than me, but some day there aren’t enough lanes, and we all have to swim together”.
I sighed, wishing they could find a way to separate the eight year olds from the ten year olds. “Well that’s really stupid; they shouldn’t make you swim together when you’re in different levels”
“They were right.” Lannie said after not replying for several seconds.
“They were not!” I exclaimed.
Lannie looked up, fresh tears running down her adorable face. “Yes they were!” she sobbed quietly.” I’m so much worse than everyone else! People are always passing me, and running into me! I hate swimming!! I know you love it, Diana!!! But I don’t! I’m bad at it, and I can’t do the breathing properly, and I hate how cold it is when I get out!!!”
Seeing my little sister sobbing just about broke my heart. “I know”, I said gently, leaning down and hugging her, “And I’ll talk to mom. But honestly, I won’t be surprised if she makes you keep swimming. You’ve just dropped out of so many different sports; I can tell she’s frustrated”.
“But I don’t like sports…” Lannie complained.
“I know, but mom said we have to exercise. If she does make you keep swimming, maybe I can help you practice on Saturday’s if you want. The pools open then, but there are no classes. So I can swim with you”.
“Yeah…” she replied, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand. I smiled a little, “Come on, I’m sure mom’s waiting for us…”
Chapter 2 “What about this one, Diana?” mom asked, holding out a bright purple dress with a large silver bow around the middle. I made a puking gesture. My mom rolled her eyes, and moved on, pushing through endless racks of dresses. The eighth grade cruise was coming up next weekend, and I, unlike most girls in my grade, had not found a dress to wear yet. Not that I didn’t want to go, but I wasn’t much of a dress person. Finding one to wear in front of everyone I knew was hard work. I had lots of rules that my mom couldn’t seem to remember; no pink, no bows, no long dresses, no super short dresses, nothing with very much cleavage, and then there dresses that weren’t any of those things that I still considered ugly. My mom smiled and pulled out a way to short, gold sequence covered dress. “This is perfect! It would look great on you!” She chirped, holding the dress against me, “Why don’t you go try it on.” I gave her a blank stare. “Okay, okay, no need to give me that look…” she retorted, putting the dress back. I sighed, knowing I needed to tell her that Lannie wanted to quit swimming. I had spent pretty much the whole shopping trip thinking about it, I really needed to find a way to tell her without making her mad at Lannie. I knew she hated it when Mom yelled at her. Actually, she hated it when anyone yelled at her, so I made sure never to do it myself. I supposed, in some ways, I was afraid she should blow up at me too, maybe because she’d thought I’d encouraged my sister to want to quit something again. I brushed my hand through a row of dresses we’d already looked through that I’d decided I hated. “Mom?” I finally said, hoping I had the right words prepared in my mind. She continued flipping through dresses before eventually replying with a distracted, “Yes..?” My eyes darted around the room, making sure that what I was going to say was what I wanted to say, that It made sense, and would allow me to get the reaction I wanted out of Mom. I cleared my throat and began, “Well…I was think-“ “DIANA!!” a loud, voice that sounded like it had just finished giggling, and probably had, shouted from what sounded like across the department store. I looked around wildly, and saw two girls bounding towards me. One wore a black jacket with the hood up, and tee shirt with some creepy looking alien on the front. The other had blue Converse shoes and a gray and red striped tee shirt with ripped skinny jeans. As they approached I realized they were my two probably closest friends that weren’t guys, Sydney and Ori. I didn’t hate their sense of style, but I just had on normal jeans, green converse, and a bright colored sweater. I also had on my soft, knit hat. You know normal cloths. Ori was a small girl, with black hair, pale skin and brown eyes. Her hair had a red streak on the side. Sydney had almost strawberry blond hair and blue eyes, with a streak of color that was exactly the same except hers was lime green. Thee three of us were alike in many ways, most involving our personalities, not interests, though sometimes I couldn’t help feeling like we were closer in sixth grade, back when anyone could be friends with anyone. But unfortunately, or fortunately, we were growing up, and everyone was starting to acquire their own personal opinions instead of just going along with what their friends did without caring or thinking. “Hi..?” I replied, confused at the fact they were here. My mom whipped around, “Oh, Hello!!!” “Hi” Sydney told her in her calm voice, and then they grabbed my arm, and dragged me to a completely different section of dresses. I didn’t protest, who wanted to chat in front of parents? “I didn’t know you guys were going to be here…I thought you already bought your stupid dresses” I said, wondering just a little bit why they hadn’t invited me, but they’d always been closer to each other than me, especially in the last year or so. They gave me a weird look for a minute, like I was just so weird for calling dress shopping stupid. It meant that I was annoyed by something involving the precious 8th grade cruise. Sure it didn’t look horrible, but all this getting dressed up and everything…It was so much trouble. They looked like they wanted me to take it back, almost, so I just stared into space with my “I don’t give a crap” look on. Finally, Ori opened her lips, coated with weird blue lip gloss, and answered, “We were just looking at the cloths over there, and we both wanted a new pair of skinny jeans so we were trying them on.” She shrugged, “We didn’t really figure you’d…be interested”. Her statement wasn’t exactly correct, but I knew what she meant. They were shopping for the kind of cloths they liked. “And afterwards we’re going to go over to Ori’s house and play Universe for a while. I’m really close to unlocking new armor, but first I have to defeat the Orknod, and I need her help” Sydney informed me. I gave sigh. Yeah, I was glad I hadn’t been invited. As girly as they were, in the past year they had gotten into the first person shooter games, and heavy metal music. I wasn’t sure if they did it to get the attention of guys at first, but now they were completely obsessed with that kind of stuff. Universe was one of their favorites, and probably one of the most popular first person shooter games. I had heard the term “Orknod” before, but I had never asked what it was because I simply was not interested. “So anyway, have you found a dress yet?” Ori asked. I sighed, “Nope. My mom has found nothing that meets my standards yet”. Sydney gave me a weird look, “Why don’t you look for yourself then?” “Because I don’t really….care that much?” I replied with a shrug. Ori and Sydney looked at each other and then rolled their eyes, “Come on….” They said dragging me towards the black, gray, and white section of the dresses. Colorful. “You’re right” Ori began, “You’re mom has probably not found anything interesting. But if you would look for yourself, you would have discovered this section.” I looked around. There were gray, black and white dresses in every color. I noticed Ori’s loving looks seemed to be mostly directed towards the black ones though. She was right; my mom had not reached this section. There were some normal dresses here; we would have reached it eventually. But finding by looking by myself? I would describe myself as a pretty colorful person. I wasn’t a fan of these dresses. “Oooh! Diana, look this is the one I got, I don’t think you’ve seen it yet” Sydney said, staring up at a dress on the black wall. I, preparing for the worst but at the same time not feeling interested enough to think about it very long. I strolled over to my strange friend and peered up at the dress she was pointing to. It was a gray and black striped dress, with tank-top style straps. The bottom of the dress was made to look frayed and torn. It was defiantly a Sydney dress. If it had been black and green striped without all the frayed crap, I might have really liked it. “I found mine! Come here!” Ori exclaimed. She was flipping through a rack of gray dresses. I ambled over to her, hands casually in my pockets, not really getting as much enjoyment out of this as they were. She pulled out her dress, her eyes lit up, as if she designed it herself. It was strapless and gray, but in parts some of the gray was extremely ripped and torn away in places to reveal a lime green fabric underneath. Well, at least it had color in it. I still didn’t adore the rips, though. In my opinion, it looked as though it used to be a gray dress that someone had worn and then fallen down a hill filled with briars and put the random green fabric underneath to try and make it look better. The two girls gazed at me, smiling, waiting for feedback on the dresses they picked. I could see a glint of determination in their eyes. They knew I didn’t like the dresses, but they were also pretty sure I wasn’t going to say anything bad about them to their faces. It was a silent challenge. “Cool”, I replied dryly. The spark in their eyes disappeared. My comment had defeated it. “Well, now that you’ve seen our dresses, let’s help you find yours!” Sydney chirped, obviously entering some glorious fantasy involving my dress. I was scared. Both girls almost skipped over to me, observing my body. Their eyes moved up, down, and around. Mostly they looked at my eyes, skin, and head. I just sighed, trying to pretend not to notice they were staring at me. I didn’t really think very much of that could have very much effect on a dress, but I didn’t say anything. They then took to the dress racks. I just stood there, feeling pretty confident I wasn’t going to like anything they picked from this section of dresses. After several long, tedious minutes, Ori pulled out a dress, “Sydney! I found something!” Sydney, whose head was still stuck in the dress rack, answered, “Awesome! I did too; wait just let me find her size…” I tried to look at what Ori had decided upon for me, but she hid his behind her back, waiting for Sydney. I scowled. Finally, Sydney came out, holding out a dress. It was neon purple, with long violent looking rips down the side. It looked sort of as if some wild animal had raked its claws across the dress. Ori stood beside her friend, holding out the other dress. It was green with damaged black lace covering it. The lace at the bottom was frayed, and it was snagged almost to the point of a hole in multiple areas. They both smiled, obviously waiting for me to pick one. I shrugged, “Uh great guys, but is there any chance you could help me find a dress without rips in it?” They stared at me. I hope I hadn’t insulted them, but then I realized I hadn’t done anything wrong. They could be insulted if they wanted to, it wasn’t my fault. “And maybe with a little bit more color?” I added. So I wanted a colorful dress without rips. I thought that could give them a lot more to work with it. Or, at the least get us out of this section. Of course, that wasn’t what they wanted though. Finally Sydney sighed a little. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to notice that sigh or not, but I had. “I guess we can try that…If you want to. But I promise, the best dresses are here”, Ori said. They both flashed a grin and held out their dresses again. “Eh, no thanks…” I said without any feeling. If I put feeling it, it would have for sure sounded rude. I didn’t really want them annoyed at me. I walked slowly out of the scary dress area, gazing around at all the normal dresses. Soon, I heard footsteps behind me and my friends followed. “So are you even sure there are any other good dresses?” Sydney asked. Her voice was almost rude, and defiantly questioning, but I tried to ignore that. I decided to tell her the same rules I had informed my mom of, “I don’t like a whole bunch of sparkles and I don’t want it to be too short, or to low cut either.” “Yeah, neither do we!” Ori replied, sounding almost excited that we had that in common. “And then I think completely black, gray, brown, or white is…..well boring. So yeah, colorful” I continued. This was what they might not agree with. Well they weren’t much for white and brown, but they loved gray and black. I expected them to say something, but they just nodded. I couldn’t decide if that was good or bad. “Lastly, I think totally pink and giant bows is over the top too”, I noted. This time Sydney smiled, agreeing with me. Pink was, I liked to think, their greatest enemy. “There can be pink in it, I don’t hate the color, but I don’t want like, a lot of it to be pink” I said quickly. Honestly, I liked all the colors. “Okay!” Ori chirped, and they set off, flipping through dresses. I was pretty sure there would still be no pink in my dress, but I thought I would at least try to point that out. Oh well, I could live without pink. I then turned, and took a few steps around a dress rack to where my mom still stood, flipping through dresses that looked like bigger sizes of dresses for seven year olds. I pretended to puke on the ground, which got my mom’s attention. “What?” She held out a yellow and pink dress with a huge flowery bow across it, “You don’t like these either?” “Ha, no” I scoffed. She didn’t really seem surprised, and put the dress back searching through the rack again. “I wanted to ask you something”, I said innocently. She stopped looking, and turned around, “Can’t it wait until we get home? What are your friends doing?” “They’re trying to find a dress for me,” I laughed, “They tried to get me to pick black and neon dresses with giant gaping holes in them!” My mom rolled her eyes, “Those girls sure are different…” I sighed, realizing I had gotten off topic again. “Anyway, I wanted to ask you-“ “Your friends are trying to find a dress for you and so am I. We can’t stay at the mall all day. Just wait until we get home, please?” she interrupted. I groaned a little, and walked back to wear I had last seen Sydney and Ori. Sydney was still there, I couldn’t see Ori anymore. “Um, find anything yet?” I asked. There was a small pile a dresses now hanging over a half empty clearance rack. Sydney stood up, “Yeah!” she picked up the pile of dresses. “Ori!!” she said loudly. “Yes?” Ori’s head popped up a few racks over. “I’m going to make her try them on now. Did you find anything else?” “Not really….” She said as she walked over to us, “There was one a liked, but it wasn’t the right size…” Sydney turned to me, “Does your mom have any kind of budget?” I shrugged, “She might. It probably depends on the dress.” Ori looked around over racks and past walls of dresses, “There is it!” she exclaimed, racing off. We followed, Sydney clutching the armful of dresses. I wondered if I would like any of them. “There you go! The changing rooms”, she said, sounding proud that she had been the one to find them. “Remember” Sydney begin, handing me one of the dresses, “We want to see everyone. So come out after you’ve tried this one on!” “Guess I have to if I want the next dress” I said as I walked towards an open stall. I pushed it open and stepped inside, locking the door behind me. The room was very plain, and I guess it was because it was just a department store. There was a small wooden seat attached the wall, and then a mirror on the other. I took off my sweater, shirt and hat, tossing them on the bench-like thing. I took off my shoes, socks and jeans too. I saw the dress was white and orange, but nothing else because it was lying in a heap on the seat. I picked it up and without look at it pulled it on. This one seemed pretty simple, and there was no zipper. It has straps like I had asked, that were sort of the same shape as a tank top. It was orange at the top, but at my chest it stopped and from then on was white with orange floral patterns. I liked the dress, and I was surprised they had picked it. I walked out into the hall again so Ori and Sydney could see. They looked at me for multiple seconds, like they were experts or something- I got the impression they had fun pretending they were- when finally Ori said, “Spin around”. I did as I was asked and the dress flared out a little bit. “Well I like it” Sydney finally commented. “Yeah me too…” Ori said quietly, still gazing at me. “What do you think Diana?” “Well….” I began, putting together my opinions of the dress, “I like the color, and I like the shape. I think it looks alright on me too. I wouldn’t say it’s outstanding, but I could be happy wearing it.” They both nodded, seeming pleases with my response. “Okay, well here’s the next one,” Ori said, picking a dress from the pile which now sat on a stool in the hallway. I grabbed it, and walked back into the stall. I set the new dress on the bench, on top of my clothes, and took off the orange one, putting it back on its hanger. I put on the second dress, which I quickly noted was my favorite color, a deep green. It zipped up on the side, and had thin straps holding it up. It fit all my rules too. The green dress was simple; the top was tight, and made of something that at least seemed to be silk. The bottom was the same color and fabric, but fit more loosely than the top. I absolutely loved it.