Better This Way

by Spencer Pahang (Nonfiction)

I woke up in bed, breaking out in a cold sweat. My muscles ached from being tense throughout the night. For a thankful, short-lived moment, my heart pounded steadily, and my head started to clear things out. A sudden realization shook my body out of its happiness.

That day was what I dreaded most: first day of junior high school.

They’ll probably think I’m odd, I thought.

No, they won’t. I won’t let them, I countered.

These thoughts fought each other like Spartans and Persians, both powerful and parallel. This debate went on and on until I got to the bathroom. It didn’t stop at the dining table. Like a shadow, it followed me until I got dressed. I put on my white polo shirt and paired it with a black loose pants and a blue rubber shoes. Before facing the outside world, I looked in the mirror and stared at my own reflection.

You look so weird, I thought.

No, you look alright, I countered.

As I entered the school’s gate, I felt a little steady. My confidence slowly regained. The campus was quiet and had a relaxing atmosphere. I could feel the peacefulness and calmness of the school premises. The silence made me feel better, so much better.

Suddenly, I heard the yells of the students from the quadrangle. I observed them and saw similarities. Most of the boys were wearing low-riding jeans paired with black shiny sneakers and “I’m cool” quoted caps. The girls didn’t fell short as well. Most of them were wearing skinny jeans showing their curves and cropped t-shirts showing their belly-buttons.

I will not fit here, I thought.

No, you’ll be fine, I countered.

In class, my classmates stared at me and questioned my gender because of the manner of my speech and action. I heard one student whispered to his friends that I must be gay. Others commented on my awkward walk and other things included in the list of my imperfections. I just stayed silent, trying to act normal while I felt dizzy inside. My hands started to sweat from nervousness, and my eyes struggled to keep their tears in. On the first day of my junior high, I already felt rejected, unaccepted, and unacknowledged because I was different.

Luckily, the class was done. I ran out of the class, struggling to keep myself calm. I accepted that connecting with my classmates would be difficult: we had contrary thoughts. What I found funny, they frowned upon. While I was quiet, they were expressive. What I found in myself as normal, they saw as weird. What I loved, they despised. Change gave me a sense of inability to be in control. I therefore made myself capable of preventing my emotions from showing. When I was pressured, I would break down and would show my true self. This intimidated me and made me feel uncomfortable. I distanced myself from others.

This is what happens when you are socially awkward: you eat your lunch at the classroom alone and you sit next to the classroom window.

Months had passed. While I was eating the snacks I bought at the nearest canteen in our school, I came up with some theories: Am I friendless because of my solitary nature? Do less people gravitate towards me because I look gay and sometimes seem monotonous or lifeless? Should I abandon this charade—forget who I really am and replace it with identities my classmates have?

In class, I spoke spontaneously to a girl I had met. In the end, we walked out giggling and smiling. Sometimes opening yourself up can do wonders.

I waved her goodbye as their car left the parking lot. I sat on the chairs behind me and smiled, thinking how happy I was to talk to someone. As I walked outside to get home, the students in my back were all screaming, murmuring, and whispering to each other. But the noises no longer bothered me. I had grown used to them, and now if ever there was silence, it would worry me.

It is better this way.

As the tricycle wobbled down the uneven road, I made an oath to myself: I will not degrade myself for being different from other boys. That shouldn’t determine the way I act or feel. It shouldn’t be the reason why my voice trembles as I speak to a stranger or my hands sweat as I pass by a bully in the corridors. What I think about myself is what ultimately defines me. I should celebrate my difference as this can be my strength. Life is too short for insecurities to hurt.