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“You’re ugly, and you have no friends.”
We were settling in our seats for the annual career day assembly, and Eleni Pappas turned and spat the words out at me. I blushed while she laughed, pulling her hair off her lace-trimmed shirt (which, for the record, was nothing you’d find in Vogue).
It wasn’t that I didn’t know what she said was true: my curly hair had yet to meet a flat iron, and the fifty-first US state could be discovered in the gap between my front teeth. My tattered jeans and fresh-from-the-barn odor didn’t help. She just said it so bluntly, and I was trapped, sitting defenseless and on the verge of tears as Jeremy Fine’s father spoke about his adventures as a pilot. Yet in reality, I had been trapped for all of middle school.
I had gone to my parents for help with the bullying. While they meant well with their advice, recommendations to “walk away” didn’t solve anything. Thanks to a flood of name-calling and exclusion, I spent many lunch periods nibbling my sandwich in a bathroom stall. But fast-forward four years and going home in tears is no longer a part of my daily routine. Braces helped take care of my snaggletooth grin and puberty filled the extra room in my clothes, but what my time in high school has provided me with more than anything is a true sense of inner strength.
A big piece of this comes from literally getting back in the saddle. For my fifteenth birthday, after repeated begging and a great deal of negotiating, Elmo was mine-the first horse I could call my own. He was almost too pretty to get mad at; the beautiful dapple-grey was every girl’s dream until he bit, bolted or reared. Some nights it took hours to make a full lap around the arena without being bucked off, but the greater the struggle, the more cathartic the victory lap.
I went to school each day after an evening with Elmo, with bruised ribs and broken toes but no longer gun shy. Ancient Greek class, a once novel idea after eight years of Spanish worksheets, became my new antagonist. Freshman and sophomore years were bearable, but when we switched from the Attic to Homeric dialect junior year, the vocabulary and grammar I’d spent hours memorizing meant nothing. Over the course of the year, days passed where I saw Mrs. Wick, my teacher, more than my parents. I went in for help, attended review sessions and exhausted the few Ancient Greek resources that exist. While the class remained difficult, reading Homer from the original text proved much more interesting thanks to the sense of accomplishment I gained from translating it myself. I realized that though I am a constant work in progress, I am starting to fine-tune.
My eighth grade self may not have had a good comeback for Eleni, but 16-year old Grace was now confident enough as a first-time election judge to handle a fiesty 55-year-old voter who was insistent that he could bring his gun into the polling booth. And just last summer, I faced off against a corporate team-building event gone awry by talking down drunken dodge ball players by diverting attention and adding more games to help them burn off their “energy.”
I could lie and say that I never gossip about others- that I am always in the best mood and never fail to treat people as if today were their last. But I am not pretending to be perfect. My newfound fortitude does nothing but support me in my daily efforts to improve. No longer am I the little twig in a bundle of tears over a few hurtful words. Instead, I am a girl who has found grit and is more ready and excited than ever to tackle the challenges of college.
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