Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A note about high school and peer pressure.

I was eight when I began horseback riding.  I rode every weekend once or twice a week and it was one of the only things I did that made me feel whole.  I competed in shows and was not all that bad, but I never competed outside of the schooling shows at my barn because I didn’t have access to any other horses.  By the time I was 16, I was one of the oldest students at the riding school.   The girls in my class were at the very least, four years younger than me.  Everyone that I had grown up riding with graduated to their own horses and riding more competitively or just dropped out from the horse community all together.  I loved riding, but because of the age difference, I didn’t relate to the girls in my class and I didn’t make any friends at the barn.

I had a few friends in high school that I got along with and we were all into acting and theatre.  My friend Beth and her older friend, Ame, had this idea to go audition for the Ohio Renaissance Festival.  I thought it sounded fun, so I went along.  The casting directors gave me “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” as my audition piece and I improvised to the best of my ability by using the entire audition space as the cottage.  They really enjoyed my audition and I later found out that I was accepted to be a member of the cast.  I was incredibly excited.

However, there was a problem.  Rehearsals ran every weekend from the spring until summer and then the festival ran from summer until fall.  That was the entire season of horseback riding.  Not wanting to skip out on my lessons and shows, I decided against joining the cast.

One day, Beth came over to my house and we sat in my room.  We were writing a novel together and she pulled out the character development worksheets she was using at the Renaissance Festival for her character.

“We should use something like this to create our characters!” she said.

I thought it was a great idea.  She then told me all about the rehearsals and how much fun she was having.  She and Ame seemed to be getting even closer.  I was jealous.

That school year, my friends started drifting away because I was becoming more interested in goth and punk music.  I hung out with a different crowd because my other friends were busy with the Renaissance Festival.  I became really close with two girls, Ashley and Abby.  We didn’t have much in common other than our interest in music, but at that point in time, music felt like it tied everything together.

Abby smoked and had her license.  She drove me around town with the speakers booming Marilyn Manson and KoRn and introduced me to boys that dressed like Brandon Lee in The Crow.  We had a lot of fun and got into a lot of trouble together, but then a new word was introduced to our vocabulary.

Suddenly, everyone who wasn’t us was a poseur.

“His outfit is entirely from Hot Topic.  Poseur,” we would say.

“She doesn’t know who Peter Murphy or Bauhaus is.”

It just kept escalating from strangers to people we knew personally.  Eventually, we used it on each other.

Ashley had made a rainbow skirt for me to wear to a school dance and I refused to wear it.  She became furious with me and spread rumors about me calling all the girls in our circle poseurs.  She said I called Abby a poseur.

I sat in English class, reading over an assignment and then a note landed on my book.  It was two pages long, front and back… and it was a list about everything that made me a poseur.  At the very top of the list was, “You like horses.  You can’t be goth or punk because you like horses.”

Labels.  In high school, everyone has a label.  I never tried to fit in with a crowd, but I was labeled as a goth before I even knew what goth was.  I was stunned.  I didn’t know I was trying to be anything or anyone other than myself, but the girls around me started whispering and laughing at me.  They repeated the “poseur” word over and over.

I stood up, threw the note away, looked at my teacher, and then walked to the bathroom.  I spent the rest of class in the bathroom, crying.

For the rest of that year, I ate lunch alone and found solace in the internet.  I wrote about my problems in blogs and let the world comment on them.  I started cutting again and I didn’t care who knew about it.  Then spring was  around the corner.  Beth called me and I was so happy to hear her friendly voice.  She invited me to audition for the Renaissance Festival again.  I agreed.

Once again, I was accepted and this time I decided I would quit horseback riding.  The note did not entirely influence my decision, as I felt I was ready to move on from the riding school anyway, but the note was definitely in my mind.  During my last lesson, my mother was reading a book on the bleachers, occasionally lifting her eyes to make sure I was doing okay.

I watched my instructor raise the jumps.  She placed a blue barrel beneath one to distract the horse and then told me to go first.  I was chosen to be the example because I had just won a blue ribbon in the horse show the week before.  My mind had been wandering from the fact that it was my last lesson and I hadn’t even told my instructor yet to the note at school and my lack of friends.

The horse and I cantered to the jump.  I felt like my horse knew what to do as he and I had gotten along great for the past few years, so I just let him carry me.

Big mistake.  I stayed center, expecting lift off, but my horse darted to the right and I crashed to the ground.  I was told to stay still, but I got up anyway to do it again.  This time, I almost fell off again and my instructor moved on.

I was disappointed with myself, but I thought it didn’t matter because it was my last lesson.  I wouldn’t be coming back, so why bother trying again?  I got off my horse, untacked him, and went home to prepare for an entire summer of working at the Renaissance Festival.  I said, “I wanted to try something different.”

I didn’t ride again for nine years.  I am able to see how each action and decision fit into the next event and it is one of the only things that I’ve ever done that I regret.  I wish I never stopped riding just to have friends.  The current me wishes I could go back in time and tell me that I don’t even speak to those people anymore, that I am back to riding as an adult and it’s the most difficult thing to remember being good, but starting at the beginning again.

I want to use my experience to inspire kids and young adults to not fall victim to peer pressure.  I want them to be themselves and follow their dreams.  A lot of people put an emphasis on relationships and friendships in high school, but I discovered that those relationships don’t really matter.  Don’t quit doing what you love for other people.
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