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How I swapped smoking for Shakespeare (and discovered it’s ok not to be cool)

I always felt like a bit of a chameleon when I was growing up.

I had lots of different groups of friends and I felt really happy moving between them. I could be arty and into speaking about paints and new projects with one group. I could talk about music and boys and shopping and clothes with another. I could talk about dyeing my hair and getting a nose piercing and listening to lots of loud music with some others. And my friends who loved poetry and losing themselves in the library made me feel calm when the whirlwind of first crushes, so much homework and a changing body made me feel quite scared.

But when we hit 14 things began to change. It didn’t seem so easy to move from one group to another. I was listening to rock music and wanted to wear baggy clothes, but one group called me names. I decided I really wanted to fit in, so I dressed more like them. I listened to the music they listened to. And I spent a lot of time talking about boys, parties and clothes. I wasn’t part of lots of groups anymore. I was part of one.

At first, it felt good to be part of one group. We were all very close, they invited me everywhere and we did everything together. I didn’t speak to my other friends much anymore.

But soon I realised that I didn’t really fit into this group as much as I thought I did. I was hiding the music I listened to at home. I was getting all my homework done when they weren’t. I still wanted to audition for the school play and they wanted to go sit in the park on a night instead.

One day they told me I couldn’t come to lunch with them anymore. “…Why?” I asked, assuming it was some kind of joke. “Because if you love homework so much, you have all of ours to do as well,” one of them answered.

So, I did. I sat all lunch time doing six different sets of history homework. I didn’t have my other groups of friends. I didn’t have this group anymore. And I’d never felt so alone.

That weekend they invited me to a house party. I’d never been to a house party before. I felt scared, but also excited. And happy that they’d invited me to something. Maybe I wouldn’t have to do their homework for them again?

I arrived at the party and met my friends outside. They didn’t seem to want me there, but I followed them in anyway. We sat in the front room of the house, loads of boys that were much older than us sat around us. I felt really uncomfortable. Suddenly my friends got up and ran out. “You stay here,” they said. I waited a few minutes and then decided I just had to get out of there. I tried to move and knocked a lamp over. Everyone in the room laughed.

I ran outside to see my friends talking to a bunch of older boys. They were all smoking. “Oh here she is, Little Miss Geek,” one of them said. “Little Miss Goody Two Shoes Goth!” said the other. I looked at them both and turned away to walk back home. I felt sad. I felt lonely.

But I also felt free.

The next day, I went to audition for the latest school play. I thought I might have missed the last chance, but my favourite drama teacher let me give it a go. A lot of my old friends were there and I felt shy around them. Luckily, they invited me over when they could see I was on my own. We all auditioned and I felt happy to stand on stage. To speak loudly. To do something I loved and to see people who didn’t need me to be someone I wasn’t.

Over the next few weeks I spent a lot of time with the drama group. We all got brilliant parts in the play. We all bonded over old, sticky stage makeup and big, billowing costumes and dancing about behind-the-scenes before rehearsals. I didn’t feel scared about being part of a group this time, because I knew this group appreciated a big bit of me.

And I never had to do anyone else’s homework ever again.


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Image: Hailey Hamilton

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