An excerpt from a post titled “Let’s Converse About Bullying” that I wrote in March on Aiming Low Miss Unlimited:
On the first day of sixth grade, I showed up in red hi-top Converse All-stars, a black and white houndstooth skirt, white t-shirt, and a red blazer.
The other girls wore biker shorts, giant gold earrings with their names on them, and Nikes. From the perpetually angry expressions they also wore, I suspected that I was in trouble.
By the end of the week, I was known as “that girl.”
By the end of the year, I was that girl who:
- was referred to as an “Oreo” or a “wannabe” more often than she was called by my her name.
- had her name scratched all over the bathroom walls above crude, scribbled pictures of her doing lewd things.
- was routinely shoved into walls and lockers.
- could often be found circled by a group of girls twice her size. They threw hateful insults as they yanked on her clothes, pulled on her hair, and poked her face.
- never had to worry about finding a seat in the cafeteria, because no one would ever be caught dead sitting at the table where that girl sits.
Sixth grade practically killed me. I think it did damage something inside of me that I’ve never been able to fix completely. When I meet new people I can put up a good front, but inside I’m in an emotional panic and I second-guess everything I do or say. I can’t help but fear that people will initially think I am weird or that they will hate me. I feel like I have to prove my worth as a totally cool and normal person before people will accept me as one.
In the days leading up to the Aiming Low Non-Conference (my first blogging conference), I could feel my excitement building. I was more than ready to lead my Roundtable discussion about the work that I do with Miss Unlimited and the Teen Writers. At the same time, that excitement was undercut with a steady level of rising anxiety. I sensed those familiar demons of insecurity scratching at the back of my head. They told me that I would be one of the lonely wallflowers with no one to talk to, the one who wasn’t “cool” enough to have anyone to sit with her at lunch. Because it’s the cool kids, of course — the ones with a certain degree of popularity — who everyone wants to be around. Me? I’m just the self-proclaimed leader of Club Awkward.
I always know when that type of anxiety stems from childhood’s packed-away nightmares, and I’m able to talk myself down out of the rafters. This wasn’t middle school, after all. This was a group of women (and a couple of brave men) who wouldn’t shun me just because I don’t write one of the most well-known blogs or have a zillion readers.
Still, there was a current of nervous energy that thrummed just enough to reverberate down my back. When I arrived at Callaway Gardens, I did what I’ve grown to be good at; I turned on the extroverted Gangsta and told the inner introvert to chill the hell out. (Besides, my roommate was Dresden, and even if everyone else thought I was a non-entity, at least I knew she would talk to me.)
I’d arrived a few hours early to help with any last-minute set-up that needed to be done. I found Anissa and Faiqa in the ballroom, and the hugs they gave went far in beginning to melt away my icy jitters. I also finally got to meet the effervescent Jasmine face-to-face, who in the couple of weeks prior, I’d begun to get to know and in whom I’d found a kindred soul.
People began trickling in and the hum in my nerves cranked up a couple of notches. But then, something I didn’t expect happened — people knew me. Or rather, they knew “JW Moxie.” I introduced myself to the first few people as “Kymberli.” When met with questioning blinks and flat smiles that searched for a spark of recognition, I’d say, “Kymberli, but better known as JW Moxie.” Then I’d get that light bulb flash and a bright, “OH, YEAAAH!”
What few jitters remained were completely dissolved. Several people said that they were excited to have finally met me. A handful more told me that I smelled good (Moonlight Path by Bath and Bodyworks , baby). It wasn’t so much that I was “known” enough to have been recognized, but it was that people already knew me enough for me to feel like I didn’t have anything to prove.
When Dresden arrived, we totally had an OMIGAWDIMISSYOUSOMUCH hand-flappy moment. Before too long, she was trying to figure out where a group of us could eat and watch the Vice-Presidential debate.
A rather large group of us ended up practically taking over the lobby restaurant. There we sat, a bunch of social media nerds with forks in one hand and smartphones or iPads in the other. We exchanged lively and loud commentary about the debate (much to the amusement, and not disappointment of other patrons).
Somewhere between Biden’s second and third “malarkey,” it suddenly occurred to me that I was having dinner at a table with Kelby Carr sat to my right and Cecily Kellogg to my left. Julia Roberts and Liz Henry sat across from me. These are people who, by definition of social media, are “popular.” Popularity online is based on statistics. Your number of followers, subscribers, and likes are like a from of currency. At the Non-Con, none of that numerical shit mattered.
That’s what the Non-Con was all about, really. The titles and metrics and quantities were stripped away. The Non-Con was our common ground. Around those roundtables, there wasn’t any difference between those of us who have 100 followers and those who have thousands of followers. We were all leaders. Listeners. Learners. We let people into our vulnerabilities and insecurities.
We all had something to bring to the table, both literally and figuratively.
And there was a table for everyone.
A couple of weeks after my post about bullying was published, FedEx dropped an unexpected package on my doorstep. Inside was a pair of red hi-top Converse All-Stars. There was no receipt or gift card, but I knew they were from my mom.
I wore them to the Non-Con.
I was that girl who’d found her people.