When I was sixteen, it was a very bad year.
“How could that be?” I can hear my friends wonder, those who didn’t know me then, who didn’t know that Ally. “Your dad’s team went undefeated, they were pounding people into the dirt! What an amazing year.”
Well, it was a great year for him. But he wasn’t an overweight teen with a mullet.
I suffered from a number of teenage plagues-acne, bad hair, worse clothes (really, Ally? four inch platform flipflops with every single outfit?), isolation, loneliness. Growing up in a fishbowl, everyone knew me and everyone knew what I was supposed to turn out as; another product of the Auriemma athlete machine, as it were. My sister, then a freshman at UCONN, had graduated a three-sport athlete from MHS…although if you ask me, golf is barely a sport, but I digress. Then there was my brother. If he could’ve been a three sport athlete all through highschool and college, he would have. But back then he was thirteen, with an insane pitch and deadly three-point shot, one that he perfected while getting his ass kicked in Horse by a certain Italian/Spanish chick from California who happened to shoot the ball a little bit better than he did. I was supposed to follow in those footsteps, and complete the trilogy of talent. We’d be like the new Avengers. Only hairy.
There was just one glitch in this grand master plan. I sucked.
I kind of quit sports freshman year, after it came down to either playing basketball or doing the musical at another highschool. No-brainer. All I wanted to do was sing, dance, read, write, rinse/repeat. Oh, and eat. I was good at eating. Particularly pints of Ben and Jerry’s. And the highlight of my sixteen-year-old year was when Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring came out. I bemoaned my blonde hair, wishing it carried an onyx wave like Liv Tyler’s. I was an utter nerd.
(Okay, still am.)
Boys didn’t exist to me, or rather I didn’t exist to boys. Sixteen year old guys don’t tend to pin their romantic hopes on fat girls with mullets (shut up, I was going for the Mandy Moore pixie look and got stuck with a mullet). I hid myself away at highschool, which was all-girls, so my chances of snagging a boyfriend were limited to awkward inter-school mixers and the occasional hot guest speaker. Dances of course were brutal. I kept to the walls like a daddy-long-leg, observing and never joining in unless it was to bust a move, awkwardly, with my friends.
Yes, I had friends. Very good friends. My one redeeming factor of the entire year was the friendships I made amongst the day students at my day/boarding school. In them, I found a unique brand of freakery that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
My grades plummeted, simply because I didn’t care about school much. I was screamed at by both my parents for a good hour after my final exams were posted, but at that point I was too numb. I didn’t want to deal with the world, with growing up. With living on the same spiritual plane as the rest of humanity. I just wanted my fantasies. In them, I was skinny, tall, with a haircut that wouldn’t put me in any 80s cover band, and had a man in my life who loved me.
Sometimes, in the deep watchers of the night, I still think like that. But then I banish those thoughts way back into that part of hell where the Fred Phelps family first spawned.
A very good thing that came out of that sinkhole known as the sixteenth year of my existence? I started to blog for the first time. Granted, it was full of goth musings and really bad poetry, and boy whining on the level of Bella Swan. But I wrote it all down nonetheless. Then, I began to write stories based on films and books I had read. Yes, ladies and gentlemen…I wrote fanfic. From that humble Mary Sue beginning came a humongous wealth of my own creative output, and now I’m hoping to send some chapters off to a publisher/agent at the urging of my parents.
A few nights ago, after the name-calling and tongue-lashings on my last post, I got a comment from a sixteen year old girl who said I talked to her when we had our games in Norfolk back in March. I remember a girl coming up to me and feeling saddened we hadn’t gotten a chance to talk a bit more. Amongst the wonderful things in her comment, she mentioned that because of me, she had a woman to look up to.
She thanked me. Me. If you had told me at sixteen that nine years later a girl would consider me a role model, I would have laughed. Then I would have cried. How impossible.
AJ, my girl, I am so humbled and so overjoyed that my little corner of the web has become an inspiration to you. I started out this blog to share my story and hope that I might just make people laugh, think, or give them an escape from their day. I didn’t ever think I’d be a role model for a girl at the age when I felt most lost. So I hope you’ll indulge me with this little note, just between us. Girl talk, if you will.
AJ, you are probably smack dab in the middle of the most transformative year of a young woman’s life. Stuff’s going to happen that you won’t understand, but incredible things will occur too. And if there’s any advice I could give to you, it’s the advice I’d give myself at that age:
1. Do something completely ridiculous every single day. It could be dancing by yourself in your room, singing loudly in the car (if you have your license, or just do it in the passenger seat and annoy the hell out of your mom), or pulling faces in the mirror.
2. Make friends. Lots of them. Not just fringe ‘hi in the hallway’ friends. Real, honest friends that would shed blood for you if it came down to it-although, let’s hope that’s not the case.
3. Put yourself in the position to make those friends. Be social, be active, be alive and present in the world around you. If it gets hard, don’t hide away. Try your best to fight it.
4. If it gets hard and you can’t fight it, then embrace it. You have every right to be confused about something, or feel like things are overwhelming. Don’t let it swallow you up, but observe and face it.
5. Boys are crazy, stupid, wonderful beings. They’ll be a great part of your life but don’t let them BECOME your life. Boys like Edward Cullen do not exist. Although I personally think he’s an abusive stalker, so maybe that’s a good thing? And don’t think because a boy didn’t call, the world is ending. He’s clearly an idiot. That Taylor Swift knew what she was talking about when she sang “It’s too late for you and your white horse to come around.” Leave him in the dust!
6. Say yes to everything you know you won’t go to jail for.
7. Say no to the stupid girls and boys at your school who are using their post-adolescent confusions as an excuse to dive headlong into unhealthy choices. Dumb decisions can take so many lives.
8. If you don’t have a boy to go to the prom with, take your best girlfriend and call it a date. I did exactly that with my best friend of twelve years, Connie (monthly shoutout!). We pranced around a boat for three hours and had a grand old time with nary a man in sight.
9. Don’t be what people expect you to be. Be who you want to be.
10. That haircut might seem like a great idea, but you might want to get a second or third opinion before hitting the salon. This is me trying to protect you from my horrifying hair mistakes.
In closing, AJ, I’d like to pass on to you the words of Jim Valvano, the great NC State men’s basketball coach and founder of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. Jimmy V gave an acceptance speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards that remains one of the greatest public speeches by any sports individual. One thing I’ve taken from that speech is Jimmy’s urging of all of us to laugh, think, and cry every single day. “If you can laugh, think, and cry all in one day, that’s a heck of a day.”
You commented on my post to thank me. I should be thanking you. For in the midst of a bleaker blog day, you were a definite light. Bless you and good luck…