I was awkward in middle school: bony and athletic, with a high grade in science and a low one in self-esteem. Though I had friends, I didn't fit the mold of popularity. I was picked last in flag football and I sometimes ate lunch by myself.
I remember the day Brittany came to our school. She was from the Bay Area, and told us stories of how she had snuck out at night to meet older boys and smoke in the park. Her teeth were crooked , and she was a little overweight. Not that mattered though, because she walked around like she was better than all of us put together. She was incredibly intimidating , outspoken, and aggressive - a person who you didn't want to cross .
Around Brittany, I tried my best to go unnoticed. Standing out or stealing her spotlight could only result in one thing: confrontation. I considered myself a chameleon, blending in with my surrounding and remaining the shy sixth-grader I had always been. I wore skorts and Tommy Hilfiger sneakers with red and blue laces, and my blond hair was frequently in a ponytail. Brittany and her friends wore shorts with words like "Hottie" on the seat. She dyed her brown hair black and got a perm like the other popular girls. All the boys were completely smitten with her.
Although I could run for a touchdown , Brittany was always the first girl picked in flag football at recess and I was lucky if I was picked at all. I was thrown the ball while she stood with the quarterback, chatting about the last keg party she'd gone to. I didn't even know what came in a keg and had never contemplated drinking. She was flirtatious and mysterious while I was a declaration of what good parenting and strong Christian morals could produce. I had never been kissed, nor did I understand the tactics to get as far as she had gone with a boy.
One day, Brittany bribed a classmate to ask me to the school dance. I wasn't allowed to go, and I told him so, but I was flattered. I felt elite and accepted by those around me. I told myself, though I am alone, I am desired and that is good enough for me. I blended in the most perfect way: well enough to fit in and not nerdy enough to stand out. Then Brittany told me during science class that she had put him up to it. She asked in front of everyone, "Why would anyone ever want you?" And I believed her.
I went home and cried, questioning whether I was an alien. I told myself over and over that she would amount to nothing while I still had time to grow. She would become a middle-aged trailer park renter in Northern California, with lots of kids and with her same buck-toothed smile, while I would somehow turn into a high school social butterfly and move to New York City, Chicago, or Washington D.C., cosmopolitan and sophisticated . We would never be in the same league.
Secretly, I emulated her. Through everything that she did to me, I wanted to be 20 times better. Although she was seemingly perfect in everyone's eyes, I wanted to be everything she wasn't and yet a million times more perfect. Where she was loud and mocking, I wanted to be reserved and coy . She wore tight pants that exposed her chubby stomach, but I wanted to be thin and muscular. Brittany was intimidating and violent, but I wanted to be, and was then, serene and not at all confrontational. I wanted to be the polar opposite of her, showing how much better I was than her.
I forgot about Brittany somewhere between eighth grade and freshman year. I found a new group of friends - girls from other schools who finally became the "in-crowd " in high school. Looking back, I was and am better than Brittany, and though I let her rule over my inadequacies in middle school, I never did again. She was exactly what I hated then and is the type of person I will never let myself become.
I found Brittany's online profile a few weeks ago and discovered nothing outwardly shocking. She still has the same chubby face and mocking smile, flipping off the camera as if she couldn't come up with anything original. I cringed at some half-naked pictures with captions that read "GeT bLaZeD". As I read on, I realized that Brittany had died in a drunken driving accident a year ago. She had been 16 and pregnant at the time. Suddenly my perception of Brittany changed from a bad influence into a struggling little girl whose life was taken before she could decipher right from wrong. I had wanted everything bad to happen to her, but no one deserves that. No one. Those who worshiped her may never again, but I will always think of Brittany as the girl who never had the chance to find herself.
My experience with Brittany taught me that though we are all naive in our youth, the choices we make will impact us forever. The people we choose to be will remain a part of us. I will always remember Brittany as that loud , overconfident girl, and a part of that shy, insecure person I used to be will always keep me humble.
(By Lauren M.)