Five minutes before class, I stood in front of my locker in our middle school’s single bay. His was just a few down from mine, past the garbage can and through the doorway with no door.
Halfway through my combination, my awareness flashed hot as he turned. He rarely spoke to me, so I relished in the fantasy of maybe one day when he started to say something…to me.
My breath caught. This can’t be happening, or, rather, what is happening, he never speaks to me?
He spoke my name and I turned in time to hear, “Will you go out with me?”
I’d never been asked out before, the boys didn’t really take notice of me, but I figured this is how it’s done – standing ten feet apart in the middle of the locker room with half of our (very tiny) school as witness.
My hand gripped the lock and I inhaled to respond. Yes, of course yes.
Eyes wide, mouth open, word on tip of tongue, I was a fraction of a second away from speaking, when he interrupted my amazement.
“NOT!!!” he said loudly. It felt like he’d shouted it so the back campus could hear. Everyone in the locker bay certainly did; it would be mere moments before the rest of the school knew.
Realization crept over me like the numbing of an appendage. Wake up, wake up. Please no. But all I felt was the cruel tingle of a dead limb coming back to life.
In that moment, breath held, unable to move, feel, think, or respond, I froze.
Giggles erupted behind me, deeper laughter in front.
Without a retort, I’d lost my opportunity for defense. I wanted to dive into the trash can, but instead I abandoned my half dialed combination, slinked out of the center of humiliation, past the back of the boy who, with his joke cruelly played, took zero notice of me.
The tears threatened hot, but once I’d reached the second, and more private, of the two bathrooms, they burst forth in a torrent.
Humiliated, hurt, ashamed, and so confused, I sat on the toilet and wept.
A girl who was generally not very kind, followed me to the bathroom and said, “Ashley? Are you okay? That was really mean.”
Through my tears I said, “Yes, I guess so.” Trying to play it off, trying to be okay, when all I really wanted was revenge and/or a dark place to hide.
For months I replayed that scene, coming up with retort after retort, wishing I’d been quicker to counter, wishing I could be just as mean, but vitriol and venom have never been my strong suit. Kindness and sensitivity have always had the upper hand.
Eventually the incident faded into the gossip archives, but it remained very much alive in my mind. It took inordinate amounts of courage to, not only come to school, but to stand ten feet from the issuer of pain on an almost daily basis.
It’s over twenty years gone, and I’m writing about it now for the first time.
And, the memory still has an emotional charge.
The emotion isn’t so much mine anymore. It surfaces, not because I’m unhealed, but because I hurt for that little girl and all the many people have been wounded in ways they’ve never truly overcome.
Hurts that affect their ability to choose their life.
Hurts that have shaped what they believe is possible.
On that day, I froze, and I’ve spent a good chunk of my life unfreezing, but I wouldn’t ever trade grace for venom, kindness for cruelty.
That boy grew up to be a drug addict, who nearly died. I’ve seen him around, he’s doing well now.
I’ve grown up to do a great many things.
I don’t know why I was bullied. It started at a very young age and spiraled from there. I have stories, and they’ve made me.
They’ve constructed me.
They closed me down, and saw me battle with confidence and self worth.
They’ve also given me grit, and candor, and a no bullshit approach to life.
My experiences have given me proof that I can survive anything, I can do anything, I can be anything I damn well please, and there is no-one on this earth who is going to make me feel small or insignificant.
Somehow I escaped a life of restraint and cannot, in fact I whipped in quite the opposite direction. I’ve chosen a brave path, a soft hearted journey, an extraordinary life.
But I know there are others wishing they’d been taught, fervently, on repeat, from a very young age, what bravery and courage really look like. How they could use it to strengthen kindness, possibility, and belief in themselves.
That cruelty, pain, and hurt are, unfortunately, not unusual, but that you need not bend to them or hold them so close to your heart that the fear suspends your forward motion.
The process of living and healing, breaking and building is the only reason I can be of any use to anyone today.
This is the final part of the reveal where I tell you that I’m writing a book called Everyday Brave.
I don’t have a subtitle yet, but it’s about living a life of every day courage in spite of fear and circumstance. It’s about choosing the light and finding your freedom, everyday. Every day.
I am committed to bringing more souls out of their shadow and into their unique perfect light.
Living a life on the tenet of bravery, courage, love, and joy is what’s done it for me.
Everyday Brave will share stories from that journey and lessons in courage.
So here we go.
Love and making stuff that matters,