It’s a great new competition and worth checking out if you haven’t already. As a Yeah Write silver member and frequent(ish) participant in the weekly writing challenges, I was excited to take part in this.
This time the Super Challenge was focused on non-fiction (for fiction fans there will be another Super Challenge aimed at them later in the year).
The piece below was written for Round One of this competition. The assignment was to write a personal essay with a maximum of 1,000 words, to a specific topic. My topic was “school”.
You’d think that would be an easy subject to approach but if I’m honest it’s a time in my life best forgotten. So to say I struggled with this is an understatement.
Surprisingly I was happy with the end result – although it will need more work at a later date – and I am pleased to announced that I was one of 16 others to make it through to Round Two.
I have included the judges’ feedback below my essay and, as always, your feedback is very much welcomed.
(*Please note, I have amended some details to protect the identities of those mentioned.)
Labels: A Personal Essay
* * *
Labels. Every high school has them.
You can travel from one end of the country to the other and it doesn’t matter which one you visit they are still there like chewing gum stuck to the pavement. Ultimately they are just different variations of the same people.
I didn’t mind because I’d always liked a sense of order and routine. Of course I wanted to be in the ‘cool’ group, like too many teenage girls, but for three years I settled happily into being one of the arty types instead.
I performed in every school play.
It didn’t matter what play it was I always wanted to be the lead. I only managed it once though. When I was twelve years old I auditioned for our school’s production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth*. That’s where I first met him.
I’d seen him around. He was tall, blond, and had a warm smile with a hint of Scottish* ancestral charm. At five years my senior just a look from those crystal blue eyes would make my stomach feel as if it had capsized in the squall of my hormones.
One day he slipped his phone number into my hand.
He had ripped off the corner from a school textbook and scribbled the digits in black ink. I felt an overwhelming sense of acceptance. It didn’t matter that I was too young, or that I had heard rumours he had a girlfriend. I treasured that piece of paper for weeks.
At home, following a long day of rehearsals, I rang him in secret from my parent’s office. He asked me to call him Paul so if they caught us they wouldn’t know who I was talking to. Nervousness and naivety made my fingers shake with pins and needles and a light-headed numbness.
We agreed I would sneak out to meet him soon.
I watched the rain slam against our kitchen window like tiny egg yolks causing mischief at Halloween. I told my parents I was going to a friend’s house to work on a school project. Inside my bag was nothing but my sister’s stolen lipstick and the shortest skirt I owned.
As I waited for him in the town centre I couldn’t work out if I wanted to be sick or pee myself. Eventually I felt his arms wrap around me from behind. That scent, that strength, his confidence; it devoured me as quickly as fire in an August straw field.
In that moment I was his.
Instilled in him was an etiquette as old as time. He bought me lunch, pulled out my chair, and walked next to me but on the traffic side of the pavement. A new urge gripped me and I wanted to feel his lips against mine and his hands in places I had not yet explored myself.
He remained a perfect gentleman all day and he kept me safe. Apart from my introduction to a man’s embrace he hadn’t laid a finger on me. It didn’t matter I was twelve that day, or that he was nineteen. I was lucky that time.
Then the bullying started.
Slut, whore, bitch, tart, all those exciting words saved only for women, were thrown at me like grenades in the school corridors. To get to rehearsal I had to navigate my way through the trenches but when I arrived I knew whatever it was we had was over. His girlfriend hung on his arm while his brave gaze fed me an unspoken apology.
This was the first of three inappropriate relationships I would have with older men during high school. Soon after the first my peers placed an unwanted reputation onto my shoulders. It was easier to wear it like a necklace than try to fiddle with a clasp that couldn’t be undone.
Bad men like ‘easy’ girls.
I knew it was still there but somewhere along the way I had lost my arty label. In my own private world writing was now my solace. It made things seem a little less real. Ironic since I hated English class.
By this point school had become a lonely place for me. Friends seemed so far away and the need to be wanted (loved) by someone (anyone) grew out of control. The problem was I’d been given a taste of something at an age when I was too young to understand.
I met him in an online chat room when I was fourteen.
He made me feel like one of the cool kids. When I talked, he listened and filled my world with knowledge of a life I had yet to experience. It was a place of work, families, responsibility, fun and acceptance of all labels.
He was older than the first guy. Not so much of a gentleman this time. Not filled with as much good intent either. He lured me into his adult world. The places I hadn’t yet explored didn’t belong to me anymore. What label I wore to school no longer mattered.
I didn’t audition for any school plays that year.
Feedback from the Judges
What the judges really liked about “Labels”:
Strong imagery, vivid descriptions and a nice paragraph structure in this essay. You use a lot of really good and interesting descriptive language to set your scenes.
Where the judges found room for improvement:
This essay covers various stories and feels a little disjointed; the opening and ending don’t mesh well with the stronger midsection. Don’t beat around the bush. This essay has a powerful “so what” when it finally gets around to it, but the pacing and set up in the beginning don’t match what comes from the middle of the essay until the end which is very strong. Some reorgonization of paragraphs with a telegraphing of what is to come would set the reader up a little better and make the ending as powerful as the events you’re describing.