Sixteen: It’s a tricky age, isn’t it?
You’re about to get your AS Level results, and when you do, it’ll be even worse than you expected.
So bad, in fact, that when you walk home alone (because the friend you walked to school with has gone to cry on her boyfriend’s shoulder, and all of your other friends did better and you don’t want to drag them down) you, the QUEEN OF COMPOSURE – the one who prides herself on never crying in front of others, of ‘never needing anyone’s shoulder to cry on’, of being ‘as hard as nails’ emotionally, end up bursting into tears as you pass the school gates, clutching a now slightly soggy brown envelope of despair. As you shuffle and sniffle, alone, you have to walk past a group of very worried-looking workmen who pause whatever they’re doing to watch you sob your way back home.
If anything’s a good metaphor for your sixteenth year, into your seventeenth, it’s that.
Thinking you’re strong, pretending you’re fine, when actually, everything’s falling apart.
Your two closest school friends are about to fall out. You’re going to get dragged into it, having to pick sides. You’re going to endure a year’s worth of misery at the hands of this warped game of piggy in the middle. It’s horrible. Really, really, horrible. You’re still going to feel guilty ten years later, worrying that you were swayed in the wrong direction; that you were too weak to stand up for the one who needed it.
That’s on top of the stress of AS Levels, the stress of trying to get into uni, being messed around by shallow teenage boys, still being horribly uncool, nerdy, and unpopular, but also working in a supermarket job you hate with a nasty supervisor who hates you even more. (You have a panic attack before each shift. Nobody knows. Except for Dad, who has to give you lifts and tries to calm you down as you hyperventilate in the passenger seat, all while dressed in a green uniform, looking like a big bogey.)
Your best friend moved away to college at the end of year 11. You miss her like crazy. At first it’s like you’re missing a limb, you’re that used to her by your side.
Sixth form just doesn’t feel the same. At first, it was great. It felt so good to finally reach the top of the hierarchy. Being able to walk into the sixth form only building with your head held high as you passed the year 7s in awe of you and your knee-high boots with clicky heels. (They were a big part of your new ‘image’ for sixth form, weren’t they?)
Beneath that vaguely confident facade, you feel a bit lost, don’t you? Just a bit… out of place? Perhaps sixth form was the wrong choice, maybe you’d have been better off following your best friend to college.
She’s got way more freedom than you, she gets days off in the week and everything! How cool is that? And she gets to wander around Derby city centre all the time, whereas you’re stuck in a small town with nothing to do. Plus you’re only allowed out of school if you stick your ID pass in the face of whichever teacher’s on playground duty, as they clutch their coffee, and roll their eyes at you; exasperated at having to stand in a muddy playing field instead of being in the warmth of the staff room.
Staying there leaves you lacking the independence you didn’t know you needed.
At least being able to go home for your lunch most days, with a packed lunch on your knee and Loose Women on the TV, you get a bit of a break from the competitive air in the common room.
One side was reserved for the cool kids (the one with the stereo and football table, naturally) while the other side was left for the uncool kids like you. The uncool side was home to the window that looked into the Head of Sixth’s office, of course. It was the one that forever seemed to be lacking seat cushions and chairs, leaving you and your friends to share them, half each. (Which always left you clinging on to said seat for dear life, so you didn’t fall off and give them all even more reason to laugh at you.)
Clinging on for dear life. Probably another appropriate metaphor for your sixteenth year, to be honest.
Your friends have always been cleverer than you, and your feelings of inadequacy seem to be growing by the day right now.
They’re all doing sciences. You’re doing Drama, English Language, ICT, and Psychology. You’re not really enjoying it though, are you?
You picked ICT because you thought it would look good on your CV, as a last-minute swap from Biology or Geography. You picked Psychology because the mind intrigues you, even though you can’t even get your head around how your own works. You picked English because Dad said you should, and you’re aiming to be a Journalist, so it’s probably best you listen to him. And you picked Drama because you really love it, and it gives you an escape from all the rubbish in life (it always has: the bullying, the deep-seated feelings of inadequacy, the unpopularity of you and your friends.)
Ten years down the line, because it’s future Katie talking here, you’ll wish you never dropped Psychology after AS, but ICT instead. And English was a mistake. Ugh. Who wants to spend six months learning about William Caxton and printing presses*? No-one. Honestly no-one. As for Drama? You’ll wish you were bolder, you’ll wish you told those who mocked you where to stick it (because they never cut it for RADA either) and you’ll wish that it never had to end.
But it did, and when you study it at uni, it just won’t be the same – so enjoy it while you can. Relish the fun, and don’t worry about what people think; you’ve just as much right to be there as everyone else; even the cocky kids who wrongly think they’re the next Olivier.
Back then, it seemed like you were alright. You thought you were content. It’s only in hindsight that you’ll realise just how miserable that time actually was for you.
Just how alone you felt, and how stupid and inadequate you thought you were too. Now it’s obvious how much you began to internalise those feelings and turn in on yourself. Going back into your shell, when you were only just starting to come out of it.
You did get a puppy, though. So it’s not all bad…
It’ll be okay in the end though. Kind of. You’ll do way better than you ever envisaged you would, just not this year. Hang on in there.
What would you say to your teenage self?