As soon as I saw her at the concert, I expected to feel horrible.
I’d just zig-zagged my way through throngs of tipsy people to better see the band once it came onstage. Behind me was a group of people I only knew through my boyfriend, who was playing in the band. Being around them was in itself was a challenge—I rarely feel good about myself around people I don’t know.
So there I was, trying to get comfortable in my spot, when I looked to the side and saw an oddly familiar face.
A popular girl from my secondary school.
Dear God, no.
I slipped on my normal person-mask after a few seconds of confusion, and said hey. We went for a cursory hug. She asked me how I was doing, and I said I was fine. Inside I was begging her not to ask further. How do I sum up my strange journey from awkward, silent secondary schooler to sober, ex-copy writing, self-aware, job-seeking 25-year-old?
To offset more questions, I asked about her. She told me what she’d done, and I said ‘cool’ for lack of a better response.
Kill me now.
But then I mentioned that my boyfriend was in the band. And I suddenly re-noticed the girl’s friend, who I’d been awkwardly ignoring because I’d missed the moment to introduce myself. She offered her hand to me, and we shook hello.
She loved the band, y’see. Massive fan. The lead singer has had some media exposure, so I wasn’t that surprised.
And then it hit me: I was with the band. Or rather, I was with the guitarist in the band. I’d be gazing adoringly up at him as he bobbed his head and played his tunes.
I had a boyfriend. I dared to hang out with his friends. As a chunky 15-year-old who kept the smallest inner circle possible, I never in a million years would have guessed.
And that strange journey I mentioned? The excruciatingly painful but also deeply rewarding one? It had gone on for ten years and transformed me into someone much stronger.
Ten years since I last saw the girl I was trying to make small-talk with.
She looked thinner now. She’d studied something different than I’d have guessed. I would never have put her and her friend together if they weren’t talking to each other.
I didn’t know this girl, and she didn’t know me.
I saw that then, as I stood there gazing at the shiny purple lights. Here I was, an entirely different person than the one I was as as a teenager. Here I was trying to stand tall even as I felt tiny and scared.
Ten years ago I would’ve shrunk away. I’d have left the room, probably. Maybe had a good cry in the bathroom and gone home.
Actually, strike that—ten years ago I wouldn’t be at a concert, much less with the boy I love.
The person I feared reliving as I met my high school classmate? I’m not her anymore.
And it took meeting a popular girl from secondary school to realise:
I’m damn proud of that.