Freed: The Story of a Teenage Low-Life

Feelings of inadequacy are not new to me. For reasons unknown, I’ve dealt with that feeling for most of my life. I’ve grown used to the fight, giving the world my all even when I feel rejection.

I’m sharing one of my favorite poems, today. I don’t know that it’s any better than the rest, but it carries more emotion for me. This poem depicts my fight for acceptance and self-definition.

My notebook scratches indicate this poem was written on October 3rd, 2004. I was a 14-year-old high school freshman.

Teenage Low-Life

I’m a teenage low-life

I do what I see as right

The peers at school are like ghouls

who haunt me in the night.

My friends accept me, but my peers reject me.

The light is so far from sight.

I walk through halls like a lost soul.

I yearn for my room,

for my comic books and video games,

and fantasy worlds and strategy games.

I am a teenage low-life

My ways are different and so I am called weird.

But I know my friends will always be here.

Together we form a group

of aspiring poets and authors.

We talk of comic books and video games,

and fantasy worlds and strategy games.

And now I know

I am nowhere near low,

for I soar high in the sky

above all others below

is that why they scowl?

is that why they glare?

is it really more than my cheap clothes

and too-long hair?

Now that I know I am way up here,

I have no wish to go down there.

My mind will remain pure

My mouth will stay clean

I will never be a part of them

and they may never comes to terms with me.

Yet for now, I am content to be

a teenage low-life, weird, yet free.

This photo, “Teenagers” is copyright (c) 2014 Petra and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

When I was in middle school, I developed a self-defense mechanism where, when anyone would call me a name, I’d laugh or happily agree with them. I thought they were calling me those things in order to make me sad or angry. They wanted my reaction. If I gave them the opposite of what they wanted, I thought they’d stop. Not only was I wrong, but I started to internalize what they said. Since I was never one to be overly confident anyway, it was easy for me to accept my status as the lowest of the low.

As I moved on into high school, I started to think more critically about those labels. Was my ‘low-life’ status really so bad? I had great friends who accepted just as I was. They didn’t demand money, clothing labels or any other status symbols to associate with them.

High school marked an additional transformation in how I thought about my peers. in middle school, I survived on hate and anger. By high school, I saw the true tragedy that many of my peers faced. I was different from them not just because of my interests, but because I was free of social expectations. If I randomly became fascinated with something, I could explore that interest without fearing any more hell than I usually experienced. I could wear what I wanted, do what I wanted; I was free.

How crazy is that? I didn’t have a lot of friends and was often ridiculed or ignored by my peers. There was little money in my pockets and I rarely had the big item that everyone said you ‘had to have.’ Somehow, with seemingly so much less, I had more. I had freedom of thought, and therefore was free to be whoever I wanted.

My survival tactic changed to one marked by compassion. Regardless of all the misfortune I had in my life, I was starting to feel like the lucky one. I knew there was something great about who I was and lamented more than ever any person who felt compelled to hide themselves.

Do you ever feel like having less gives you more freedom? Or, do you wonder if you would have more freedom if you had less? Where did you stand on the totem pole of high school popularity back in the day? 


47 thoughts on “Freed: The Story of a Teenage Low-Life”

  1. Sometimes you’ve felt a way or experienced a thing that you’ve never put into words. Sometimes others do that for you. Thank you for giving words to something that so many of us “have-nots” experienced as teenagers. I recall that there were two places to live back then: in the circle or in the fringe. Those that lived in the circle were bound to a pre-existing framework, governing what was acceptable to wear, eat, how to behave socially, how to treat others, ect. Those in the fringe were either pushed there or willingly ran there because they were unable to adhere to the circle’s code of conduct. Luckily fringe has no specific code of conduct. There’s certainly more freedom there, on the outside. There’s more room to see yourself and to expand.

    1. That basically describes how middle and high school was for me. It was only in high school, though, that I stopped wanted to be in that circle and became happy in the fringe.

    2. This was a great post, and I liked reneeisokay’s classifications of the “circle” and the “fringe” and their definitions, well said.

  2. I was one of those kids that everybody liked (cheerleader, class president) but I was never part of the “in” crowd, and I so badly wanted to be. Now I wish I would have given my real friends more of myself than trying to get accepted into a group of people I didn’t really admire. I liked most of the “in” crowd, but I didn’t want to be like them. The people I truly admired were already my friends: the guy who listened to old rock music , read creepy novels I’d never heard of and started his own band; the kid with weirdly long fingernails but valedictorian-smart and a quirky sense of humor; the girl who never wore the same outfit twice and wanted to be a meterologist; my best friend who couldn’t wait to move to Nashville and produce music. I am in awe of your self awareness. I wish all teens could read this blog post and feel a little less out of place. Accepting who you are and being happy with that is far more important than social acceptance. Thank you for your words.

    1. I knew people like you in high school as well. I was always a bit jealous of their ability to float between groups. That was a skill I never mastered.

      1. Looking back, I’m more jealous of someone like you who chose to be your own person and not let social standing impair your friendships. Knowing who you are and accepting it is one of the most important skills in life.

        1. True, but it requires 4+ years of misery. I don’t know if everyone can take that, and it’s no shame to wait until you reach a point where it’s safe for you to be yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

          1. I’m with Jennifer.. minus the cheer-leading and without questioning my approach to things.

            Popeye said it best.. I yam who I yam… always have been.

            Still, your HS poetry and your examinations of what’s what today are swell.

  3. OMG! What a well written piece! So articulate and engaging. I am fascinated by your awareness and maturity which both led you to change your reference point. Instead of finding value from others words, thoughts, etc. you became confident in who you are. There in lies mans inherent strength. I do believe there is more freedom, at times, when you have less. Case in point there are stats that describe that the more choice, say on a menu, that someone has to look over usually results in less purchases or more confusion. There is a level of cloudiness that comes with that scenario. In hs I was quite popular but I never felt like I was a part of any one group. I talked to everyone, hung out with everyone, I made it a point to be as friendly to everyone as I could by being authentic. Fitting in, for me, was like that elusive dream you have remnants of when you wake up but can’t quite recall . I never did feel like I was really a part of something that mattered; partly because a lot of people try to be something they are not in hs and partly because I didn’t do a lot of the things “popular” kids do. It was a weird dynamic for me where I could be a part of so many different cliques (jock, prep, nerds, etc.) but never feel like I belonged to one. I guess I am very much the same way now. I am great at talking to people and making friends but I have yet to find that person or group that I can truly call my own. Anyways Thanks for this post!

    1. I had spent the better part of middle school trying to hide who I was. I attended a Catholic school until high school, which was public. I saw high school as a way I could recreate myself because no one there knew who I was. Maybe I was lucky in that way. My options were limited, but the change still gave me the opportunity to change how I was perceived by my peers. I certainly didn’t enjoy those four years, but they were way better than middle school.

      1. Interesting! At the very least those experiences have helped shape you into the individual you are today. I am a complete fan of your blog btw so keep it up, its real.

  4. great post. I can definitely relate to feeling separate from “the crowd” in high school. it took me til college to change my perception of myself and I still am working on complete acceptance of all my quirks. that’s awesome you could see the big picture in your situation in hs, clearly it made all the difference!

    1. I think I’ll always see myself as a little separate from the crowd. We constantly recreate ourselves. I was lucky that, since I transferred from a Catholic school to a public school for high school, I was able to recreate myself then. I recreated myself in college as well, since I was no long constrained by the small town or parental figures.

  5. Nice work young lady. But I can only empathize. I just spent a ten minute session trying to remember anyone who was bullied when I was in grade school and high school. Maybe it was because I was born and raised in the Calypso and Steelband island of Trinidad in the West Indies, where fun and food, music and dancing, great weather,great beaches and a very heavy Catholic influence ruled everyday living. Monthly processions to a hillside Cathedral,during the “Marian” year of 1948,or ’58 I forget which MUST have made a difference. Today,60 years later, that same Island has a murder rate higher than Chicago,USA. Go figure. I just rememberen “Colthurst” was called fatty,but we all loved him.

    1. I’m sure other counties have different dynamics in their educational system. I remember people from Europe asking if American high schools were really like Glee. I can’t speak for everyone one, but, minus the singing, my high school was just as divided as depicted on that show.

  6. Ugh–high school and cliques! I am over 50 now, so that was a long time ago, but it still brings back icky feelings thinking about it. The good part is that life only gets better and better the further away I am from teen years. I feel like I am much better at being middle-aged than I was at being young. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I remember lamenting to my grandmother when I was in middle school and high school. She was astonished to hear things were still exactly the same. Since I was in a small town, everyone was known by their last name. The same family names made up the popular kids as did in my grandmother’s day. It’s like a never ending cycle. Thank God that part of my life is over.

  7. When I entered High School I was forced to move south from St. Louis where I grew up and loved. All my life I was 1 of 12 white kids, 9 of which were Bosnian. Imagine the horrible culture shock I experienced moving to an all white school! I walked though the doors and as far as the eye could see there were talk skinny tan blonde girls wearing Holister (I had never head of that name brand before). The guys were very annoying and douchey (semi-normal, I was used to that).

    I was an extreme that the school was not ready for, I was different. I LOVED Japan as a teen, it was my world. As a Japanese lover, I liked to pretend I spoke Japanese. Thanks to that, I became known as 2 things: to those younger then me I was the Japanese Foreign Exchange Student (For real, I’m a short white girl! People actually thought I was Japanese…) to the older crowd I was Crazy Teresa. Weren’t they super inventive with that?! I didn’t care, I just ignored them. It killed them that I just did my own thing without a care in the world. Everyone seemed to know who I was and yet I knew none of them. Strangers would stop me in the hall and ask me if I was Crazy Teresa and I would just blankly stare at them, then walk away.

    I went all out for spirit week, I loved to dress up. Still do actually 🙂 as a result, I was voted best dressed my senior year lol. I talked to my bullies like they were just the same to me as everyone else, and you know what? When my 1st bully graduated, she apologized to me. She had felt terrible for being so mean to me even though I never did anything to her. My 2nd bully was in my class, she graduated with me and after hugging each other goodbye she admitted that she always thought I was cool and she secretly wanted to be my friend the whole time.

    Sometimes youth can be cruel and misery loves company. I’m glad you stayed strong and used your experiences as building blocks for your future. The only way to go now is up 🙂

    1. I also adored Japan as a teen. I still do actually. My super inventive name was “Tippy Toe Tonya” Because I was short and in dance class, so I would often be on my tippy toes reaching for things and sometimes when I was just walking around. I was always self-conscious about my height. None of my bullies apologized to me. I doubt they even thought of their cruel jokes as bullying. There was only so much I could do. In middle school, my main bully was the principal’s daughter. I wouldn’t let my parents go to the principal.

      1. Yay! Short girls standing on their tippy toes to reach things represent! I was an armrest for practically everyone I hung out with. So not amused :/ I felt self-conscious about my height (4′ 11”) off and on. I personally think that it’s kinda awesome to be small. I like to refer to myself as Travel Sized for your convenience lol

        1. haha, you’re about the size of my cousin (whose on her forth kid!). I’m 5’2″. I’m told that’s about average, but where I group up, people were really talling. It wasn’t unusual to see girls nearing 6 feet.

    1. I wish I could go back a few years and bestow a bunch of knowledge on my young self. I’m with you, though. I’m not sure I would have listened.

      I’ll have to check out that post. Happy to be an inspiration ^_^

  8. I am always thrilled and excited when I read such exhilarating, raw, and genuine material… you are talented, NEVER stop writing; Never prevent your young, and beautiful soul from feeling, experiencing, or being… it’s what will make you a GREAT writer – it that’s what you want to be.

  9. I was never popular. Different than you though, I didn’t think a lot. I just tried to cope with my life and I hated school. Only now to discover that I could very well be ADHD (will be doing a series of tests). All throughout high school I never had any really close friends. I had boyfriends that were older than me and not a part of my school. They were usually bad news as well. If I knew then what I knew now, I would have handled things a lot differently. But then again, I never had good role models in my life to help shape me and teach me responsibility.

    1. I was lucky to have pretty good role models. While, at that point in my life, I was growing away from their opinions on the world, they still taught me hoe to be a thinker and take care of myself.

  10. I was the floater of different groups. I hung out with the dopers, played with the jocks and loved choir and drama…I often felt like the dry flower heads, we called them wishes, that float through the air…drifting whichever way the wind would take me.

    Sometimes it took me to scary places and by the middle of my junior year some of the people in my school were filled with too much anger and too much violence… my teenage world was changing, it was ugly and I did not like it. So, I did what I often did when I didn’t like things…I fled. Fear motivated me to bury myself in work study and night school so I could graduate a year early.

    I found that leaving bad environments was actually a smart thing, though many times motivated by fear. Many years passed before I learned how to leave before I became afraid. I got better at seeing the signs and if things weren’t turning around when I tried to fix them…then it was time to move on. Through this, I have learned to embrace change and look forward to “new adventures” when they happen.

    1. I think that’s a good way to be. Fear was definitely my main motivator throughout most of my grade school years. I don’t see it as a weakness. I needed that fear to survive those years.

  11. “Yet for now, I am content to be
    a teenage low-life, weird, yet free.”

    You go, girl! Well done, fourteen-year-old you. I was lucky enough to not care about popularity in high school–I had my small group of three friends and my softball team, and that was more than enough for me. I don’t think I was an outsider, but I definitely wasn’t in the in-crowd. I just wasn’t on the radar, really. And I was fine with that. Good friends are good friends, and popularity has nothing to do with friendship.

    1. For a small part of middle school, I did want to be popular, but I had given that up by high school. People were either going to like me, or they weren’t going to. I had stopped caring either way.

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