Sometimes, All It Takes Is One Look From A Stranger

I don’t remember his name and it’s not important. To be entirely honest, I’m not sure he ever even knew my name to begin with. I’m also reasonably sure that barring an intervention of the Universe, I’ll never see him again; and I’m okay with that. But though his name holds no meaning for me, he certainly does. He’s the last thing I saw as I walked away.

High school isn’t easy for anyone. There’s drama and heartache, homework and finals. It’s an agony of growing pains, both literal and figurative. For me, like so many others, it offered an escape from my past and a chance at a new beginning. I didn’t realize until afterward how much I was yearning for that new start, that clean slate. I didn’t find what I was looking for but I think I walked away with something better.

On my first day, I squared my shoulders, swallowed that rising hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach, and became the person I wanted these new people to see that I was. I shed my old persona and stepped into myself, unencumbered. I walked down those hallways with a skip in my step because hardly anyone knew me. I was just another freshman, leaving my notoriety behind me.

Then, with truly little warning, my bubble popped. I relapsed. I missed one day of classes, then two. Soon two became 12 and 12 became 20. I would show up for a class or two and then shuffle my way back down to the school office to wait for my ride back home and to my bed. Soon, I missed enough school that they started reporting the days I was there, instead of the days I wasn’t.

When I did make it back for a class or two I’d feel people staring. Openly. I felt the nickname take shape and flourish in my absence. When I’d return after a while away I’d hear it whispered, or in some cases spoken right to my face.

“That sick girl.”

Sometimes a light would dawn in their eyes and it would slip out before they could stop it. “Oh! You’re that girl…”, their voices trailing off at the end once they realized there’s really not much you can say to follow that statement that is socially acceptable. The first time I came back I knew my idealistic attempt to start over had #failed.

I had thought that I’d stumbled across the perfect storm of conditions which would enable me to once and for all step out of my past and start anew. Looking back now, I think I can safely say that I’ve learned many times over again that sometimes it takes more courage to simply start where you left off than it does to find a new starting gate. Life isn’t a race and we don’t all get assigned contestant numbers in the order in which we register.

I’m not so sure any longer that starting over is ever a real possibility. Our past has left indelible marks upon us all. Every person we’ve met, every place we’ve been, and every conversation we took part in has influenced us, shaped us, molded us into the imperfect human being we see in the mirror looking back at us. Life is about honoring that person we see and letting our souls soak up everything this life has to offer us, the good and the ugly, the ups and the downs.

Our past is as much a part of who we are in the present moment as we let it be. It can uplift us or drag us down. I’m slowly beginning to learn not to shy away from my history but to own it. Taking ownership of this part of ourselves takes us one step closer to being entirely comfortable with who we are. Your history is uniquely yours and it cannot be erased. We can’t hit delete but we can accept our experiences with self compassion and celebrate our life story.

The people who stand out in my remembrances today from my admittedly unusual high school career are the ones who had a deeper level of maturity and personal confidence to face life on their own terms. They were the port in my storm and serve to remind me now of the imprint that small, simple acts of kindness can leave on the lives of others. Many people I met along the journey acted with kindness towards a girl who needed it. They were genuine. There was no front, no attitude and no teenaged angst. They were the people who didn’t speak to me out of pity or with the sense that I was contagious. I sought them out and let the others sink or float, their actions speaking more than their words ever did.

I remember walking out of that building at the start of an extended break. I was getting sicker by the month and I honestly didn’t know if I’d be back when school resumed. I was halfway out the glass double doors when something told me to turn around. I looked over my shoulder and my eyes fell over the familiar entryway, right into his. We were completely alone for that second of our lives and our eyes connected. Time seemed to stop and then all too suddenly it started again. I watched him continue to walk down the stairs and I dragged my eyes away from his as I slowly turned and walked out the door. His eyes never wavered. I could feel them on my back and for once I didn’t mind someone staring at me quite so openly.

I was struck by the intensity within that moment and I struggled to shake it off. Even now as I recollect it I’m awed that so much was communicated in that split second, but at the same time nothing was said. I think I knew that I had experienced a moment in my life that would stay with me for a very, very long time. It would stay with me; and in a way, so would that boy.

I may mean absolutely nothing to this nameless boy in his memories as he looks back, but he stands out like a beacon in my own simply because he noticed me. And after feeling invisible and passed over so often that meant something, to be noticed. It sounds so incredibly cliche, but although we wouldn’t speak often our eyes would meet across a room. I’d catch his eye or he’d catch mine. A lot. It wasn’t flirtatious, but knowing that he saw me came to help me through those tough days. I started looking for him in the halls or in a crowd. I didn’t usually talk to him; somehow just knowing he was there helped. He seemed to convey to me in those shared looks a sense of understanding and of comfort that needed no words for me to understand.

He has no name in my memories because it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he made the conscious choice to be the type of person to build others up instead of tearing them down. He supported me in a way that I still can’t quite comprehend. I marvel at the deep sense of connection I feel with him in my memories, and I wonder how it’s possible I felt so exposed and understood by this stranger who I never even had a conversation with.

In our everyday lives, we are all searching hungrily for connections to the people around us. We search for friends, for partners, and family that offer us a feeling of acceptance and unconditional love and support. We spend our lives seeking these people out because they are what make us feel alive! Whether those connections are fleeting like mine or of a more permanent nature, it is the sharing of ourselves and our lives with others that truly make the experiences worthwhile. They will leave you a different person than before you met them simply because they touched you in a way nobody else could or ever will again.

As it turns out, I never did go back. I’m grateful for the experiences I had and the people I met, but I might be most grateful that I listened to the little voice inside me telling me to turn around when it did because I think with that backward glance we were given the chance to say our goodbyes. I feel the closure, but I admit that I still wonder what it was he was thinking as he watched me walking away. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

featured image – Jin

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