As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I have daily prompts for blogging ideas delivered to my email address. A recent prompt suggests writing a post that was inspired by our sixteenth birthday.
For me, that was almost twenty-seven years ago! I have changed an awful lot since then too, not just with the whole getting older thing either.
In the UK we left school at 16 – in recent years it has been changed to 18 -but when I was that age it was 16. My exams were looming as I celebrated my sixteenth birthday, but I was not really preparing for them. I had ran wild for almost two years, missing an awful lot of school and getting up to so much crazy stuff, I am actually surprised I never got arrested. The almost 16 year old me had a tongue like paint stripper, a mohican of sorts and was covered in tattoos – not the trendy, tasteful tats you see nowadays, no, these were the uncouth type that delinquents give to each other, using the bottle of Indian ink and a needle. My mother despaired of me, my father was in and out of hospital and my brothers just did not know what to make of me.
I could not wait for my sixteenth birthday, it felt so grown up, and I was desperate for it to hurry up and arrive. I was in trouble at school, but got away with being expelled as I was off sick due to blood poisoning – remember the cheap and nasty tats! My mother almost died of shame when she rang the school up to advise them that I would not be attending for the remainder of the term due to my illness. They tried to expel me, but somehow a mutual agreement was reached – I would only go into school for my exams, I would stay off the premises at all over times and they would not expel me. I guess my mother got to save face, as my best friend actually was expelled and her parents had to argue with the head to get her permission to sit her exams. At the time it felt cool, now it feels ridiculous and wrong.
The almost 16 year old me was very self assured and had oodles of confidence. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, when it was going to happen and the time scale allowed before having to move onto the next goal. You know those youngsters we all envy in school? They’re popular, they say what they want, when they want and do whatever they please and never get caught? Well, that was me. I believed I could do anything with my life and I was arrogant enough to believe I would achieve it.
The twist in this tale is that three and half months later I became a shadow of my former self. Even now, almost 27 years on I am still not as confident as I was at that golden time. At that time I never imagined anything could hurt me enough to knock me off my game, but boy was I wrong!
I was raped.
Grabbed from behind, dragged down the river bank with the cold, metal blade pressing against my throat and the words “scream and I’ll kill ya” ringing in my ears.
My 16th birthday was May 4th, this was 23rd August. All summer my life had been amazing, I had left school, I was working, I had friends and we had an awesome social life. My mistake was walking home alone that night.
That night changed me in ways I would never have believed possible. I became reclusive, scared of the dark, I became bulimic and sought comfort in bottles of Vodka and by abusing solvents. In three and a half months I was so far from the bright, vibrant, full of life young woman I had been that you would never have believed that I had been the same person.
After the attack I lost my boldness, my sassy attitude, everything that had made me, me. I was now a completely different person, I would never have given myself the time of day beforehand. Maybe losing that edge was a good thing, maybe I was destined to fall. But the lesson was tough and took me almost 15 years to recover from. Even now, I do not have the same edginess I had back then and I would say I am fairly confident and self assured.
My sweet sixteenth was supposed to be the catalyst to my adult life. A time for me to leave school and grow up. Instead it was a short, but sweet time in my life that was tragically cut short. I can remember now the person I was back then without feeling hurt, humiliated or even scared. Her time was brief, but she made an impression. I know I said I became a shadow of my former self, but after a year of seeing a psychiatrist a spark flickered inside of me. A voice whispered, “don’t give up” The voice belonged to the 16 year old me who was feisty and funny and brilliant. And although that version of me never did fully come back, she did inspire me to fight to regain my own self worth. She inspires me today whenever I feel injustice threaten me or someone I love. I may not have achieved everything I had hoped to at my sweet sixteenth, but in recent years that fire and passion and fight has returned and I owe it all to that younger version of myself.