I’ve never been a front-and-center kind of a girl. Edges and corners have always been more my scene.
In high school, I wasn’t a cheerleader or majorette. I seriously lacked the skills to be either, but even still, I preferred the anonymity of the color guard. With my big, plumed hat and maroon polyester uniform, I hid among the marching band’s ranks. Though I haven’t looked at my year book in a long time, I’m certain I’m not among the class superlatives. I do remember quoting Robert Frost in the blurb that ran alongside my photo, however. Not so much due to a love of poetry, but an obsession with The Outsiders—the book and the movie. I was in awe of the fact that S.E. Hinton was so young when she published her first book, and I was a little bit in love with the narrator, Ponyboy Curtis.
So on high school graduation, I’m not sure where I thought I’d be. The dream of being an author someday was probably present, as was the hope that the rest of my life would not be lived under the radar like it had been for the past four years. At the time, it was enough to know I was leaving high school behind. I sought out a large university and a chance to reinvent myself. To become the kind of girl who stands out in a crowd.
When I got to Penn State, I joined the staff of The Daily Collegian. Interviewing people—both in-person or on the phone terrified me—but I enjoyed writing and loved the camaraderie of a newsroom. It was at that college paper, and later on, while doing an internship at a local newspaper, that I found my voice. I felt bolder, more outgoing. Confident.
That’s why I was surprised to learn, while working on a feature article on handwriting analysis, that I was not, in fact, the extrovert I believed I had become. I was a turtle. For the article, a company analyzed my handwriting. The results were broken down by animal type. I was told that my handwriting indicated that I was responsible, trustworthy, and reliable and most suited to occupations where I could work quietly and alone. Yep. A slow and steady terrapin when what I really wanted was to be the butterfly.
Last month, almost twenty-six years after leaving high school—that place where I haunted the back row of every classroom, I think I finally graduated.
To mark the halfway point of a ten-week fitness challenge I’m participating in, our instructor had us break boards. You know, karate chop style? Let me just say here that I do not have a martial arts background and I had serious doubts about my ability to accomplish this task. But that’s what the exercise was all about. Breaking down barriers and crashing through obstacles. Our instructor had us write on our boards the one thing we wanted to overcome. I wrote. “I want to not be afraid to move to the front of the room.” It could have used some editing, but you get the point.
And where did said board breaking take place? Where else? The center of the room, surrounded by my classmates. It took me three times before I heard the board crack in my instructor’s hands. Three times longer than anyone else in the class, but I did it. That same week, my debut novel was released and once again it felt like I had lots of eyes on me, or at least on my book.
No, I’m not a butterfly. I’m a turtle. One that can be pushed out of her shell when necessary. Perhaps I wasn’t destined for rock stardom or politics when I left high school, but slowly and steadily I’ve ended up where I wanted to be.