I’m in my shell this dawn, with tired eyes and fetid breath. Open my eyes, with no feeling other than wanting to sleep a little longer. Just like the others in my house, I’ll fill up my shell with what I find this morning.
There’s no one to see me, so I wander around these floors I’ve walked so many times with little expression or emotion; just with anticipation to see what I’ll become, as the world begins to watch me.
Time ticks on, more shells come out of their rooms. We put on our masks and converse. I say: hello, how’s it going, or maybe just goodbye when I leave. I eat, drink and, most importantly, I collect my phone. I make my shell look presentable, eyeliner applied and hair carefully tousled. Then it’s time to go, in a rush as always.
I step outside and let the cold air influence how I should feel today. I’m a fun one this morning, a being that forces myself out to greet my friends. In the middle of the group, I’m loud and obscene, trying to shock them – but only as much as will make them laugh.
I feel happy when my friends giggle, screech, exchange banter. Inside, I wonder: who are they really? For hours and hours teachers talk at me. What are they saying? What am I saying?
Vocabulary that doesn’t feel like mine pours from my vocal cords. I won’t question if I’m saying what is right for myself. I do not wish to be an outcast. I’m a polite one this afternoon, with no friends to surround me until the end of the day. I impress people older than me — teachers, careers advisors — by smiling and showing interest through my eyes. And if I mess up, my innocent self arrives, face tilted down with wide and watery eyes, looking more like six than 16.
I might smile when someone is patronising me, and be modest when someone praises me, that way I can stay in a safe place. If anyone my age happens to see me, at the tip of hat, I’ll switch.
My eyes dart and narrow, my tongue sharpens. I’ll be rude and cruel again, if it will make them smile at me. No matter what I do I’ll follow the crowd, do whatever it is others do, until the school day is through. With some friends, I’ll leave this place. I fear that something might crack if I’m on my own with my thoughts for too long.
I’m a tired and confused one this evening, make-up smudged, hair dishevelled – too stressed to deal with people who don’t understand me. I won’t say hello to my family and their friends. If I’m lucky, someone will call me and tell me where I should go, and I’ll leave wearing things meant for fashion not comfort.
We’ll misbehave, stay out too late, drink what we probably shouldn’t and not eat when we probably should. We’ll take what others give us and we’ll do whatever will make us look cool.
Then, when it’s time to leave, I’ll make an excuse so I won’t seem lame for not staying out until I’m too tired to function. When I get home, I’ll avoid their stares, in case I splinter their image of the little kid they think I still am. I’m in a shell this night, with tired eyes and shallow breath.
I give in to sleep, where I’ll dream about other ones that won’t even show their faces in the light of day. I’ll wait until morning, to choose which version of me I will become.
This article appears in issue 122 of Exposure magazine – an identity special funded by John Lyon’s Charity