My Shield Wall

Have you ever walked into a room full of people and felt out of place? Have you scanned the crowd and noticed eyes glaring at you with judgement? Being a person who grew up around sometimes volatile people I learned quickly how to “judge a room.” I can tell you within five minutes of being in a group situation who I can trust and who I can’t. I know who the troublemakers are going to be and who the humble folks are. I had to learn the hard way, too many times, that you can’t trust everyone and everyone isn’t your friend. Sure there are some folks now and then who will surprise me, but 9 times out of 10 and their a rare few who aren’t exactly who they show themselves to be upon meeting. Most people aren’t very good at hiding who they truly are unless they have reason to hide it, then those are the ones who can hurt you more deeply than any other.

That being said I have learned to seek out people in social situations that I feel I can trust, that are “safe.” It’s scary to let people in and then to get hurt. I’ve always been the underdog. I wasn’t popular in high school, everyone in my student body knew who I was, but I attended a very rural school, so the biggest part of the entire high school knew one another on some level. That being said, they didn’t really “know” me.

When I say I wasn’t popular I mean I didn’t have the Levi’s and Nike. I didn’t have a car to drive to school and my last name was far from the top of the list. Through both elementary and high school I, like every other kid, desired acceptance. We all wanted to be popular and well liked. I think some folks liked me well enough, I was the class clown, super school spirited (still am) and was involved in a broad range of extracurricular activities and classes. Somehow though I wasn’t ever considered for the homecoming court, to be prom queen or any other upper echelon rank, I wasn’t pretty, never have been a looker, but of course wanted to be thought of a pretty. The football and basketball players would NEVER consider me for a date. I wasn’t invited to any parties (glad of that now), but then it meant ranking and popularity.

I did have an insider view of the popular circles goings on. There were times it hurt so bad to be the one left out, to have that insider view from a popular friend, but never be considered as one. All I wanted was to feel accepted. So many of my deep seeded fears and concerns would come out in ways that people had no idea. I worried deeply about my appearance. I would try on outfit after outfit worried about how I’d look that day, if someone would make fun of me. I was terrified of saying the wrong things in front of the students who could cause me to have it even harder from day to day.

One time I had on a pair of red fringed cowboy boots for spirit week, our school colors were red, white and blue, though we leaned more toward just the red and white. I was given these boots by a family friend, because I line danced. It was spirit week, and in I walked red booted to the gymnasium where the whole of the school was gathered. I had to walk past some of the most popular girls in school. There eyes immediately darted to my boots. I shouldn’t have worn them, I should have known better, but I wanted to wear something that matched the theme of that day whatever it was, because during spirit week we had days where we dressed up according to a theme.

The girls were pointing and laughing as I walked the length of the gym, they were about mid way down the bleachers sitting at the very bottom. Something came over me and I just yanked my boots off right beside them and left them sitting there during the entire event. I went barefoot, too embarrassed to wear the boots any longer, but also sick of this groups mockery of me. This group of girls never really liked me, they laughed at me a lot. One set in particular had made me feel horrible since kindergarten! This group would put me up to things just to make fun of me, I finally caught on. I thought maybe, just maybe they actually enjoyed my company during certain classes, I was dreaming. They were just there to laugh at and scoff at me. So I learned from this and applied it.

There are some people who won’t accept you no matter how hard you try and this I have learned is a flaw in themselves, not me and not you. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. It does. Being accepted is rooted deep down in our bones as humans. From the very earliest days of our lives around our peers we all mostly seek out acceptance, which in the end just equals love. Children don’t know this and can’t see that laughing at another student because of how they’re dressed or what they look like in general can create deep rooted hurt. Being loved is at the precipice of our very self acceptance, where we will either thrive or strive. I strived at home and at times in school. I hated elementary school and the early years of high school. I faced some difficult times and some bullies. Those stories will come later.

But I have learned, as I’ve aged and gone through trials and tribulations even as an adult to apply my marred childhood experiences to my adulthood. I have allowed these experiences to help me adjust to social situations in order to protect myself. I’ve learned to “read a room.” I think I began learning this after being around some of the more popular kids in a class and learning how far some will go to be hurtful to those they feel are inferior to them. So I began to steer clear of the judgments, stop seeking their acceptance and just live fully within the freedoms of having true friends.

I pulled off those boots that day, because I knew waiting on me at the end of the gymnasium was a group of my truest and dearest BAND mates. It was in marching band that I found my tribe, my people and my place. We had real talent, we could read sheet music and play instruments and WE LOVED EACH OTHER JUST THE WAY WE WERE! We may not have been prom kings and queens, but we were hero’s unto one another! There was no judgment in band, we were who we were and our unique qualities were appreciated and embraced. I miss those marching band days. We had the very best of fun and spent time as a team helping each other succeed.

It was within this acceptance, this group of friends that I learned what it meant to trust others fully. We were a family and that band room under the hill from the main school building was home outside the green of the field where we shined together every Friday night. After joining band and finding affirmation of true friendship I had an example of what to compare good people to. I no longer wanted those “friendships” with the popular kids. I learned that they didn’t matter, what mattered were those “eyes with pride” marching tigers that loved to entertain and triumphed in each others success! That’s right, we had no jealousy, we lived for each other and that’s what builds confidence in true friendship. It’s where you are embraced for all you give and embrace others for their gifts to you.

My friends taught me how to accept my talents, because they simply loved me for me and what I brought to the table. I do still struggle deeply with self confidence and loving myself as a person, but I learned to accept and love my talents for performance through band and that’s where I find my happiest days as an adult. I know my value in my talents, I’m still learning my value as a person. That may sound like a contradiction, but performance allows me to step outside of being me as Dora a person and instead be me as the performer. It’s a way to shield myself as an individual from being hurt and rather placing my value in what I give back or put into something.

This may not make sense to some, but to the person who struggles with self confidence and worrying about who they are, then it will make sense. Within myself there are flaws and there are talents. As a person I struggle with my flaws daily, wishing I were more in some way or another, but the performer is me stepping outside of who I am as a person and immersing myself in the show! It’s my shield wall. It’s taking what I love and using that as my confidence to hold myself up and believe that within what I know to be good about myself I can be accepted by others. It’s the only thing about me I believe in. My ability to entertain.

I’ve always been more of a giver. I don’t know how to receive, being given something scares me to the point I can’t help but cry. I don’t feel I deserve it, I genuinely, deep down feel completely undeserving. I was conditioned to believe that I was worthless, but the one thing that was always received was my ability to entertain. It calmed the storms, it brought smiles, it was the only part of me that seemed to be bright and loved by the ones who hurt me. It’s the one time I found my mother sitting in the audience. The play I did my junior year of high school brought her out to watch me. I was the lead and there she was, in the audience, the one and only time she ever showed up for something I did. What about that! That taught me that within my acting, my performing, there was real value. My mother came to see me, to support me and walked about crying!!!!! I moved her to tears, but for something I did as an entertainer, not because of WHO I was as a person you see.

Isn’t the human mind a complex thing? It’s so strange how our life experiences shape our self belief system, our sense of value.

I’m working on it all friends. I’m working on seeing me, just a person, without my shield wall, as being beautiful, good and worthy. I don’t know how to yet, I want to badly and long for the day that I look in the mirror or in my minds eye and think “she’s special.” I will get there in due time with the proper work and if it be the Lords will.

Me on the stage at Haysi High School for the last time.

3 thoughts on “My Shield Wall

  1. Wow Dora!
    This brings back so many memories when I changed schools and the need of being accepted. Great job! Hugs my friend. This is amazing. Every single word I held on to and it was like I was right there watching this as a movie. You have amazing talent!


  2. You have such a gift for writing. I am so sorry you had to suffer through these hurts, but praying that writing about them is helping to bring closure to you. Love you, sweet friend!


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