SPOTLIGHT: The Sands of Change by A.R. Salandy

1: Crushes & Reality

The most vivid experience that I remember goes back to Y10. This was the year that I discovered the joy of academic success and a general interest in learning. I always had a love for all things historical and for understanding the world. But unfortunately, my time at school can be characterised by an inherent prioritisation of subjects in rigid hierarchy with sciences & maths at the very top and subjects like languages and social sciences at the bottom. It was in January when my teacher came around and everyone got their exams back and I asked ‘well did I fail since I am at the very end?’, my teacher just smirked at me and said ‘Oh you’ll have to wait’. As five nerve racking minutes passed by and my stomach turned and turned she finally came back to me and slapped my paper on my desk exclaiming ‘top of the year’.

Now to my 15 year old self I cannot describe the happiness I felt at finally seeing some, if any academic success. My classmates exclaimed ‘Wow, ‘how did he do it’. This was because that year’s mid-term results were so poor that everyone had a weighted grade*. Although my final mark was 91% my actual raw grade was 75% which although I didn’t realise it at the time, was more than a strong A* percentage. Nevertheless, I was ecstatic. I went home and raved to my parents. With grades ranging from 15% all the way to mine, I felt that I had achieved something. But at this time I started to realise that I craved so much more than just academic success. I wanted to have my first kiss and travel the world and learn more than I could, by just staying encapsulated in the place I resided.

It was on the way to school on that very same day that I remember listening to one of my favourite deep house artists and thinking how I wanted a love that I naively believed then, alluded me. Although upon later reflection I realise that I was 15, what the hell did I know about love or life? But this was the first time I experienced a deep and longing sense of being enamoured with someone rather than something I wanted. Yosef was a strapping young man, the idea of perfection to the Bisexual teenage boy & swooning teenage girl. I still remember his naïve innocence in having lived for so long outside of his own country. You could easily discuss anything with him because he was not a productive of guised and hypocritical conservativism. He was a breath of fresh air with the looks but not the darkened mind of men reared to believe themselves above women. The point of his nose, the depth of his dark maroon eyes and the slow peak of his teeth through his cute smile were all I could think of. But sadly he would go on to leave our school just days later.

To this day Phoebe and I still reminisce upon his loving naivety and his handsome allure. He was someone who I hoped to have savoured just a little longer, even if from a distance! For I was pretty much silent about my contrasting desires. This was the year I told my parents who I was and that the reality was that I liked women as much as I liked men. But years of being the ‘fat friend’ and being rejected by girls left me scarred and hoping to find that desire on the other end of the spectrum. But Yosef was not the only person who grabbed my interest in the years between now and then.

Natalie was somewhat of a wild card for me. She exuded the type of radiance that one would expect from a politician or a celebrity, when in reality she was a student just like me. Natalie was conservative, but somehow still friendly. I guess what attracted me to her was her insatiable lust for knowledge. She was an intelligent girl and unlike many of her peers, she knew exactly what she wanted and got it. From the way her hair flowed down past her shoulders to the way she smiled at me or the full eyed look she gave me when she spoke, I was left enamoured whenever she was around. But like many of the people I desired, I was not what they were looking for. It is often said that High School is a time of rejection and preparation for the real world, however, I disagree. High School, at least for me, was where I saw people that were no less attractive than me and certainly no better, enjoy that heart pounding teenage love. But Natalie made me realise that it was naïve of me to actually believe that she or anyone for that matter would want a morbidly obese me. Although this sounds dramatized, I assure you that it is not. But out of this experience I also learnt to love myself. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve one’s self but one should not hate themselves in the process. Life is too short to live constantly hating how you look or wanting to change everything. Instead I learnt to work towards progressive improvement. For example if I wanted my butt to look bigger I progressively did more squats. I am not saying that self-love comes from wanting to look different but self-love can mean that you love yourself enough to want to look better for yourself, first and foremost.

My weight had been a problem from around the age of ten, this is when I began to gain weight like never before. For a few years I did nothing to stop it, but in reality a silent tension was building in my mind, a tension that could not be withheld for much longer. So, in the summer that followed the end of Y7 my mother and I went abroad for the first time in over five years. This trip became the pinnacle of my weight loss. I argued non-stop with my mother and snuck food into my room as if sweets were lifesaving drugs and as fast as they could be eaten my hunger grew. But when it came down to my last two weeks there, I gave in not to my mother but too the reality of my situation. I was over 115 Kilograms at the age of 12 and to say that such a number is astonishing and shocking is an understatement in itself. From that point on I fought for my life and for whom I knew I truly was. Of course, my mother fought me the whole way, and without that I doubt I would have seriously pursued my weight loss to my fullest potential. It was there in the Sonoran Desert that I discovered the beauty of nature and fell in love with more than food for the first time in many years. The anger I felt towards my parents, particularly at this point, my father, seemed to dissipate like the shrubbery which dotted the marbled, cactus, filled desert. This summer would come to be a foreboding however, to the realities of my weight gain roughly three years later.

But in those years I dreamed and dreamed on the crushes I had, but never would I dream of expressing them in the slightest sense. Many years back, in Y8 I remember liking Jennifer. She had long auburn hair which moved from side to side as she walked and large eyes which fitted her equally large face, something that was quite unusual yet worked on her. She was a good cook and had a nice personality, but even as friends we fought so much. The only reason she found out that I liked her was because of our mutual friend Randa, who forced me to talk to her. When I was younger I was so upset at Randa for forcing that moment as it was not her place to do so, but in reality she had taught me a valuable lesson, one which showed me how to be direct and honest. My friendship with both girls would not survive the next five years, and for Randa and I, it would end in the summer of Y12 when she blocked me on social media and earlier on with Jennifer as we slowly drifted apart. But Randa was someone I feel the need to discuss in greater detail.

Randa was an enigma; she could be so wonderful, so truly good and other times so surprisingly aggressive and mean spirited. When we met all those years ago in Y7 she was wildly aggressive, hitting people and then when theyretaliated back, thinking she was merely being childish, she would shout ‘I am a girl you can’t hit me back’ or ‘My older sister will come get you’. She used these catchphrases wherever applicable to the gender of the victim who defended themselves. I did not like hypocrisy, especially from a girl who claimed herself to be a Feminist. Wasn’t Feminism meant to ensure equality? Then her seemingly silly slap should be responded to equally the same in jest as it seemed to be. As numerous school girls fought back and boys looked on at the horror of uncontrolled emotions. This is what I thought to be fair, in terms of equality and all, I did not like what I perceived to be the inequality behind a supposedly equality driven argument. It vexed me so. In the following years we would not be friends in a close sense until Y10 again. This was the final year before her slow descent into radicalism. This was this year that she wore blood red lipstick with pride, where we would console one another on the harshness of our teachers and gossip all the time. We were good friends, or so I believed. I still remember the afternoon I spent hidden in one of the language rooms listening patiently to all her anxieties and anger at the boys who had broken her heart or her family troubles, she would cry as I hugged her like a sister to a brother. But slowly after that year, Randa became unknown to me. She donned religious cloaking and covering and became someone I didn’t recognise. I joked with her just before the Christmas break ‘so am I gonna get that last hug before you transform’. Meaning that as a light hearted but clearly un-intelligent joke to which she seemed vexed at such a remark. The following year she became a friend again, but I had my reservations and as I thought we had become closer, I remember her saying in the library how ‘there are just so many people I am going to block once we finish our exams’. To this end I asked ‘Am I one of them? to which she replied ‘No’. Although this would prove to be false I still remember the look in her dark coal like eyes. Randa was a conundrum to me and will always remain so, as to this day I still question myself as to what I did to her for her to block me out of her life so hastily and without reason.

Reality was harsh and at times cruel. But reality gives us what we need to continue to learn and grow within ourselves. Although one might crush on those around them or long to be touched by their best-friends in ways that are worth more, reality brings us right back down to the utter truth of the situation, no matter how content we may be to live out such fantasy, if only in our minds. Reality brought me lesson upon lesson, for which I had only properly learnt recently. One of these lessons was to give far less than I gave. To be so giving leaves people with the impression that you expect something in return. Although the irony of this is that if you can afford to give so much and so freely then it is unlikely that you need to be reciprocated back with anything aside from sentiment. Reality taught me a lot about perception. The way I perceived one scenario and the way someone else perceived it could be truly at odds. The human mind as a whole but indeed the teenage mind is one that can see and understand things in ways that are highly different to their actualities. Thus, if anything in life one must learn to differentiate between one’s mind and one’s reality, no matter how easy it may be to hide away amongst the depths of the former.


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