Fourteen years ago today I graduated from high school. It a day I looked forward to, and naively looked forward to leaving. I remember high school not being as bad as middle school. The glory of hitting puberty changed the way a lot of the boys treated me, which is not to say it was necessarily favorable. For most of them, they went from utter torment and harassment to simply ignoring me. For that, I was grateful.

I had hoped that my graduation meant the end of the cliques that I had never been a part of, of the awkward locker situations, and hopefully the end of being treated like a child. Unfortunately, the feeling of being left out, of being placed in another, even more uncomfortable living situation, and the childlike treatment didn’t end that rainy day in June.

By that point, my home life was barely tolerable. My parents barely able to stand each other. The aftermath of my mother’s affair, her accusations of violence against my father (which I had never personally witnessed) and the frantic efforts I made single-handedly to keep the family together had taken its toll.

Still, I was glad to be done with the small town mentality that I had endured. I was ready to move on to the prestigious, liberal arts women’s college to which I had been accepted. I was excited to reinvent myself, knowing that none of these people would know me and that I could be whomever I wanted.

Oh, how I wish I could go back to that day and let me younger self know that I would always be myself, that it wasn’t the locale that dictated my self-loathing and awkwardness. The scars had already taken hold and they would mold me forever, and that without therapy and medication, I might never get to a feeling of “normal.”

A lot of people would tote the feel-good generation’s mantra of “you’re perfect just the way you are,” which, at least in my case, is horseshit. I had been manipulated and forced into an identity by mentally ill parents, and it would take decades to undo that damage. I needed to essentially rebuild from the ground up, but instead the next ten years would be a blind rushing forward insisting that I was moving in the right direction, directly into the eye of the storm.

Still, I remember sitting in alphabetical order among my classmates for the last time, rolling my eyes as the speakers made glittering generalities about how we’re the future. The bitchy girls who refused to allow me access to my locker sat on either side of me, and occasionally looked at me, misty tears in their eyes, the quintessential Hallmark moment so perfect for them. I could barely contain the rising bile.

The final moment came, as we all stood, diplomas in hand, and the class of ’98 stood for the last time as one. I whisked the cap from my head and attempted to throw it awkwardly upward. But, as if a metaphor for my entire life, the top heavy bit made it take off more like a frisbee, and it winged someone a couple of rows up in the back of the head.