when you’re writing an essay and need to meet the word limit

Sometimes, I get asked to talk a little more about myself. I generally don’t know what to say about myself, because offline, I am very bad at judging what would be interesting enough for me to say out loud in a conversation.

I get interrupted a lot, and it’s really skewed my thoughts regarding what people would want to hear about. And I’ve never been good at talking about myself anyway.

But seeing this GIF set reminded me of a set of memories from my freshman year of high school.

When I was in elementary school, I had several really close friends. When I went into middle school, I lost the majority of my friend group. When I went into high school, I was lucky enough to have good contact with the friends I’d made in middle school, and some of the friends I’d lost in middle school buried the hatchet and began to talk to me again.

So high school was a bit of a surreal experience for me.

One of my best friends at the time had a father who was a lawyer, and she more or less seemed like that was what she was going to do as well. We found out that our high school had a Mock Trial team, so we joined, and her dad came in as a mentor figure.

Mock Trial worked a bit differently from what you’d expect. All of us had a role to play. There was a team of lawyers and a team of witnesses, one witness being the defendant or plaintiff. The witnesses are given a deposition that they need to learn inside and out. They have to know it like it was their own life story. The lawyers have a very specific set of rules to learn and work within. (By the way, the witnesses are all given gender-neutral names, so there are no restrictions on who can play what part. And in some cases, there would be multiple spellings of the name so you could go with the appropriately gendered one. Mine was Randi/Randy.)

The club met after school, and we spent our time quizzing each other over our respective parts. We would ask the lawyers questions about the rules, and the witnesses were asked questions that might come up in the courtroom.

My first year, I was a member of the defendant’s band, and pretty much every thing depended upon my success at explaining why the defendant wasn’t guilty.

However, there was a tiny block of time where the defendant wasn’t accounted for and could have been involved with the murder. And that was where they wanted to get me.

Because I was her alibi, I had to be the castle moat that kept everyone from calling her guilty. (By the way, it was confirmed that she was not the killer, I believe.)

Being a freshman who had previously been plagued by stage fright, I was pretty nervous. I hadn’t done anything like this before. I’d been in chorus, but that’s totally different because you’re in a group. Being this witness meant that I had to be on my own.

The competition pits each school’s witness and lawyer teams against each other. Now, in practice, you know what questions your lawyer was going to ask, so you could prepare for that. But on stage, witnesses were also questioned by the opposing school’s lawyers. You can’t prepare 100% for that, but luckily enough, since my role was so important, we hashed over every single detail we could.

So then it happened: the first courtroom. It was small and brightly lit, kind of homey-feeling. The people acting as the judges were actual lawyers, so the results were unbiased.

I’m shaky, but I go up when it’s my turn. The first thing I noticed about the stand was that the witness chair was ridiculously shaped–it was curved WAY back. There was no way to sit in it properly and look professional at the same time. So, since I was in a brief period of time where all I could stand to sit in were straight-back chairs, I just sat up straight and ignored the back of the chair.

Then, I got grilled. They asked me all of these questions that counted on me letting up on my band-mate’s alibi. And that was when it started: I did what Pinocchio did up there in that GIF set.

I used as much ambiguous wording as possible and was definitely sweating it. I didn’t know if we were going to win or not. Truly. It was a feat of brainpower to stand strong and prevent them from using any holes in my story.

So the result of the trial was determined–we won!–and the judge talked a little bit about the teams. He looked over at me and said, “So what we learned from you was that it was definitely a ‘maybe.’”

AND he came up to me afterward and asked if I was a sophomore, which was basically the only time in my life so far when someone thought I was older than I actually was. He was really impressed.

It gave me the confidence and poise to step comfortably into the next trial against a different school. (That’s pretty much the end of the story that prompted this post.)

But nothing–and I mean NOTHING–could have prepared me for what happened there.

My mom being my mom, she was talking to one of the parents from the other school. And just as they were talking about us, it was our turn. “Oh, my son is going up!” “…And that’s my daughter.”

This room was bigger, more clinical looking. It was white and wide. Everything felt really far apart.

It is here that I should note that my lawyer was a bit meek. And by “meek,” I mean that she didn’t open her mouth even once during the onslaught that was about to occur.

All she had to do was speak up and derail him. But it didn’t happen.

Now, this guy was ready. I thought I was.

Until he opened his mouth.

This was a verbal slaughter. He knew my deposition inside and out and was going to do whatever it took to make a case for the plaintiff.

I don’t remember a lot of the specifics, but he used his time well. He came at me with everything he could. I felt like I was letting him make one crack after another in my testimony. It was like a was a dam breaking little by little.

What could I possibly say when he knew exactly where my weaknesses were?

Every sentence he spoke made things worse. I stood up to him as well as I could, but no matter how much I made pleading looks at my lawyer, I was trapped.

It was like a typhoon. I had no idea how we could possibly survive this guy.

I held it together, because at that point, it had been about 6 years since I had last cried at school. I was not at all okay with being seen as weak, so I refused to let down.

I held up my shield and defended my band-mate to the best of my ability, but it felt like I was sinking more and more as time went on. It was an eternity of torment.

Finally, at last, I was allowed to leave the stand. I kept my head down as I bee-lined back to my seat, and the second I was in my chair, I started crying. In the midst of the people I’d been working with all year.

Among the people who would not have been there if not for me.

Mock Trial had almost been cancelled. No, it did get cancelled.

Our advisor didn’t feel like we were ready, like we weren’t taking it seriously enough. I had no idea what she was talking about.

We had been working so hard for so long. I expressed how sad it made me, and I went off somewhere to cry.

I went home and wrote a note to her about how much I wanted us to continue doing this and to compete since we had spent all this time preparing for it.

And it was un-cancelled.

So here I am, crying my eyes out in front of all these people who wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t gotten so upset. It was almost like I’d brought it on myself. This was my punishment for challenging an adult on this. It just had to be.

Finally, it ends. I don’t even know who won. I really don’t. I remember the judge being impressed, though. He was amazed by the lawyer’s unrelenting assault… and by my ability to hold my ground.

And I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t understand it. My teammates had all told me how well I did, but I just couldn’t believe them. I had ruined it with how badly I had done.

Then my mom comes to me and tells me how well I did, and I was like, “Are you serious? I got destroyed out there! I went back to my seat and cried as soon as I got off the stand!”

And the lawyer apologized and told me that I’d done a really good job. He ended up finding out later–I think through my mom?–that I’d cried, and he apologized again.

He and his mom told me that he was going to be a lawyer, and I believed in him more than I ever could have believed in anyone at the age of almost 15.

And yes, I do remember his name, and I’ll say what I said all those years ago (in 2005): if I ever need a lawyer, it’s going to be that guy.

And yes, for those of you wondering, I do occasionally check his Facebook to see if he’s doing all right. He ended up going to the most prestigious school in our state, and he has a fiancee/wife, from the looks of things. And it also looks like he has continued to do law-related stuff.

I can’t imagine he’d remember me, but I will never forget those feelings of frustration on the stand and devastation back in the crowd.

Something we can all learn from this is that you’re never doing as badly as you think you are. I never dreamed that anyone would tell me that I had done a great job that day. I had spent the last 10 years with some serious stage fright. But there I was, tear tracks on my cheeks, and I had survived.

Anyone can change their life.

And you know what I did after that? I went into theatre, and I LOVED it. I didn’t feel as creative as the other kids, but that was fine by me. I loved the environment so much that I took Theatre I and II the next year and ended up the lead in a play my senior year, with 75 lines. I ended up majoring in theatre for a while but didn’t fit with the program. But I used my experiences in theatre to help me become a better writer. I saw the world through a whole new lens.

Anyone can change their life.

I mean it. Say it with me.

ANYONE can change their life. That means you and anyone else on this planet, in this galaxy, in this universe, and beyond.

You can be quiet and shy and riddled with stage fright and depressed and anxious and alone. It’s okay. That was me.

Mock Trial changed my life. The weirdest things come to you in times when you don’t expect a single opportunity to come your way.

I have a Master’s degree now. I taught English 100 for a year. My heart has been to the core of the earth and back again.

Take what positivity you can, even if you don’t believe people at first. Just take it and hold onto it. Remember it when you’re down.

Mock Trial, for all of its ups and downs, gave me the confidence to be in front of other people, to try to stop being so scared of what people thought of me.

I got braces and managed to get them removed in time for my senior photos. I had never felt beautiful before. And once I stopped hating my appearance, people started to notice me again.

By my senior year of high school, I had gone from being mocked and pretty much ignored to someone whom everyone knew. I was nominated for Homecoming Queen. I’d thought it was a joke at first. But you have to get like 15 nominations to even make it on the ballot. Me, the girl who had been uncomfortable with her mind and body for years, nominated for Homecoming Queen. I even got nominated for Best All-Around Girl (or something like that).

A little boost in confidence brought me all of that.

Anyone can change their life. Even you. No, especially you.

If something interesting presents itself to you, do it!

Life is way too short to let go of interesting opportunities. It’s okay if you’re shy or lonely. You’ll make friends along the way. But you have to open your windows in order to see them.

You can change your life. Join a club. Find a new hobby. Go on dates. Talk to random people at the bookstore. Learn your co-workers’ stories. Buy a sandwich for someone down on their luck.

Talk to people. There are so many worlds out there that you’ve never experienced.

You don’t have to get up on a stage and get interrogated in order to find out something new about yourself.

Just grab a friend’s hand and take one step out of your comfort zone. Got no friends to go with you? Pick one on the other side.

It’s so, so worth it.

It gets better.

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