2015, my first year in Varsity. I was straight out of high school and I quite honestly didn’t know what to expect in varsity. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I was starting a new journey with new friends and a new environment. The first day in class, I had already made a few friends. I was friends with my roommate and another girl who lived next door.

Every class has these different types of people: there’s the joker, the group of girls that whispers and laughs when somebody passes by, there’s the quiet, mature guy that sits at the back, there’s that girl that hates you for no reason and gets her friends to hate you too, that one girl that is loud and hyper and talks to everyone and everybody finds her annoying and then there’s the late-comers. You see, in my class we had every single one of those people! I used to think that the girl who is always late likes to make a grand entrance, the girl who’s always loud is an attention seeker, annoying and needs to keep quiet, the guy who’s at the back is shy and probably has never had a girlfriend, the girls who are always gossiping think they are better than everyone and the guy who is always cracking jokes is lame, and me… I used to sit at my desk and observe every single one of them. I thought I knew how to read people but all I was doing was being a stereotype.

Then came a day that changed my whole perspective on life and my thoughts about people. A life coach came over, played a few games with the class and then started talking about issues that we face as students. She got us to ‘open up’ and talk to each other. At first I thought what she was doing was lame and I told myself that I was not going to ‘open up’ to anyone because I don’t like talking about myself. She got us to move around and talk to each other and then we got to a point where we had to stand up one by one and say whatever was on our minds…

The girl who’s always hyper was raped at the age of seven, the guy who jokes a lot’s brother was shot in front of him and died in his arms, the leader of the girls who gossip a lot in class cuts herself because she doesn’t feel pretty and struggles with her self-esteem, the girl who is always late drinks alcohol almost every day because she had a miscarriage and feels guilty about it, the quiet guy at the back has a five year old boy whom he loves dearly and his face lights up when he talks about him and then there’s me..

It took me quite some time to talk about me because I had never told anyone about my background and the things I have gone through, and still go through, in life. I am the girl who nearly died at only eight months old, not from sickness but from my father’s stick that was meant to hit my head while I was on my mother’s back. She blocked it with her wrist and 20 years later it still hurts every winter. My father would beat my mother up every chance he got for no good reason until my mother decided to leave him.

We started over in a very small shack with four of my siblings. Things were not very ideal and they still aren’t. Very soon I might have to drop out of varsity because my mother can’t pay my tuition. What I learnt that day was the biggest lesson of my life. We wear different masks every day. We try to hide the pain that we are feeling inside and we have different ways of hiding who we are and what we are feeling. Some people joke around, some prefer to be silent and enjoy their own company, some are mean to other people and some feel the need to make fun of others to make themselves feel better.

The truth is, we all have gone through some tough times in our lives, we have experienced things that children shouldn’t experience and we come from different homes; all we want is to ‘fit in’ so we wear masks to disguise who we truly are. Do not judge a book by its cover. Be nice to people, you have no idea what kind of demons they deal with every night when the mask comes off. Don’t let your mean words be the last thing they hear when they decide they have had enough.