Marked Men - 4

Jay Crownover

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.


No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

—Eleanor Roosevelt

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.

—Mahatma Gandhi

The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.

—Virginia Woolf

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.

—Oscar Wilde

I celebrate myself, and I sing myself.

—Walt Whitman

Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.

—Lucille Ball

Dedicated to any of you who might just need a little reminder that you are awesome just the way you are!!!


I grew up in a pretty small town here in the mountains in Colorado. It was a pretty place, but I stuck out like a sore thumb, which wasn’t always the easiest thing to handle. I have always had my own style, marched to the beat of my own drum, wrote my own rule book, and pretty much forged my own path. I developed a thick skin and pretty rock-solid sense of who I was and what I was about early on. I had to, or I would’ve fallen victim to thinking what others said about me or thought about me held any water. That was years and years ago and still, that time, those feelings, stick with me.

I know this isn’t the case for everyone, that some people have never been judged unfairly. But many have and they know that mean words and hateful actions are so much more far-reaching now with the world all being connected by a keyboard and a computer monitor. It gets tougher and tougher to brush off negativity and pessimism.

Trying to love yourself, to know your own value and worth, is something I think a lot of young girls struggle with and that can definitely flow into adulthood. We all have things that set us apart, make us special, make us who we are, and I would love to see those things celebrated and enjoyed across the board. Let that freak flag fly! (Or whatever equivalent you have.)

I think on the journey to finding the love we crave, the love we truly deserve, the first stop has to be the love we have for ourselves. That’s a love that can never be lost and can only grow and get stronger the more it is fostered and developed. Appreciate who you are. Love what makes you different. Tell your story your way. Embrace the things that make you beautiful inside and out, and know that once you do, no one else can ignore those traits. Revel in the quirks that simply make you you, and do it with pride.



High school … Not the best years of my life

There’s a moment in every person’s life, a point in time that will alter the course they are on, the path they are traveling, forever. The night of Ashley Maxwell’s birthday party my senior year in high school was mine.

I wasn’t the type of teenager that went to wild parties. I didn’t drink and didn’t mess around with drugs and boys, so really there was no point in me going. I was also painfully shy, overweight, and awkward in my own skin, skin that tended toward ugly breakouts and flushed bright red whenever anyone tried to engage me in conversation. The halls of high school were torture for a girl like me, but I suffered through it mostly unscathed because I knew when to keep my head down and not to set my sights on friends or boys that were out of my league. At least I did until senior year, when my locker ended up right next to Nash Donovan’s.

For the first few weeks of school, I kept to myself and ignored him, just like I did with all the popular kids and beautiful people. If I didn’t engage, then he couldn’t make fun of me or, even worse, look at me with pity shining out of the spectacular purple eyes that glowed out of his handsome face. It worked until the day I dropped a calculus book on his foot and he picked it up to hand it to me. I’ll never forget the way I actually felt the way my heart stopped and then started thundering in the next second when those spectacular eyes gleamed at me. I’d never experienced anything quite like it.

Nash smiled at me, quipped something sarcastic and offhand, making my poor, lonely heart turn over. He walked away with a wink … and I had a crush. A consuming, engulfing crush that built day after day, because after that embarrassing incident Nash went out of his way to say hello when we were by our lockers, and he always walked away with a smile or a nod. Each day I became more entranced, fell a little harder, and built the fantasy that we were meant to be something more than passing acquaintances into something grandiose and romantic.

I was a smart girl, so I knew my affection was one-sided, but he seemed nice, charming, and it made me warm on the inside that he never teased me, or made me feel bad about my weight or looks like so many of my peers did on a regular basis. Our simple interaction was good for my self-esteem, good for making me feel more like the rest of the teenage girls prowling the halls that swooned over him and his group of troublemaking friends. I had even worked up enough courage after a month or so to return his hellos without my fair skin bursting into flames. I didn’t stammer or clam up when he spoke to me anymore and occasionally I even managed to eke out a return smile. I was pretty proud of myself, so when he asked me one Friday if I was planning on going to Ashley Maxwell’s party, I had been equal parts stunned and thrilled. A shiver of anticipation shook me to the core and I couldn’t stop myself from tumbling headfirst into a daydream where this was the start of something more than just an exchange of pleasantries in the hallway. It was all I could do to keep from twirling around in a circle of delight and clapping my hands like an overeager fanatic.

It was more than he typically said to me, and he was just so engaging and likable that I replied that I would try to be there. I didn’t want to sound overeager. When he smiled at me and said that was awesome and we could hang out, I couldn’t stop the feeling that attending a sloppy, unsupervised high school party seemed like the most important thing I had ever done in my short life.

My older sister, Faith, pretty and popular, fit in seamlessly to shark-infested waters that made up a teenage social circle. She questioned me endlessly about my sudden desire to mingle with my peer group, cautioned me that kids who were mean and unfriendly on a normal basis could be cruel and hateful when social status and alcohol were involved—but I decided not to listen. I figured the worst thing that could happen was that I would show up, not see Nash, or he wouldn’t see me and I could just turn around and come back home and curl up with a book like I did most weekends. I was turning a blind eye to what I knew was the truth, but my desire for this particular boy to see me as something more than he did was all-consuming. It was making me ignore common sense and my own honed sense of self-protection.

I let Faith fuss over me for hours. She played with my fire-engine-red hair until it was curly and styled pretty and feminine. I let her pick an outfit that would never make me look like a size-four cheerleader but was fashionable and cute, and I even allowed her to slime a bunch of junk on my face that I knew would ultimately make my skin break out even worse. The end results were actually pretty nice. I looked more put together than I normally did. I thought I could just blend into the crowd, and really that was fine as long as those pretty purple eyes found me. I felt more confident and secure than I could ever remember feeling before.

Faith told me not to arrive to the party until after eleven, so I waited anxiously, fiddled with my hair, and played through every scenario my overeager imagination could think of. Maybe he would ask me to dance. Maybe he would lead me outside and give me my first kiss. Maybe he would tell me he could see all the wonderful things that lurked beneath the surface and he wanted me to be his girlfriend. In hindsight, of course, none of that was going to happen and I really didn’t know the kind of guy Nash really was, but still a crush is a crush and it can run away from you pretty fast.

And so I showed up at Ashley Maxwell’s blowout party, appropriately late, armed with Faith’s mini-makeover and a racing heart filled with anticipation.

As I walked into the house I was hit with a blast of music, and the optimism I’d felt started to waver. A crowd of three guys I recognized from chem crowded past me as they joined the mayhem taking place in the living room. I couldn’t find a safe place to rest my eyes, everywhere people seemed to be doing something that made me blush. I did my best to keep myself from gaping, but I felt the telltale heat creeping up my neck as I pushed my way through the sea of bodies. It was disturbing and I was beginning to think a new hairdo and some mascara would never be enough to make me fit in, in a place like this.

The kitchen looked a little less crowded, so I moved in that direction, keeping my eyes peeled for Nash. I was certain that if I could find him, this night would turn around. My stomach fluttered again as I thought about meeting those purple eyes across the room. I imagined them glinting and crinkling at the sides like they did when he smiled, and I pictured myself suddenly at ease by his side as the rest of the chaos faded away. He would make all the discomfort creeping under my skin disappear.

As I rounded a corner someone bumped into me, spilling sticky, red liquid all down the front of my carefully selected shirt. I gasped in surprise and the jerk moved on without even apologizing. I was shaking and officially freaking out on the inside. It was all too clear that I didn’t belong here, no matter how cute Nash Donovan was. My hands started to shake and it took every ounce of self-control I had to keep tears at bay.

Turned out, the kitchen was just as bad as the front of the party. Worse really, because the booze was apparently kept there and the crowd in that room seemed to be the drunkest of the drunk. It was like walking across a minefield of ugly remarks and dirty looks to get to the sink to try and clean up. I heard a few snickers, saw a few blurry looks cast my way, and it was enough. I planned to rinse off and go home. This place and these people were not for me and I knew better.

“Who invited you?”

The question was slurred and followed with a heavy hand on my shoulder. The voice—and the hand—belonged to none other than the birthday girl herself, and she was drunk. Really drunk and out for blood. Ashley and I weren’t friends, but she had never said or done anything overtly nasty to me in all the years we had gone to school together … I kind of felt like I was going to throw up.


“Who invited you?” There was a sneer on her pretty lips, her big brown eyes glassy. “Why are you here?”

I wanted to say Nash had asked me to come, that he had told me we were going to hang out tonight, but I couldn’t get the words out … because just then he showed up.

He entered the kitchen followed by the Archer twins and Jet Keller. There was no mistaking it: these boys brought the party with them wherever they went. Nash had on his customarily sloppy look of torn jeans, skate shoes, and a band T-shirt. He also had a baseball hat pulled low over his forehead that did nothing to hide the high flush in his face or the unclear and foggy haze covering his eyes. It was obvious he was already wasted or even high and I felt the first threads of disappointment start to tie up my cracking heart. I saw his gaze skim over the kitchen, land on me, and keep moving. It made me suck in a painful breath and I had to bite the inside of my cheek—hard—to keep from really crying.