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reputation by Dr. Rebecca Sharp (1)

 

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S like to have people judge you by what you say? How about what you do or don’t do? Or even by what you wear?

Do you know what it’s like to have people twist your words or actions?

Do you know what it’s like to have people say things—make up stories—about you for their own benefit, even if that benefit is to hurt you?

Do you ever feel like you do all you can and still have a target on your back?

I do.

People have all kinds of ideas about fame.

Being famous doesn’t make me different.

Being famous doesn’t make me special.

Being famous just makes my target bigger.

Shinier.

Easier to take down.

 

“Blake Tyler wins 9th Grammy at only 25!”

 

Rockstar.

Rock. Star.

You came from Earth—from the dirt and stones and nothingness—and were rocketed up to the stars, set ablaze along the way for everyone else to enjoy your glow. Every night. Every place. You were on display. Every bright and burning piece of you was seen. All. The. Time.

 

“How does Blake do it? Love Struck sells 2.5 million copies the first week!”

 

I’d barely finished high school when Heart Break caught fire and exploded me to the top of more charts than I’d seen in all my math and science classes combined. SATs and ACTs quickly became AMAs and VMAs.

It was unnerving since I’d always been shy. I didn’t think I’d ever get used to the kind of soul-sucking fame that someone had yet to diagnose as a more dangerous addiction than heroin. Turns out, my naiveté only seemed to make the world love me even more; how ironic that elusiveness was the most potent ingredient in the recipe for popularity.

 

“America’s sweetheart named one of Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songwriters of All Time!”

 

I followed my fame—willingly, excitedly, and with an innocence that can only spell eventual disaster. But that was the real me. America’s sweetheart. Believer of fairy tales.

Perfect.

Princess.

Popstar.

That was my reputation—and reputation was everything in this town.

But I wasn’t perfect. And my life wasn’t a fairytale. In fact, it had taken me a decade to forget about my chronic, incurable disease.

I’d had ZP since I was a kid. It did all sorts of things to my body, including, but not limited to chills, heat spells, sleeplessness, chest pains, nausea, and bouts of indescribable aches in unmentionable places.

I guess I should mention that ZP isn’t actually a disease—then at least there might have been hope for a cure. No, ZP stood for Zach Parker and before he’d become my disease, he was the god-next-door that set my soul on fire.

Zach was my neighbor, if that word still counted with a solid two football fields of farmland between our two houses, complete with growing corn, a small island of trees, and a stream small enough to babble. And to add icing to the cake, Zach was my older brother, Ashton’s, best friend. He was the gorgeous football star who should have had ‘Superman’ written on the back of his jersey. Instead of a cape, he wore a cap—the one from the University of Alabama was his favorite. Go Tide. He was the man of steel with a heart of gold and a smile that could light up our whole hometown.

Whether I fully realized it then or not, I’d attached myself to him in ways that didn’t come apart without some sort of amputation.

The loss of my heart all started the day I met him—the day he convinced me not to run away. One chunk gone. Then there was the time he let me steal all of the eggs from his chicken coop because I didn’t want the baby chicks to die. Once I calmed down, he gently informed me that unfertilized eggs don’t hatch. Another chunk missing. Piece by piece until the day I lost my glasses, tripping as I rushed out to the school bus pick-up. I broke out into tears when Jensen Nabors, the biggest and meanest third grade bully, found them and proceeded to hold them (and me) hostage while he made fun of me for being blind without my four eyes. Zach, who was two years older, pushed him to the ground and threatened worse if he ever made fun of me again. And when Zach put the frames back on my tear-streaked face… Well…

My heart became his to keep and his to lose.

I’d loved Zach Parker with every fiber of my eight-year-old body, and every cell that had grown in it since only magnified the obsession. That’s what happens when you have a viral disease; it changes your DNA and how every molecule in your body is made. And from that moment on, breathing Zach Parker was written into the cells of my lungs, feeling Zach Parker was written into the cells of my skin, seeing only Zach Parker was written into each inky blue cell of my eyes. And loving Zach Parker? Well, that was engraved into the demanding cells of my heart—deeper and deeper with each and every beat.

But to Zach, I was just a friend on good days and the annoying little sister he never had on bad ones. And after eight years, I learned that sometimes it’s the things that feel good in the moment that hurt us the worst in the end.

When Zach realized he had my heart, he promptly tried to return it. At that point, it was too late. My own heart was a foreign object to me. What was I supposed to do with this thing that hadn’t been mine for almost a decade?

I didn’t know how it worked, but there was no mistaking that it was broken.

 

“Blake + Matt McCoy confirmed couple status with appearance at the Grammy’s!”

 

Now, almost another decade later and with the whole world watching, I was still fumbling with the stupid thing. I wanted to give it to someone who knew how to take care of it, someone who actually wanted it—so pitifully so that I completely missed how they were all just after my limelight and not my love.

 

“Blake Tyler spotted in close quarters at Met Gala with actor Xavier James. Is she done with McCoy?!”

 

I came home and tried to focus on my music, writing in the hammock in our backyard, staying out late into the tranquil Tennessee nights, and staring up at the stars that could identify with the struggle of my soul: to not be swallowed up by the vast darkness of everything around me.

 

“McCoy is gone and looks like Xavier has himself a new bae—or Blay!”

 

“The only competition for Blake Tyler is the one between her number of awards and her number of ex-boyfriends!”

 

That’s the thing about stars—they shine like a bright beacon amid the stifling masses of blackness. They sparkle and twinkle and put on a show. But at some point, everyone wishes so hard on them that they can’t hang onto the sky anymore.

And that’s where most people get it wrong. You don’t wish on a falling star, you wished for it—for its magical plummet.

They love you when you shine, but they only wish on your fall.

 

“Blink and Blake has another beau!”

 

I hadn’t done anything wrong. But the press isn’t a courtroom where you have the luxury of being innocent until proven guilty. Player. No, the tabloids thrive on guilt. Serial narcissist. They thrive on breaking shiny things… spotless things… like a reputation hiding a broken heart.

 

“Swedish DJ, Levi Janssen, and Blake Tyler announce relationship with impromptu live collaboration of his song ‘Always’ at Webster Hall.”

 

That’s the thing about reaching this level of fame. Everyone thinks you’re put on a pedestal—nice and tall and stable.

You’re not.

I was a superstar walking on stilts… on a very thin tightrope. And I was pretty darn clumsy.

But aren’t we all when it comes to love?

Which is how even doing the right thing put me so precariously close to being ruined.

 

“Forget ‘Always,’ someone let Levi know that he’ll be lucky if he lasts two days with BT.”

 

My reputation… everything that was real about me that I thought people truly believed… was being torn to shreds. Sputtering. Flailing. Falling.

And I’d do anything to try to get the world to stop questioning the person my heart hoped they still believed me to be.

Anything.

Including re-infecting myself with the disease that—through what felt like extensive broken heart surgery nine years ago—I’d barely managed to recover from.

Blake Tyler.

Superstar.

Sad story.

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