You Gotta See Yourself To Wanna Be Yourself

My mind is as coiled as my hair, rebelling against elastics that stretch and snap in efforts to contain it.

For a long time, I felt like a walking contradiction, like being more than one thing divulged a complex otherness that was not compatible with a homogenous world. I sliced open all my parts and made them new. I took to this task with a vengeance, seeking to manufacture comfort in a body and brain that knew none.

I was deeply conflicted by the simultaneous existence of opposing traits: synonym versus antonym. I was both feminine and crude. I was both loud and quiet. I was open-minded and hard- headed, serious and goofy, intelligent and clueless, abrasive and soft. I was the kind of person who wanted an object to hold, just to have something to do with my hands. I wanted to be categorized because I wanted to have a place to be.

I filed away my edges, reducing my personality to make it more digestible and readily consumed. I sought out a single word – ordinary – to confine my eccentricities. I wrote the word in marker across my forehead, but was uneasy when people looked me in the eye instead. My performance never felt adequate. I rubbed my skin raw in revision, applying practiced penmanship and clean font. I reviewed encounters and interactions of each day like an athlete combing through his game reels, noting faults in formations, routes, and tendencies.

These warring versions of myself were reflected in the rooms I inhabited. My childhood bedroom walls – the color of bubblegum – competed with black-and-white photos of movie scenes and grunge-y music posters. My freshman year dorm room was saccharine; a mosaic of high school photos taped to cinderblock, glossy trappings outfitting institutional furniture and space monopolized by an excess of stuff. Sophomore year was the same dorm, different room. Gone were the pictures of high school glory days, gone was the cloying décor. A lava lamp was introduced and lasted for a week before someone knocked it over. It shattered to the floor in technicolor carnage.

Junior year I moved into my first apartment. Emboldened by an abundance of carpet and floor, I didn’t dare clutter it with things. I purchased a ladder bookshelf to house a bounty of books and a small bedside table to match. The bedding was plain and white. Barring a sparse collection of art on a single wall, the room was stripped and bare. At the beginning, it felt uncomplicated. With time, it made me sick. Books collected dust and the white walls, once fresh and bright, now felt bald and grim. The blankness swallowed me whole.

I took time off from school and returned to my four pink walls. It was in this room, surrounded by teen idols and tchotchkes, that I discarded reinvention and caught footing in the constant becoming. Reinvention implies that you don’t like yourself, that there was nothing there to like from the start, but to reimagine is a different kind of coming of age. To quote American poet Sonia Sanchez, “Reimagine how—how I must live, how I must rearrange my bowels, how I must rearrange my toe jam, how I must rearrange my hair, my breasts—how I must rearrange my thoughts.”

In these rooms of mine, people filtered in and out, knowing me and not knowing me. It wasn’t until later that I realized the mystery was not theirs to solve. I reconciled all my pieces. I found people who saw each and every one of them.

This year I lived in a small, overcrowded apartment, with rooms a circus clown must have designed. In the smallest room I ever lived in, I fashioned a kaleidoscope of music, movies, madness, and mayhem that suited me just fine.

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