Last week I was given four minutes to tell my life story. That time was more than enough in the moment; I immediately realized that my timeline has been embarrassingly repetitive. Here's what I've learned:
Before I could count my age with the fingers on my right hand, I would smile for pictures, tilted head. Photographers say the tilt exposes the neck which gives off a more non-threatening appearance; as in flirtation. Ever the pacifist, I still carry my naiveté as a badge of honor; a perpetual tilt from believing in a good that has been long gone.
But, sure, flirty. That's what I was going for.
As a pre-teen, I would do anything to flatten my hair into submission. I found books. Books use words that people have long forgotten; words I didn't yet know. I have always preferred pages to most people. Unless they were filled with darkness--then they took on something more like flesh and bone and I didn't know how else to combat that but to shut it quickly, unfinished; return it to the library and try again. Friends were harder back at chapter one.
In middle school, I wore clothes that were six sixes too big, hoping to look tiny in comparison. I cut my hair for charity, berated my cursing friends, didn't understand how the relationship with the boy I loved since I was three could be so delicate, could be so complicated. Discovered that cyberbullies were birthed from green eyes and name brands. Witnessed friends come and go; learned that the people who stay aren't necessarily the best people for the job.
At the start of high school, I forgot to flat-iron the back of my head more often than I remembered. I carried too many books and started speaking too much. Or started to become aware of it. Noise pollution.
When I transferred schools, I stopped wearing shoes in the building; opting instead for socks with monkeys on them. I wore leggings with "love" scrawled across the legs and bulky sweatshirts. Scarves covered hickeys and other bruises. I learned what family felt like; what community could do. When I tell my students about my high school experiences, I draw from this stream.
Dyed my hair. Let my scalp become an extension of me.
At graduation, I cried from the second I walked onstage well through the summer, when I still hadn't found a way to name my sadness. I lost something that day. Something I have been looking for, since.
That September I moved to New York. My trouble is I had done everything leading up to this point at New York City speed. And the pace of these streets only makes feet race faster. My brain goes too fast. Brains like that make enemies. Brains like that become a harbor for funny thoughts. Before I speak, I look around the room and decide if my words will offend anyone. If they may, I don't say them. This way, I preserve a kindness rarely found in the funny. I am a riot inside my head.
My hair has been various shades of five different colors. My heart has been varying shades of broken. I have lost and found and gained and questioned.
Today I am striving for solace. I am counting the positives, one finger at a time and learning to breathe. I'm reverting back to the head tilt in pictures. Flirty. Non-threatening. I don't think it works as well, post-five.
Neither does singing off-key. Neither does changing your mind. Neither does saying goodbye.
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal.