I believe I should introduce you to my complicated relationship with the cliché-one I believe is unique to me, but also realize is unique to everyone as an individual as well (which renders my relationship with the cliché no more unique to me than our relationships to each others’ lives are unique and important to one another as a whole).
Cliché and I began seeing each other in ninth grade. We’d had a thing-probably best characterized as a ‘flirtationship’ of sorts-since we discovered each other in the dolls section of the Toys ‘R’ Us I frequented as a child; girls wore tank tops and sunnies, boys wore camo and toted guns-both physically and literally. We were supposed to be walking clichés of unreachable ideals.
This was probably the first conscious decision I made to try to be unique. Throughout preschool I had generously decorated my hair with what I had dubbed “hair pretties”; clips and hair ties, and I had dressed however I darn well pleased because (ask my mother, she’ll tell you) I was a strong-willed child and I did what I wanted-to the point where my mother was receiving calls from slightly miffed mothers of my peers who said their children wanted to dress how they wanted as well. Thanks mom. I appreciate your allowance for me to grow. Especially because we can laugh at the photos.
All of this, however, was just me. I was three. How am I supposed to know what ‘different’ is? All I know is adult from friend from stranger. That moment in the Toys ‘R’ Us bathroom was when that differentiation began. ‘Girl’ from ‘boy’, to ‘unique’ from ‘cookie-cutter’. Cliché had its eyes on me.
As I began to grow into myself, I rejected feminine ideals. From watching Barbie movies and experimenting with cheap kiddie cosmetics as a third-grader to completely changing my wardrobe from sundresses and cute sweatpants to jeans and athletic shirts I would always feel exposed in as a fifth-grader, I wanted to fit in with the guys. I thought that, to do this, I had to-in a loose sense of the word-become one. The one I had seen portrayed over and over again growing up. During the two year span I was a gymnast, I always wanted to be as good or better than the boys on the team, but I was afraid of the attention it would bring me. Positive? Because I’m better than the boys, who were biologically stronger than me? Or negative, because of the same reasons and they were beaten by a ‘girl’?
The summer before fifth grade, I quit gymnastics, but sports during recess became important to me. I was always one of very few females who played soccer during lunch, and I delved more into video games-ones I didn’t even enjoy. I cut my hair short. It was like a mushroom. Not very flattering. But which pre-pubescent boy that I’m trying to emulate cares about their appearance-much less hygiene?
I rest my awfully, unsupported, 10-year-old case.
But fast-forward/backtrack (however you see it in the unorganized progression of this writing sample) to when cliché and I started dating. I was young and ready for love. Thirteen and bright-eyed. Completely lost in who I thought the world wanted me to be and nowhere near clued in to who I wanted me to be. This is a cliché in itself.
My friends varied in type, but we all had one thing in common: we were okay with labels. We labeled ourselves, not aware of what we were doing, but in labeling other groups of people, we labeled ourselves as well. I got stuck. I didn’t share many interests with most of these people-I generally related most to those older or younger than me, but I was aware of how disdainfully youth were looked down upon by adults and even those who were only a year older than us, and decided it wasn’t worth a try to attempt a jump outside my comfort zone. I was afraid I’d misjudge the height of a step and end up leaping off a cliff.
All this time, I was generalizing large groups of people and continuously organizing them into boxes mentally based upon not only assumptions I made based on their interests, but based on their appearance as well. Which was something I assumed they did and disliked them for it. The hypocrisy and invalidity of that year was disgusting… But I don’t appreciate fascism, so to hide my past would be to commit a fascist act, and I’m not about that hypocrisy life anymore.
I woke up to how uncomfortable the life I was leading was around the first half of sophomore year, and I began taking small hops toward the ledge I was so afraid to step off of. I had, by this time, realized the poison in my actions and thought processes, and was making an effort to begin to chip away at the ruse I had been portraying for years in order to discover who I was at the core of my being.
This meant making myself severely uncomfortable 90% of the time.
I forced myself to make small talk with people who had previously terrified me because I thought they were making preconceived notions about who I was.
I cut my hair. Like, really cut my hair.
I joined the dive team because I wanted to. My parents had pushed it because of my background as a gymnast, but ultimately, it was my choice.
I began running although most of the people in my social group poked fun at me for it-including my parents, who thought I was taking up running to prove them wrong when one of them asked why I was considering joining the track team if I wasn’t a runner. Perfectly valid question.
I became interested in what I wanted to be interested in, no matter what boxes they sorted me into. Television shows, art pieces, clothing, morals, political views, books, places, people.
I began to see the beauty in the world instead of waiting for it to show itself to me.
This progressed exponentially until, as I see myself now from my perspective as a ninth-grader, I would have labelled this version of myself as married to cliché with seven children and four dogs. The reasons being:
I frequent coffee shops;
I am an avid lover of social media;
I CARE ABOUT HOW I LOOK GOD FORBID (but I do it for myself, something my 13-year-old self never could have imagined);
I have a camera I tote everywhere;
I write poetry, something even up to junior year I viewed as pretentious;
I work at a fast-food joint;
I’m a budding spiritualist who believes in the merging of spiritual ideals and scientific practices instead of a close-minded, formerly conservative Christian agnostic (oh, yeah, that was a thing. Look at how pretentious that was);
I speak to people and see the best in them that I can manage to see
oh god oh no what have I become I am a monster.
These, amidst other attributes, make me the walking cliché I had hoped I would never be. And I love it. I am the happiest I have ever been. And that’s what’s important.