If I had not been clinging to the act of “fitting in” throughout the fifth grade, I would have known much sooner that it is perfectly normal to adore the boy in school that everyone else thinks is strange. Even if the first time I stroked some new kind of courage to finally speak to him, he introduced himself to me as the person who assassinated JFK. Actually, it is probably a good thing that he didn’t like me back.
If I had not been so busy wrapping my neon painted fingernails so tightly to “belonging” in the sixth grade, I would have admitted that it hurt much sooner. Those words in the hall. Hurt far more than my own mother sitting me down, week after week, letting tar sink into my scalp before she ripped away at the debris of a skin disease I couldn’t hide.
You would have known those words hurt like hell, but I put them in a diary beside my hope to one day stitch some form of “beautiful” beside my name. “One day,” I begged God. “I won’t even ask for it today. But one day, please don’t forget to turn me pretty.”
If I had not been so entranced by “clueless” in the eighth grade, I would have seen sooner that pretending to think the United Kingdom was in Africa, in front of a whole geography class, was not cute. It was stupid. Dumb. And only made boys think you were an airhead.
That I should have just admitted my knowing there were fifty states and, surprisingly, fifty capitals to go with each one. That I wasn’t just failing geography to make brown-eyed boys like me; I was failing myself.
If I had not so adamantly squeezed myself into “desirable” in the ninth grade, I would have recognized earlier that the things about me that a man should desire reside no where between the space where my low-rise hipsters and tank top forgot to meet. That my mother was right for making me trudge upstairs and change my clothes. So Right. That my worth would never come in the form of too-tight jean shorts and tube tops, ESPECIALLY if I didn’t at least know my fifty states.
If I had not clung to “building walls” in the eleventh grade, romanticized by the concept that Dawson and his creek pals left me digesting daily at the breakfast table, I probably would have told him much sooner. I would have had a good speech, the kind you see by the creek. I would have said,
“Listen, the world shakes when you weave your fingers into mine.
I sing Christmas carols in July over you.
People play some sort of Houdini act when you walk in, as if they have been practicing for years. They disappear, and I am left standing next to you.”
If my tears weren’t so reluctant to loosen their ties to “being strong and in college,” I would have thanked her much sooner. For driving two hours. For picking me up from my first dorm room. For putting a plate of chocolate cake before me. For sleeping on the floor that night, listening with me to the sounds of the night I had never heard before. The Unfamiliar Cracks and Breaks. The Sound of a Heart Breaking for the First Time.
If I wasn’t so attracted to “going with the crowd” in college, I would have said it sooner: Beer leaves a putrid taste my mouth. I think these heels were made for the ground, not the top of the bar. That I would much rather wrap myself around Maya Angelou’s poetry, a glass of wine, and a good friend’s storytelling than trudge to a party where no one will remember come morning the conversations we held.
I would have admitted to myself much sooner that it gets quite exhausting to perform two choruses.
That I should just stick to lyrics.
To words unknown and never repeated. To words my own and never deleted.
To Acts like Spreading: avocado on toast. Peanut butter on bread for the homeless. Love on, and all over, everything.
Wearing: the whole of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” on my sleeve (the very best line in the crook of my elbow: “You your best thing, Sethe.”) Clothes that are timeless and would be the luscious result of a shopping trip with Jackie O, Katie Holmes, and Audrey Hepburn. My own beliefs like a reliable bag or a pair of oversized sunglasses, like beliefs not bound to ever go out of fashion.
Listening: to loved ones. Silence. In between the lines.
Searching: and Defining my Own Capital Letters. And Stumbling. And Writing and Rewriting without any hope for perfection. And Grooving. And keeping my ears perked for dialogue that means something. And Seeking Lessons for my untrained heart.
Admitting: that I am small but powerful. Fearful but willing. Trying my hardest. Pretty lucky. That some kind of beautiful does reside beside my name. That tomorrow, life will shift and throw us off, and we won’t ever be ready for it, but we should be able to stand firm in what we believe in. In what we know about ourselves. In things we know to be true.
Hannah Brencher is a writer, speaker, and creator pinning her passion to projects that bring the human touch back into the digital age. After spending a year writing and mailing over 400 love letters to strangers across the world, Hannah launched The World Needs More Love Letters in August 2011—a global organization fueled by volunteer “letter writers,” now in fifty states and forty-seven countries. She’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Oprah, Glamour, the White House Blog, and is currently a global finalist for the TED2013 Global Talent Search (watch the TED Talk). You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
*Photo by SweetOnVeg.