They say the first thing someone notices about you is your shoes, so I wear old sneakers with frayed laces and flats with scuffed edges. And when I’m faced with a scorn and a shrug, I know where I don’t want to be anymore.
My faith in first impressions is non-existent – I have fallen for too many people at first glance, people who taught me what it means to love and to lose. I have fallen for too many people years later than I should have, people who taught me what it means to love and to keep.
When I was younger, I liked to whistle a happy tune. I was promptly told that good girls didn’t whistle. Good girls aren’t heard and preferably not seen either. I whistled under my breath when no one was around and learned to sit with my legs crossed, back straight. Ten years later, I still find myself halting for a second when a whistle escapes me. And then I whistle louder.
I don’t know when I grew quiet. My childhood was largely loud and liberating, my input always included, absorbed. Somehow, someday, someway I learnt that bigger was better. I learnt that adults were always right, even when they were wrong. I learnt how to shut my mouth, clench my fists and smile through gritted teeth. I learnt the amount of sarcasm allowed in a conversation with an adult (extremely minimal) and the extent to which defending yourself was acceptable (barely any). I learnt how to inhale snide comments and petty criticism, and how to exhale clouds of forced laughter. I learnt how it isn’t okay to be hurt by words, how most scars are deep-seated and that the detection of anything deep-seated is not society’s forte. When I tried, much later, to speak up for myself, words often failed me. Desperate in its pleading for acceptance, my tongue rolled around the anxious syllables and my voice grew pitched, high like a little child’s begging for a few more minutes before bedtime. I can still feel the burn in my cheeks and witness my vision go blurry as my attempt at defense without offense turned into an embarrassing spectacle. When I finally learnt how to speak without my sentences stumbling, I was heard loud and clear – with constrained outrage.
My favorite phrase, however, consists of those two words that are so layered with meaning, they spark a pause every time. “You’ve changed.” I touch my hair, suddenly self-conscious. Who have I changed from? Have I got something in my teeth or is it the way I’m dressed? Did you like me better last year or are you proud of me right now? You’ve changed too, most likely. We all have.
But I am no longer distressed when someone tells me I’ve changed. In fact, I’m glad of it. How dull would life be if we all stayed the same, no evolving of ideas or thoughts or emotions.
I have been told I am more opinionated, argumentative. I have seen more scornful smirks in one year than I can count on both hands, and then some. I have been met with reminiscent praise of what I used to be like.
I have never been more content with myself.