I was never the type of person who cared about fitting in. I never wanted to be popular. I was unconcerned with being a cheerleader, or having a quarterback boyfriend, or having a gang of girls that watched and followed my every move. I was an individual.
When I was in kindergarten, my teacher handed out a blank white sheet of paper with a thick black outline of a rabbit on it. She handed out the crayons – we each got our own, fresh unopened boxes. The smell of crayon wax was thick in the air when we all opened them simultaneously. I looked to my left, and the girl sitting there had pulled out the only gray crayon in the box and was scribbling furiously inside the outline. To my right, the quiet boy had pulled out a brown crayon and was trying to scribble inside the lines, although his strokes were a bit more haphazard and some brown lines fell off into the ocean of white that looked as if it shouldn’t be tampered with.
I surveyed the crayons in my own box. There were a variety of colors: lukewarm blue, grass green, soft red, exotic black. I tilted the yellow box until the crayons were spilling out onto the table, but the ends of them were still inside the box. I grabbed those blue, green, red and black crayons, and got to it. Just because we read a book in which all the rabbits were gray, or brown, or white, didn’t mean my rabbit had to be those colors.
There were so many pretty colors in the box, and I wasn’t just going to waste them. The girl to my left shot me a dirty look. Well, I suppose as dirty as a five-year-old could manage. As the teacher made her way around the room, surveying our progress and making comments like, “Oh, Mary, that’s so pretty!,” I felt an uneasiness settle in my chest. Would I get in trouble for not coloring my rabbit like the other kids? When she finally reached me, she looked down at the paper and paused. It probably was only for a few seconds, but the moment felt long and drawn out as her silence crescendoed over the furious scribbling of children’s hands and the light labor of their breaths. But she just gently placed her hand on my shoulder, and said “good job,” and that was that. I knew I was different, but that was OK. It was acceptable.
I made it through middle school and high school with little to no trouble. I got sent to the office not for bad behavior or skipping class, but because my clothes were too distracting, or didn’t adhere to the school guidelines. I preferred vintage clothing before it was cool, and I wore life-sized fruit earrings as if everyone was wearing them. I didn’t care if what I did, said, or wore was what I should be doing, saying, or wearing. I was comfortable with myself, and people seemed to respect that.
Then when I was freshly 18, my best friend and I decided we wanted to get a job at a popular clothing store. It was the type of place you worked at not to make money (unless it was money to buy clothes), but to make friends, and especially to meet cute guys. It was the type of place that was selective. In fact, we never even had to apply. One day while shopping there, we got offered a job. Apparently, we had the right look. Apparently, that look was attractive. After working there for awhile, I learned the ins and outs of the company. Minimal makeup. No overdone hair or nails. You had to be naturally pretty, and naturally bubbly. The idea was, if you were a girl, girls wanted to be you, and guys wanted to date you. I will admit, it was a nice feeling to be one of them, but the feeling soon faded and wore off, just like the screen-printed ink of their logo on the first shirt I ever bought there.
One day I woke up and began dressing for work. I opened the thick white wood of my closet door, waited for the squeak of the hinge. I walked in. Every single article of clothing was from the store. Gone were the brown and white vintage loafers I’d picked up from the Goodwill for $4.97. They were replaced with the manufactured leather and rubber of flips flops in a variety of different colors and styles. My life-sized lemon slice earrings had been discarded in favor of a bottle opener strung on a thick leather cord that I wore around my neck. I didn’t know who I was anymore, or who I was trying to be.
My best friend felt differently. She fit in there more than she did anywhere in her life. She embraced the lifestyle with ease. While she was asking for more shifts, I was slowly disentangling myself from the group. Instead of working three nights a week, I only worked one.
But I still enjoyed hanging out with the people who worked there outside of work. One Friday night one of my co-workers threw a get together at his house. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence; we all hung out a lot, but what was unusual was that practically everyone who worked there was actually going to show up. It was all anyone could talk about at work for the three days leading up to it, and I could tell our hard-nosed manager wasn’t all that excited about it. I couldn’t see what his problem was, he was invited, too.
The morning after the get together I understood, though. All too well. I woke up too tired and drained to do anything, much less go to work. So I promptly called off. What I didn’t anticipate was that everyone else had called off, too. I later learned that only two people had come into work that morning (one being my best friend) and that the store had been a mess. For some reason, though, I got the brunt of the punishment. After I called off, my manager called me back and left me a voice-mail saying I was immature and told me that I didn’t have a job anymore. I never called back. And I never showed up to work again. My best friend talked to him on my behalf, of course, and I was offered my job back. But I didn’t go back.
Instead, I looked in my bottom drawer for those lemon earrings.
Alanna Smothers is a fourth year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at AS620230@wcupa.edu.