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I Know You Are, But Who Am I?
The closest I ever came to strutting down a catwalk was endlessly roaming the stained city sidewalks. Any day of the week, any time of the day, you bet your ass I would embark on some journey to avoid high school. Even getting lost by the lake in the dead of winter seemed better than drowning in the drugs, dust, and endless waves of fairly questionable workloads. Facing the only independence I had ever been granted as a first generation daughter, the attraction of art students, hair dye, and sketchy tattoos became unbearably irresistible until I found refuge in an entirely new life. As quickly as I hopped from bus to train to bus to bus to train- pretending every bullet I was dodging was not inevitably going to shatter my glass castle– I transitioned hair lengths and colours to try and cement any kind of identity for myself I haven’t previously explored. Any potential I had became less runway, more run away.
Not being properly diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety until the spring after my graduation, I stumbled through a messy relationship and fluctuating friendships resulting in constant self-doubt. And although the fires of my own personal Hell have subsided four years later, I continuously find myself struggling with identity- the look, the feel, the concept. Perception and impressions seem so out of my control; how could I make everyone see me, especially when every time I look in the mirror I confront a stranger? My eyes became so empty, the sockets so deflated I was threatened with drug tests despite my only addiction being attempts to escape from myself.
New week, new me, same old crisis. Even today, my grown out and simply highlighted, I have absolutely no idea what I look like. In my dreams, I find myself tackling the stranger in my bathroom mirror. I still carry the extra forty pounds I lost my junior year. My hair barely reaches my shoulders, and it bounces from red to brown to some accidental honey colour that can only be found on an article on the worst makeovers in Next Top Model history. I stare and stare and stare and can only be obliged to make sure the last three years have not faded into an odd fever dream. I wake to count every pore, every new crease in my skin, each jagged eyelash bent from shutting my eyes too tight. The discomfort I feel in my body overwhelms me to the point of making me want to climb onto my roof and scream about my youth dissolving before I have a chance to experience it.
I spent so much time worrying about who I was to other people, I had no chance to live a life for myself. The alleged best years of my life consisted of backing myself into a corner where all there was to do included living vicariously through the drunken daze and stoned stupors of my friends and their midnight downtown excursions. Of course, after successfully isolating myself entirely, I came to quite the obvious conclusion.
Who am I to control what people think of me? I am me, and everything I am to the world is exuded from my soul. Nineteen years of carving, annealing, and aging were needed for me to create a nearly perfect statuette of my existence. Thankfully for clay and marble, there are no pores to relentlessly torture and no hair to bleach the life out of or tear out.
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© Jennifer Markowitz. Used with permission. All rights reserved.