Prompt: The last TV show you watched is now your life story. Well, in usual Radish fashion, I’m going to sort of follow this prompt, but first twist it to meet my needs. I recently watched a documentary about the BBC show Sherlock and that got me thinking: documentary, behind the scenes, nonfiction. I also recently read Mindy Kaling’s memoir, a collection of essays about her life so far. So instead of getting a fictional story from me this month, here is a dose of truth.
Like a lot of girls I know, growing up my bedroom was pink. Not outrageously bright or anything. The walls were a soft pink, the exact same color as the Washington DC cherry trees in bloom, and perfectly matched first my Precious Moments drapes and bedspread.
When I was younger, I loved it. It was the perfect setting for adventures with dolls and hours of dress up. And then as I got older, I went from loving it to liking it to trying to convince myself that I still liked it. Finally the truth was undeniable: pink was simply not my color.
The realization felt wrong, but then again most things about my life in junior high made me feel that way. I was a good kid. I did my homework. I studied. I didn’t have many friends, but I had full bookshelves and an active imagination. I took dance classes until my ancient teacher Mrs. Perrigo retired. I was on a park district soccer team, an activity practically required of even the clumsiest of girls such as myself in a Mia Hamm America.
I was a good girl who didn’t like the color pink. Was that even allowed?
Since this realization came around the same time I started considering the world of athletics, I stumbled upon what was the only logical conclusion: I must be a tomboy now.
As you know, there are only two types of girls in the world: “girly-girls” and tomboys. Those who wanted nothing more than to be a princess and those who wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress unless it was for playing in the mud and could be completely, utterly, totally destroyed. Girly girls liked pink. Tomboys didn’t.
And 11 year old me didn’t like pink anymore.
My parents saw my predicament despite my efforts to mask it. I’ve never been good at masking my emotions, of hiding my heart for all to see on my sleeve. (It’s probably one of the reasons I was such a big fan the emergence of online communities – I might be crying, but I could type all the right words and insist I was something completely different.) A solution came in the form of a birthday present when I turned 12.
“Monica, how would you like it if for your birthday, you got to redecorate your room?” said Mom and/or Dad.
Really. They meant it. Sure they still had to give their seal of approval since they would be the ones spending money and doing the work, but I got to pick. I had a say. I had a voice.
I also had no taste.
Well, okay maybe not no taste, but I certainly didn’t think as much about the long term repercussions of these choices as I should have. Luckily, things turned out alright. I bid good riddance to the pink walls of my youth. I said see you later to the cross-stitches Grandma B had made for me when I was a baby (which will absolutely come out again someday if I have a daughter of my own – I love them). Any dolls that still inhabited my bedroom moved up to the attic. I thought long and hard, and in the end, the result was pleasing. I awoke every morning to the sight of yellow walls, pale like Post-Its. My light green and blue drapes came from the same designer as my new bedspread so they matched perfectly, the white daisies on both a welcome touch. An additional treat for my décor came at Christmas in the form of sliding mirror doors to my closet.
Still a little girly, but then again, so was I. A little bit was allowed, right?
But most importantly, my room was adaptable. I now knew how this space could change. I saw it with my own eyes and was an active participant in the process. My room could do what I couldn’t at school: it could show off my many, multiple sides and still be okay. My room could keep my secret safe.
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who genuinely liked junior high. I didn’t hate it. I tolerated it. It was a means to an end. I had welcomed the chance of meeting new people from other feeder elementary schools and trying new things, but I mostly stuck to my comfort zone. I was the Monica I knew how to be mostly because it was the Monica everyone expected me to be.
This was also true in high school. I wore a uniform of jeans and t-shirts with the addition of hooded sweatshirts when it got cold. I was an expert at blending in. In 9th grade I read a novel about a girl who went to West Point and was told to “be outstanding, but don’t stand out.”
It was like those words were written just for me.
And that’s just what I did. I still got good grades, joined clubs, made some friends. But I was never the first person people thought of for anything. I floated from group to group, unable to settle down and make up my mind. I didn’t commit to any one high school clique or identity, instead adopting a persona that can only be described as the shade of beige that people paint the walls of their house when they are trying to sell it. You know the one I mean. It’s neutral. Inoffensive. Doesn’t bother anybody because no one really gives it much thought. It’s just beige.
While I was beige on the outside, inside was a whole other story that was clearly evidenced by my bedroom. It was my conflict with the color pink all over again, except I was starting to realize that I wasn’t okay with my two options. I wasn’t a tomboy, not by a long shot. But I didn’t want to give up my blue jeans either.
I needed more choices, and so I experimented. In the privacy of my home, surrounded by loving parents and an older brother who showed his affection by teasing me mercilessly (as older brothers tend to do), I’d spend a lot of weekend nights staying in and dressing up.
I loved my jeans, but I also loved eyeliner. And dying my hair. And all those things that girly girls – those girls I swore I had nothing in common with – liked. My art skills had stopped advancing when I had to stop taking that elective in junior high because there wasn’t room in my schedule, but that didn’t stop me from filling notebook after notebook, drawing outfit after outfit of dresses and ensembles I wished I could dream into existence.
Trying to figure myself out, the thrill of discovery and invention and imagination was a huge source of stress. It should have been fun. It was fun, until it was time to wash my face and pick out my clothes for Monday morning. My Catholic guilt burned brightly for liking these things when I was being bombarded with messages from all sides about what it meant to be a girl and how to be a Strong, Independent Woman.
Did not liking pink make me less of a girl? Did liking dresses mean I couldn’t be a feminist? I enjoyed cooking, but did that mean I was conforming to heteronormative gender roles? I wanted to grow up and have a job someday, do something that made me happy, but I also have always wanted to be a mom – could I want both? Was that allowed?
Questions questions questions rattled around in my head, and I wish I could say that “adulthood” or my high school graduation brought both answers and a diploma, but I’m not going to lie. I struggled for a very long time, until finally, in my mid-20s, I figured it out.
I found an answer.
And the answer was so simple: I didn’t have to choose just one thing. My room was just an extension of myself. If it could have all those different pieces of me, then so could I.
As I got older, my room evolved from its initial redecoration. Much of the blank yellow walls were eventually covered by Harry Potter movie posters, which themselves were eventually replaced by framed photographs I took when I studied abroad in Italy. Another wall started with nothing more than a bulletin board covered in my favorite quotes also became home to various diplomas and certificates from honor societies. Grandma’s Precious Moments needlepoints had been put away, but I made one myself dedicated to the Chicago Blackhawks when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010. Bookshelves overflowed with Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and a growing collection of signed young adult novels.
My room had regenerated over and over again like a Time Lord. All of my past selves were in there somewhere, and they’d all shaped the person I had become and the person I will be, but my most current “me” was on the surface.
Of course this answer of “don’t choose one thing” isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Someday, hopefully I will get married and when my husband and I decide to start a family, I will have to decide what I’m going to do about my career (or maybe his career – who knows?). Compromise is essential for survival.
But in the meantime, the beige me has finally retired. My room is no longer the only outward extension of myself – that honor now also includes my closet. If only I could go back in time and tell 13 year old me that. There are a lot of things I wish I could go back and tell that girl, that inquisitive, bright, anxious, lonely, depressed, imaginative girl.
I wouldn’t tell her everything – she and I both hate when good stories get spoiled – but I wouldn’t leave her empty handed. I’d tell her that she’s going to have a job someday that’s all about books and helping people. I’ll tell her that she’s going to find music that speaks to her soul and she’ll go to concerts and that she’ll even be brave enough to take guitar lessons herself (though we both know that the actual playing of and singing along with the instrument will be a deeply private thing).
I’d tell her that it’s okay to wear dresses if that’s what she wants. She’ll will have a Platinum Status Ulta card, paint her nails at least once a week, and get emails from DSW with coupons so she can get those adorable black ankle booties she fell in love with (because yes, she will love shoes that aren’t just Chucks). Her hair will continue to be a bit of a pain, and maybe don’t bother growing those bangs out because, let’s face it, we’re not so crazy about our forehead so come college, bangs will be back, your new best friend.
But it’s not just about looking good. I’d tell her that she’s going to feel good, too. It’s not just that a polka dot dress is stylish (though it is), it’s that she’s going to feel good in it along with blue tights and winged eyeliner if that’s what she’s in the mood for that day. But she also feels good in those jeans and tees and hoodies and hats, especially when she’s at hockey games (because yes, there’s a sport that she will actually like watching someday). And no matter what she’s wearing, she is still a feminist. She will learn to stick to her guns and beliefs even though they’re not going to be the most popular.
Because that’s okay. Popularity has never really been our thing, anyway.
And as for the color pink, well, it’s still complicated. It will grow on her, an acquired taste like coffee or tea or beer. Pink will never be her first choice, but eventually she’ll be unable to deny that it does go pretty well with our pale skin. She’ll wear pink to senior prom and it will never completely vanish from her closet.
Because it’s unfair to punish pink all together. There are so many options, so many shades. As it turns out, baby pink and magenta are really not for her, for me, for us.
However, we totally rock coral.
Sarah’s Prompt: Since you gave me options for this month, I will also let you choose.
Option #1 – Think of a place or situation where you are totally, completely, deeply uncomfortable. That’s your setting.
Option #2 – I don’t know about you, but a lot of my story ideas actually stem from songs and music. Tell me what you’re in the mood for music-wise, and I’ll pick an artist or song to inspire your story.