Going to a community college has exposed me to some interesting people. The most common theme I come across is actually pretty heartening. Change. See, all the students I’m surrounded with are on the blurry border of adolescence and adulthood. We haven’t been in the real world long enough to be conditioned to resist change. Girls change their hair color daily and guys wear mismatched shoes (on purpose). The environment is this, sometimes annoyingly, tolerant place where everyone feels that change is okay. Unfortunately, I’ve never been quite as fearless as some of these people are.
If I had to pinpoint a certain day in my childhood when I had my personal revelation that being different wasn’t cool I’d nail it down to Halloween when I was in fifth grade. Not surprisingly, this is one of my more embarrassing memories. I had buried this memory deep in my brain folds along with memories of Aeropostale polos and my 7th grade YouTube channel. It was recently forced to the surface when I was walking through the halls on the first day of classes (I am retrospectively SO thankful I set my alarm to pluck my eyebrows that day) this semester. There I was, waiting in the halls alongside strangers with too-strong cologne and too-new Nikes, when I recognized a familiar face. As is often the case when I recognize someone in public, I am 110% positive they do not remember me at all. If I have met you one time, I will remember you forever. So when I pass someone without saying hello, it is almost ALWAYS because I assume their memory is not as eerily accurate as mine and they have no clue who I am. So, I was faced with a boy I spent the majority of my 5th and 6th grade life crushing so hard on. I am positive there are numerous notebook pages and homework assignments with Mrs. Fill In The Blank scrawled all over them. 5th graders know how to crush on someone right.
Anyway, that Halloween, I decided to costume myself in the greatest costume of all time. Gone were the amateur days of veterinarian, teacher, or ballerina. I had graduated to the Halloween big leagues. I was going to be a princess. But not just any princess, a princess with more than a beautiful side, one with a real personality.
So I suited up, took the obligatory “In Front of the House” pictures with the sibs, and went on my merry way throughout the subdivision. It was just turning dark when I walked up to yet another house. The door swings open and mid-“Trick or Treat” I turn red as a beet (beets are red, right?). Lo and behold, there stands Man of My Elementary Dreams with a total Boy Smirk (here used to describe the condescending look boys of all ages wear when holding back a joke). After getting candy from the Man of My Elementary Dreams (who looked so cool in a Not Costume) I bashfully returned to my family. I wish I could say Man of My Elementary dreams was ugly and bald and had a lazy eye when I saw him the other day. But since the world is not fair, he’s brutally more attractive than he even was in 5th grade and harshly even more unaware of my existence than he was then. Hard to believe a college student is cuter than a 5th grader but trust me, it’s possible. In my defense, Fiona the Ogre Princess would have been the coolest costume ever if you know, I wasn’t wearing ogre ears. And my face wasn’t green.
Regardless of how “uncool” changing is, especially for grownups, I decided to do a small experiment on myself this summer. Since the Ogre Incident of ’05, I haven’t been inclined to change much in my life. I don’t like to get rid of things or redecorate my personal space. I like to be comfortable and what’s more comfortable than the way I’ve lived the past 8+ years? (Nothing, that’s what) When I was in the 6th grade my mom helped me paint the room I had just moved into. The grey walls were forsaken in favor of lime green and hot pink and zebra print throw pillows (I’m not making this stuff up). My walls were pink and green and have stayed that way for as long as I’ve been here. This summer I suddenly decided it was time for a change. I went to Home Depot, bought some paint, and came home and started painting my walls. I chose a near-white pink color called “Sweet Nothing.” It was a nice concept, covering my childhood with a clean slate of sweet nothing. I got to fill every nail and screw hole and paint over the scuffs. All the places with chipped paint from my Chad Michael Murray posters that had been taped to my walls were now being completely erased. It felt good and clean and fresh and devastating. After all the green was gone, instead of feeling relief, I felt separation anxiety. Those green walls had seen me read some of my favorite books, they could quote Gone With the Wind, Anne of Green Gables, Ever After, and Phantom of the Opera just as well as I could, they were the backdrop for embarrassing junior high webcam photos, they heard some of the happiest and saddest conversations of my young life, the walls were essentially all of who I was up to that point. I know I sound ridiculous and you’re probably thinking I’m a psychopath for basically saying “I am one with the walls”, “the walls are my friends.” But figuratively, they reminded me of all the things I wanted to remember and the things I wanted to forget.
After christening my new walls by ugly crying about how my childhood was slipping away, I realized something. How many times in life are we allowed a do-over? How many times do we get to paint over the scuffs and the holes and the mistakes? It’s easy for us to physically re-invent ourselves and proverbially “paint over” the walls of our past. But like I said, it wasn’t just the bad things I painted over, it was the happy things too. If my walls taught me anything it was this: it’s great to change for the better and allow yourself to mature with the world, but even though it’s easier to allow the change to cover all the mistakes, don’t let it make you forget. Even the bad memories have a purpose. So sometimes, when I look at my “Sweet Nothing” walls, it comforts me to know that my green walls aren’t really gone, they’re just below the surface, reminding me of all the terrifying, mortifying, wonderful things that make being human so incredible.