Lately I've been sucked, bit by bit, into a world different from my own -- sometimes in direct opposition to my culture. I accept things, tolerate them, for peace' sake, rationalizing the lower value of culture in relation to the higher value of principle.
But I underestimate how much I identify with my culture. The pride and comfort I take in it. The value I have for it. It feels sacrificial to trade my jeans and workboots in for jewels and shiny flat shoes. To take the things I've admired and heard praised by all who are dear to me and to trade them for the wardrobe bestowed upon me like a royal gift.
It makes it harder, you know, because they view it as a rags to riches transformation for which I should be immeasurably grateful. They poured money into me, trying to make me one of them. I'm supposed to twirl in front of the mirror, eyes aglow and a little weepy, as I stammer how I never knew I could look so pretty. With the definition of pretty being one set in their own minds, not in mine.
And in small ways, I am grateful. I concentrate on those. I don't want to hurt feelings, to cause pain or divide.
I tell myself that culture is not important. That my identity is not in the way I dress or talk or play or work or spend my free time. I tell myself that pride is a fault.
And so I go for weeks, months, even years. Smiling. But they wear on me. Wearing down things that I love...like sandpaper on corners. Clothes. Athleticism. Woodsmanship. Resourcefulness. Strength. Determination. Frugality. Morality. Honesty.
And deep within me, I begin to boil, like the precursor to a lava explosion. I try to cool it but it simmers. I can't take it anymore. I don't want to be that person. I want to be me.
I start to lash out - to say controversial things. I no longer care about mollifying them. I want to startle them out of their little worlds, to open their minds to my world...my beautiful world. I talk about guns, motorcycles, being alone in the woods with the wildlife, meeting a bear, climbing trees and running, learning how to throw knives, driving pickup trucks, wrestling big dogs, only using one utensil at mealtime, eating out of the pan, starting fires to cook over, eating with a knife, trying to climb a rope, and loving tennis shoes -- and they shudder and tell me to change the subject or shut up.
I unexpectedly run across people who think like me. New friends, old friends. I almost cry as their eye catches mine like we both know the same secret. As they nod approval over one of my stories and share one to match. I'm not weird. I'm not alone. There are others out there like me -- functioning and successful. Why do I stay here? Why do I let them stuff me into a box in which I don't fit? I won't do it! I want out!
I dream of the day when I can be myself. Wear what I want. Do like I love to do. Say what is mine to say. Just a little longer, and I'll be free. Try not to explode before then.
I feel bad for thinking this. I remember the things I'm grateful for. I remember how much they put into me.
But it still doesn't quite work. If anything, I simmer harder. Is this right or wrong? In me?
I come home. With a shudder like I have just finished vomiting up poison, I let myself be folded into the arms that open to receive me, arms that know me, that understand me -- and not just an image of what they've created me to be.
And I think that maybe I'll never go back.
Somewhere in the midst of all my writhing against fashionable constraints and almost sobbing in welcome to those who think as I do, I think of Queen Esther. Of her myrrh baths and beauty treatments. Honestly, she's the reason I've survived as long as I have -- lending her precedent to my position. But what if she hated it as I sometimes do?
When I think of stories like hers, I think of a girl raised poor but who was really fit for queenship. But what if the opposite was true? What if she was ideally suited to life on the streets? Or what if she was fit for queenship but not in the way the princes expected her to be?
What if she loved and identified herself with the poor? What if she had always despised the rich and their fashions and behaviors?
There is so much I could do with a story like that. I want to try and write it.