I had blending in down to an art. I was the smart kid, pretty quiet but caustic when pushed too hard.

I was remembered before the big exam and forgotten shortly thereafter.

In middle school, I wore a uniform, and on rare occasions we were allowed to wear dressy clothes to school.

I was reminded, with an accompanying eye roll, that “dressing up” did not equal pants. I wasn’t really a dress or skirt kind of girl, outside of church. But, I complied, if only to fit in for a day.

First day of high school, I was proud of myself. I’d had a babysitting job all summer, and I could buy all of the clothes I wanted. My big purchase was a pair of Nikes. They looked like they had swirls all over them in a gradated blue that made me immensely happy.

I bought matching sweats and tees to wear with these sneakers, along with earrings and nail polish. Not totally tomboy, not totally girlie.

I loved it. Naturally, the first day of school I set off a bit of confusion for my classmates. “Why is she dressed like a boy?” “But if she’s trying to dress like a boy, why is she wearing earrings and nail polish?”

It was confusing for them, but not for me. I liked my style. I stood out a bit, but I was okay with it. I felt foxy. I could be fierce in my sweats and sneakers, honey! Couldn’t tell me nothing.

At least, that’s how I looked on the outside. I tried to keep my head high when the kids sneered at me. At my attitude, my supposed confidence. Daring to be happy.

And when I got “unruly”, you know, thinking I had some rights to live happily, I was reminded: “Yeah, you can dress, but you’re still fat.” “Don’t smile. Your teeth look a mess.” “Why you got so many bumps on your face?”

I did my best to keep my head high. My mother was a constant support, but it’s hard to hear a lone cheer amid a chorus of negativity.

And then, something happened to change my mindset…

To be continued.

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