Perfection's Shadow

February 17, 2013
“If you enter my house as a guest, my family is ridiculously welcoming.” I begin. If the quivering tones of my voice do not indicate my nerves, my shaking hands surely do. “You may imagine us as a family where you trot up the stairs, fling open the front door, and call out, ‘I’m home!’” I pause, and look up from my paper. “As if,” I say with a nervous chuckle. The audience’s laughter fills the small, stuffy library, and encourages me to keep reading. Filled with a new air of confidence, I continue,

“That isn’t the case. I walk home each afternoon, slowly addressing each step as it comes. I will stop in front of my door, which is painted a welcoming shade of lavender. The irony of this is always too much to handle, but somehow I turn the doorknob to face the cold eyes of my judgmental family. When my mother looks at me, all she sees are the imperfections-things I should improve upon. She looks at my younger sister, Analise, and thinks, ‘She will be what Alexis never was.’ Analise has reached a competitive level of dance, swimming, cheerleading, and softball at age 11, while maintaining stellar grades. I, on the other hand, am a complete failure in my mother’s eyes. I take singing lessons (as a feeble attempt to fix my tone-deaf ears), play second-string on a mediocre soccer team, hang out with the ‘wrong’ kids, and I am slowly slipping off the honor roll. What really gets me is the fact that I’ve had 5 years longer than Analise to make myself good for something- and my parents remind me of this every single day.”

I look around my paper to see that every pair of eyes in the library is fixated intently on me. People were listening, really listening, for the first time in my life.

“At school, my life is different. I no longer try to be the perfect little girl my parents want. I am Alexis, the badass popular girl. I go to lots of parties where I do things I later regret. My friends take shots, in all aspects of the word, and their outfits are comprised of minimal fabric. Until now, I never thought I had a choice. I seriously believed that I had to succumb to this rebellious social lifestyle or else I would disappear. Vanish into thin air, just like the geeks my friends and I made fun of every single day. Sure, I regretted what I did, especially the day after, but I figured it was all part of being a teenager.”

Suddenly I get the feeling that what I am saying is a mistake. I sense that everyone in the room can hear how loudly my heart is beating in my chest, and I feel my cheeks burn red. However, I can’t take back what has already been said, so I stammer on.

“No matter how much anyone tried to hammer individuality into my head, I always brushed it off, telling myself it didn’t apply to me. I would think to myself, ‘I’m not a clone of anyone!’ when in reality, I am a perfect copy of everyone’s personality except my own. No doubt, there are no others exactly like me, but that’s because ‘me’ consists of a lot of different people, each with their own views about how I should be. I tried to be the ultimate daughter for my parents, and the definition of cool to everyone else. During all this conforming, I forgot to think about whether it really depicts me. I don’t even think for myself anymore. Each thought is influenced in some way by another person’s opinion, and my brain telling me what’s acceptable. I can’t keep up with everyone’s expectations, but at the same time I can’t stop pretending that I can. I am scared to be my own person, afraid that my friends and society wont accept me, but above all, I’m afraid that my parents won’t love me.”

I feel a lump rising in my throat, but I swallow hard and force myself to finish.

“I don’t want to be this person anymore. Living in everyone else’s shadow has made me insecure and confused, vulnerable and lonely. I’m tired of living this way. From this day on, I won’t live to please others, I will live to please myself, find myself, and love myself.”

A tear rolls down my cheek. I take a shuddering breath and stutter,
“Thank you,”

The crowd’s reaction was touching, supporting and heartening. People were standing with applause, wiping tears from their eyes. A figure appeared from the shadows of one of the old rickety bookshelves. She looked out-of-place, it seemed as if the rotting wood of the shelves was holding her hostage; a thing of beauty among a thing so commonly overlooked. Her perfectly flat-ironed hair was sticking to her face, and her mascara smudged on the sleeves of her bleach-white cardigan. I embrace with my mother, and apologize. She pushes me away, looks me in the eyes and says, “No Alexis, I’m sorry.”

That was when I realized: This is the first day of the rest of my life.

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