I used to hide in trees. Any tree would do, though I preferred pines for their frequent branches, thick coats of needles, and smell of Christmas. I would run from the house – letting the screen slam shut behind me and causing the nearby windows to shake – and scale a tree like a squirrel climbing up the screen to reach the birdfeeder that my mother had fastened on the kitchen window. This habit was the cause of many scraped knees and just as many destroyed dresses. I was a wild thing, with knotted blonde tangles, knobbly, bruised knees, but always the prettiest party dresses. My mother called them party dresses in an effort to indicate that they should only be worn for special occasions, but I refused to wear pants and would not leave the house without a baby doll dress of florals and frills and a pair of shiny paten leather shoes to match. All of my socks were lined with lace and handmade bracelets of plastic beads always sleeved my bony wrists. I really felt invincible up high in a tree, dressed for a gala but forlorn from the tedium of everyday actuality. I felt invincible, or maybe, invisible, but certainly, alone. Alone and Above.
Years later, I climbed social structures and scaled the branches of superficial satisfaction, each one upwardly shorter, in terms of fulfillment, than the one right before. There is a noticeable lack of pine trees in Manhattan. I continued to wear dresses, and sometimes even masks, and I often ran from rooms and always slammed doors, but was far enough away from my mother that she could not see that I still misunderstood the function of party attire. I was confused when others told me that I pushed them away. I did not understand why they dressed in jeans while I wore stockings and cocktail dresses, or why it was strange that I wore fake eyelashes. My doctor told me that I played the part of the entertainer and this was the cause for the distance I kept from my peers, or the distance they kept from me. She told me that at the end of the night, the audience goes home and friends share cabs and lovers share beds, but the entertainer goes home alone. I tried to explain that loneliness was my place of retreat, and that when I was with people I would hate for them to ever be bored, or sad, or thinking of other people who they would rather be with. I didn’t think it was so bad being a loner, so long as people loved me when I was among them. I tried to tell her that the alternative seemed much worse.
On the walk back Downtown after that particular session, I though about what the doctor had said and listened to melodies that seemed to appropriately compliment my sad uncertainty. I wondered what character I acted as. I wondered who I was trying to be. After the cuts, and the pulls, and the smudged eraser marks, who was the person that I projected on my audience? I realized I did not know who it was, but only who it was not. It was not my father. When my father cheated on my mother that summer after 7th grade, I promised I would never fool around with fidelity. It was not my sister. When I saw Lucia desperately wait on her many boyfriends I made a pact with myself to never be a needy girlfriend. I walked, stopping at orange hand signals, repeating some songs as many as four times, and tried to think of who I was pretending to be. I was not too attached to anyone, but passionate with all. I was not insecure (at least in public), but always a bit vulnerable. I didn’t appear to be naïve, but I allowed a fraction of innocence to be revealed. I was ardently non-judgmental, but I had to intuitively know what was hip. There were many other things that I was not, but I still didn’t know who I was. There was one thing that I was sure about, though. I was sure that most people did not make up personality guidelines. Actually, most people found the idea ridiculous. Though, it made, and still does make perfect sense to me. To me, it seems essential.
It wasn’t until high school that I realized how very different I was from other teens. I was at a party with about 15 people sipping strong liquor, choking on cigarettes, and doing all the other things that teenagers do to try and seem hip. This was a new thing for me, and when my friend invited me to the party, I spent hours deciding what to wear. I thought of Gatsby and Daisy and candlelit balls. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.* I decided to wear long black gloves, red lipstick, and a Brigitte Bardot-inspired dress. In the cab on the way to meet my friend, I applied a pair of fake eyelashes and darkly lined my eyelids, just like I did every day. When I got to the party, I looked around and for the first time in my life realized that I was alone in my style of dress. As boys with baseball caps chugged six-packs of beer, I doubted that any of them would recognize the Brigitte in me. I wond
ered how many of the girls had found their first crush in a literary character. No one else had on fake eyelashes or bright red lipstick. I became overwhelmed with a smothering sense similar to that of foreign tongues upon the ear and accidental phone calls to those who should have been deleted from the phonebook long ago. I was lonely in a way that childhood innocence had previously protected me from. I felt apart and shortly after, I fell apart. This was the first time that I truly felt the need to impress. I had never been so aware of myself; of the way I was sitting, the way I was looking, the way I must have been coming off. I could hear a new voice in my head that told me I was not enough – not pretty enough, not witty enough, not charming enough, not confident enough, not good enough. The girl who held the spotlight that night, caused by too many shots of tequila, saw my uneasy expression and turned that spotlight upon me. Strange, that I long for the spotlight bu
t run from its blinding light or freeze when its rest upon me.
“What’s wrong Julia,” she asked.
“Nothing.” I awkwardly smiled.
“C’mon Julia, we’re friends. Let’s hear about what’s on you mind.”
“No really, it’s nothing,” I said in a final attempt to hold off the inevitable.
“Well, I guess I was just thinking how beautiful The Great Gatsby is, and how by the end it is impossible to not fall in love with Gatsby. And I was thinking how strongly I dislike Daisy for caring so much about what others think of her reputation and for missing out on the most incredible thing in life. Gatsby may seem a bit shady, but at least his is honest with love. Daisy, on the other hand, is a performer and a tease, and I only wish that she cared less about what other people thought of her. Other’s judgments are worthless. How can she not see this?”
But even as I accused Daisy of weakness, I longed for her innate allure. I wanted to be careless and I wanted to be wanted and I wanted to be spoken about in idyllic utterances of desire. Because as much as I disliked Daisy, and as much as she made me cringe, I wanted to be her. If I were her, I would treasure all she had and everything would turn out well. If I could just be more like her.
I forced myself to make eye contact with the crowd and to see if they enjoyed my thoughts. The girl laughed and everyone followed. I suddenly felt okay because it wasn’t a mean laugh, but an appreciative laugh. And I knew that they didn’t care about my insight and they were really only laughing because what kind of weirdo thinks about The Great Gatsby on a Saturday night at a high school party, but I didn’t care, because I had finally found a place that I fit into.
“You know what Julia, I’m going to tell you something. Okay, listen. You are one crazy girl. I don’t know exactly what it is…it’s like, there’s something so ****ing cool about you…It’s like you have this reserve about you or something. No, that came out wrong. Elegant! You’re so ****ing elegant man!”
Everyone agreed with ‘yeahs!’ and ‘totallys!’ She looked at me and I knew she was expecting me to thank her for her brilliant analysis on my personality. The truth was, I had been called such things before – reserved, elegant, glamorous, ‘like a movie star.’ I think people meant these words as compliments. I looked at her and I knew that she wanted me to smile and thank her, so I did just that. At that night I drank more than anyone else, and danced alone, and kissed a boy, and spoke about love, which I valued more than anything. And, of course, I told everyone that I loved them. I was playful and delightful. And the outfit ended up working out just perfect for the character I had chosen to play. When I went to sleep that night I cried, because I realized that I had cast myself in a role that I would never be able to part ways with. I realized that my acting career had only just begun.
Months before my doctor told me that I was an entertainer, my boyfriend told me that I dressed in costume. I didn’t understand if he thought this strange or intriguing. I thought it the only way to make the morning worth looking forward too. When I could not sleep at night, I planned the next day’s character. It gave me a reason to wake up in the morning.
I didn’t realize until just now that I did not dress up in costumes to enliven morning dressing routines, but rather to fit in with the crowd de la jour. Tell me what to wear and I will put it on, or take it off; tell me what to say and I will sing it harmoniously or shout it from rooftops; just tell me what to be and I will be it. I realize that now. I can do accents, cabarets, or even construct dreams. If it will get me accepted, and appreciated, and maybe even loved, then I will certainly do it.
Simplicity is something that always confuses me. Because I am someone of such extravagances,
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