Who is the Real Me?

I am ten years old.

I love to read books. I love to hang out with my friends. I’m one of the smartest students in my class.

I’m also painfully shy. In class, I raise my hand when the teacher calls my name, but it’s like my insides betray me. My mouth stammers out an answer, and it feels like all the knowing within me has been replaced with unknowing. My cheeks and my ears and my neck all betray me; they turn a crimson shade of red before I’m done uttering my first sentence.

I look down at my lap. My eyes survey my body, squinting hatred toward the parts of me that feel too big, one size bigger than most of the girls in my class. I push my glasses up to the crown of my nose.

A kid once called me Four Eyes, and it felt like a gut-punch to my stomach. I didn’t choose these eyes! Earlier this year, another group of boys chased me around the playground, singing, “Old MacDonald had a farm,” over and over again. They said they wanted to make me laugh, but I didn’t laugh along with them. They were the only ones smiling.

It’s silly, really: I thought I’d hit the jackpot at the local consignment store when I saw those Guess overalls sitting on the rack. We couldn’t afford real Guess jeans, like the popular and rich girls wore, but we could afford a used pair. I didn’t know it might give kids a reason to make fun of me, because when the nicest of overalls is paired alongside my last name – which happens to be the same as that famous farmer – I’m never going to hear the end of it.

I never wore the overalls again.

The truth is, I just want to be skinny. I just want to be pretty, so the boys will have a crush on me for a change. I don’t want to be called Four Eyes and I don’t want to have songs sung about me.

I just want to be like everybody else.

Two years later, it’s the summer between the sixth and seventh grades. My body awakens to puberty. My hips and my breasts expand, and the rest of me shoots upward, growing several inches over the course of a couple of months. I swim at the neighborhood pool most every day, and my body takes on a newer, more toned version of itself. I get my first pair of contacts, and as if pulled up by an invisible string, I hold my head high.

I am confident and I am fearless. In fact, I might even be what some call beautiful.

Twenty years later, I sit across from my therapist. I ask her to help me find the real me, my true self that feels buried beneath too many layers. Who is the real me? I ask her. I tell her the story of being painfully shy, and I tell her the story of getting contacts and growing taller and losing some of my baby fat.

Is she the shy little girl? Is she the fearless young woman?

I want the black and white answer. I don’t want there to be any gray, not anywhere in my life – not as I piece together parts of my childhood, and not as I try and sift together the faith I wrestle with in adulthood. I want her to make it easy and tell me what to believe, so I can pack my things and go, so I can get on with the more important things of life.

But she doesn’t, of course.

“Well,” she replies, because she knows I’m begging for some kind of answer, “maybe it’s a little bit of both. Maybe you hold within you all the different parts of you, and that’s who you’ve been all along.”

This isn’t what I want to hear, but I sit with her words. I embrace the parts of me that have felt ugly and fat, suffocated by the fear of saying the wrong thing. And I embrace the parts of me that have felt shiny and new, beautiful and clean, bold and brass.

I hold them all in the palm of my hands.

And I let the memory be what it is: a distant musing of my past, a reminder of life once lived.

Then I release them. I hold the stories in my heart, but I don’t let them define me. I don’t let them dictate who I am and who I am not, but I lean into who I am today: a messy, cleaned-up, full-of-fear, fearless, gorgeous woman who chases after Life with her arms wide open.

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