Why I want you to stay the same but you won’t

Two Saturday evenings ago, I was sitting inside of Avon theater with my right leg crossed over my left and a neat flyer in my hands, one that listed the names of seven story tellers (with their corresponding social media handles). My boyfriend, Charlie, was seated to my right, and one of my good friends, Kaity, was situated on my left with her husband, Tim, beside her.

 

Charlie leaned over and around me and asked Kaity, “Did you know that Jace is my most favoritest person on the planet?”

Kaity’s laugh glittered like tinsel. “NO! I had no idea.” Then she turned to face me. “I LOVE your outfit, Jace!”

I smiled, looking down at what I was wearing; a blue, corduroy skirt and a cropped, multicolored top. “Thank you! I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing stuff like this to work, of course, but I have fun experimenting with skirts and dresses on the weekends.”

“You just can’t care about what other people think,” Kaity advised. “Wear what you like!”

I considered her words; she was right. I just wished that I had the guts to actually do it.

So many mornings, I find myself brushing through my closet and pulling slacks off of hangers when what I’d actually like to do is wear one of my newly purchased, bohemian dresses… but then I imagine how people at work would receive this change in Jace’s established, signature style.

“Oh wow — Jace is wearing a dress?” (surprise/criticism/disapproval)

“Oh wow! Jace is wearing a dress!” (surprise/compliments/approval)

 

Either way, M-F, I always end up leaving the dress there on its hanger. I don’t want the attention, negative OR positive, and the anxiety that naturally comes along with it. Someday, I might muster up the courage to wear a dress to work. But in addition to the dress, I’ll need to wear leggings or hose, because our good ole’ American culture mandates that citizens must go batshit crazy whenever women, who are clearly letting themselves go, forego shaving their body hair for comfort and authenticity.

 

L-R: Charlie and me (wearing “the outfit”)

***

My wardrobe has changed drastically over the years. I could spin it to say that my clothing taste has evolved, but it’s probably appeared as more of a back and forth movement to onlookers — progression and, seemingly, regression. Try to picture the change in fashion as layers peeling off over time, and layers A and C match in the same way that B and D do, except that the pairs are entirely different from each other.

I was forced to wear skirts and dresses for years AND I disrespected females (including myself) in general until emerging on the other side of my identity crisis last year, so it makes perfect sense that, pre-this year, I’d denounce such frivolous apparel as being horrible and discard all of it, supplying boys’ shorts and over-sized t-shirts in its place.

But after working through all of that, I am now able to appreciate the cuteness and surprising coolness of skirts and dresses. They allow you to move freely, sit and lie down comfortably, and to feel the wind on your ankles, knees, shoulders, and back. They also, admittedly, look fun. SOME of them.

But when you know that people view you a certain way and expect you to present yourself in that way, it’s painful to implement change, even when your soul strongly desires it. People’s expectations, spoken or unspoken, make me feel like I’m trapped in a cage sometimes, and it’s so, so unpleasant to feel that way.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of myself or these would-be changes — it’s that I’m fearful of whether or not people will still accept and like me. They will, likely, continue to accept me, but they might like me less, which STILL sucks. I may seem unstable, or threatening in some weird kind of way, or they might even believe that I’ve lost touch with who I am (or was) and that the old me they knew and loved is gone, or in the very process of leaving.

So. Much. Drama. The truth of the matter is, we’re always changing. We’ll never be the same person we were, because we can’t grow while staying the same.

Imagine, as a one or two year old, sticking your feet into some comfortably-fitting size three shoes, but then growing up in the confines of those same shoes; you’ll end up painfully misshapen, having artificially stunted your growth. You must give yourself license, freedom, and room to grow.

 

It’s also arguably true that people will react to our changes more positively than we imagine they would, and that we needlessly make ourselves suffer by erecting and then living underneath gloomy ceilings constructed of pure fiction.

 

As we plunge headfirst into life, with our minds and hearts, our religious and political beliefs will likely waver and change; clothing and music taste will fluctuate; our palettes for foods and beverages will broaden over time, and what we’re looking for in a friend or a partner will ALSO change as we slowly identify (through love and heartbreak) what we really want and need in a companion.

Heck… ten years ago, I wouldn’t touch an avocado, couldn’t stand the smell of Chinese food, and thoroughly hated all casseroles simply because they had “too much going on.” Now, I adore all three of those things.

A twenty-two year old told me yesterday, “Ahhhh, I don’t like avocados!” I admonished her to keep me posted. Girl’s gonna fall head-over-heels IN LOVE with them someday. MAYBE. Or maybe she won’t… maybe she’ll always dislike them. We’re all different, so we all change and evolve in different ways. We converge together sometimes and grow apart often. We surprise ourselves AND others with our “inconsistencies” and transformations.

Because we don’t really like it, do we? Change?

When a new policy or procedure is implemented at work, I like to observe the reactions and behaviors of the people around me. There are some who are always opposed to change, simply because it’s a disruption to their current, comfortable routine; there are others who celebrate change for the mere sake of mixing things up (guilty as charged), whether that change is truly beneficial or not… and then there are those who reasonably and objectively assess the change for value and then make up their mind on how they feel about it. “Yes! This is revolutionary and wonderful!” “Ehhhh… it makes little difference.”

Whichever type of person you are, work changes are relatively easy to accept. But when changes take place within you, or manifest in the people you love, it’s quite different.

***

Growing up in the conservative home that I did, my television time and options were limited; I could watch 30 minutes to 1 hour of fictitious programming a week (my specific time allotment varied and was dependent upon how “on track” aka religiously strict my mother was feeling at the time), but could spend an unlimited number of hours watching Animal Planet, Fox News, or HGTV (because the shows on these stations would either remind me of god’s creation or they were true stories and, therefore, wasting spending time watching them was moral). To recap, it was better for a 12-year-old to watch Shepard Smith reporting on gun shots, bombings, and horrific hate and rape crimes than it was for her to watch Lizzie McGuire navigate a relatable tween issue with her two best friends, Miranda and Gordo.

Clears throat. I digress.

Two of Sierra and I’s favorite shows were Extreme Home Makeover and a show (can’t remember the name of it) where incredibly obese people would undergo weight-reduction surgeries to make the quality of their lives better (or possibly even SAVE their lives).

 

What we both liked about these programs: THE INCREDIBLE TRANSFORMATIONS!

 

A team of experts could turn a total dump into an enviable mansion, and a person who was so overweight that they couldn’t even get out of their hospital bed by themselves could suddenly wear athletic gear and jog down the street without losing their breath. It was amazing — inspiring! We couldn’t get enough of these shows.

And I think that we possessed such insatiable appetites for these programs because we longed for similar, incredible, life-changing transformations in our own lives.

 

Watching the weight show seemed to fuel my already-existing eating disorder. At the depressing onset of each episode, I would gaze at the obese person (usually 500+ pounds) sitting in an over-sized chair, the stretchy skin from their strained body spilling over the sides of the furniture. A concerned family member or close friend would be there in the room with them, asking, in a sad voice, what they could get them for lunch.

“A pizza… and two hamburgers… an extra large order of fries… an apple pie (not a slice, a full pie)… and two bags of Doritos, please.”

 

The amount of food they ate astounded me, and I didn’t have a mature enough mind to understand that they had an illness — an addiction; that, just as some people are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or sex, other people are addicted to food.

And after watching the show, I would slide down into my sleeping bag on the living room floor and lie awake, imagining myself at 300, 500, or 700 pounds. “I’d rather die,” I thought to myself, honestly. “I have to make sure that never happens to me.” And at 5′ 4”, the scale read 88-96 pounds for years.

 

Fluctuations in my weight has been just one change (among many others) that I’ve had to come to terms with. In the grand scheme of things, it’s been one of the most trivial changes to deal with.

Adjusting to changes in people and either growing apart from or being pushed away by people I trusted and loved more than life itself has been more painful than the worst physical pain I’ve ever experienced. I’m sure many can relate. I’m sorry for your pain. Change is inevitable, and people will often leave us. I’ve discovered that it’s wise to go ahead and mourn the death of the person you love while you’re still holding them in your arms so that, when they do die or walk away from you, you don’t want to die yourself or go chasing senselessly after them.

 

***

Back at the Avon theater, the fifth storyteller was taking the stage… my all-time favorite: Bob Byrd.

L-R: Me (Jace) and local celebrity, Bob Byrd!

 

Bob shared with the audience (but mostly me) that his job as a quality assurance manager for xyz company is totally soul-draining, and that he recently went on a cruise to take a breather from it.

His first evening on the cruise, he sat down to dinner with a group of strangers, all of whom shared their respective lines of work (current or previous). He learned that they were all interesting and “important” people; lawyers, doctors, and the like… and he felt small, admitting his own boring job title to person after person.

But then, he made a glorious realization; the people on the cruise didn’t actually KNOW him… who he was or what he did. Therefore, here and now — this week, and if only this week — he could be anything he wanted.

So he went for it. And he had a lot of fun with it.

With one group, he proclaimed to be a zoo veterinarian; he told the false tale of delivering a baby elephant and relayed the medical scares involved with the delivery. With another group, he was an FBI agent, and life was all danger and adrenaline. He told a third group that he was an adult film star, a fourth group that he was a fortune teller (with this group, he employed an accent), and a fifth group believed him when he said that he was transgendered.

“I think you made a good decision,” an elderly man commended him on his transition.

“And why is that?” Bob asked, curious.

“Because as a man, you’re merely homely looking… as a woman, you would have been absolutely hideous.” Oh, Bob! I think you’re absolutely adorable.

 

But here’s the REALLY funny part of the story: on a snorkeling excursion, members of two separate groups were both present with Bob… some people from the group who thought he was a southern veterinarian, and a few individuals from the group who had heard their fortune teller prophesy to them with an accent. UH OH!

 

Luckily, Bob was able to speak and interact with each group privately, but it made me (and the audience) wonder… how WOULD you handle that situation?

 

I used to feel like a different person all of the time, parading about expertly and trading this mask for that one all throughout the day. My appearance, tone of voice, and personality would change depending on the group of people I was with at the time — according to what kind of role they played in my life (friend, family member, co-worker) and my degree of comfort with them. I would also take into account what I imagined they expected of me.

To an extent, despite my newfound confidence and comfort in this body, I still live this way… wearing dresses on the weekends and slacks during the week. Don’t know how long I’ll be keeping that up, but at the moment, the duality isn’t bothering me terribly.

***

I found a special rock on the ground when Charlie and I went hiking at a park late last year. I brought it home with me, washed it, tied a rope around it, and then lost it in the car. Charlie found it last month when he was driving around with me, and I’ve worn it as a necklace constantly since then.

Many people have complimented the rock, thinking, I guess, that I’d purchased it from Urban Outfitters or some online, hippie store. When I tell them that I just picked it up off of the ground and wound a thin rope around it, they seemed surprised… disappointed, even.

Well, I was getting dressed for work yesterday morning when I reached for this necklace and, gripping it too loosely, it dropped onto the floor. A piece of the rock chipped itself off and went scattering and clattering across the hard, pink tile.

“Oh nooooooo,” I whispered mournfully. Charlie, in the adjoining room, could hear me.

“What’s wrong, Jace?” he asked, rushing into the bathroom.

 

“The rock — I broke it!” I collected the rock’s parts and showed them to him; it was now composed of the big piece and the little piece.

 

“Oh baby… it was already broken,” Charlie laughed. “That rock came from a way bigger rock… it probably broke off years ago and has ‘broken’ many times since.”

 

I paused, holding this new, changed rock in my palm and trying to imagine how many transformations it had already experienced. How many more can it possibly handle? I wondered. It’s so small now! What will happen to it as it continues to fall? Will it eventually become reduced to dust? I guess we all will, I realized, sadly. But the realization also gave me a strange and comforting sense of unity.

 

“Oh… you are so resilient and lovely,” I thought at the rock, carefully and gently tying it around my neck.

 

The already-broken rock (a few weeks ago…)
The changed rock (photographed this morning)

 

Still here (and ever-changing),

Aun Aqui

***SHAMELESS PLUG: I’ve written a novel! It’s magical! I’m self-publishing it, and I need your help. 🙂 To pledge a donation to my Kickstarter campaign (which is now at 62%, woohoo!) AND score some fun goodies for doing so, click here.***

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