The Art of Not Giving Up

When I was a child, the world was divided into two cleanly split, very distinct sides; the sides were both vibrant in color, with resoundingly different rules of emotion applied to each. My side matched the others’ shade, and appeared relatively the same when approached without paying much attention to detail, changes unable to be distinguished by those without a well-rounded knack for observation. In fact, the differences were applied with such scarcely seen efforts that I spent a long while taking them into account, with no real way to describe their tendencies to stray from my own normalcy, and what I’d thought was just. The other side was one of assorted privileges, though at first, these slips in judgement were vastly unknown to me. My world of color was often interrupted by general scolding, which was nothing but utter normalcy for a child being molded. There was never an excuse made on my behalf, only punishment times drawn out to the length of ones’ arm, rigidly set house laws that strictly outlined what I could and couldn’t say to whomever happened to flit in our wake, skirt lengths drawn out to the edges of my knees as guidelines for me to follow, and slight shakes of the head when I failed to indulge these orders. I vividly recall having a teddy bear vest crafted for me as a child, the stiff material cracking in my hands as I anticipated donning it in preparation for whatever the day’s destination happened to be. I wore it with nothing beneath and let myself into the main room of our house, where the family sat anticipating when everyone’s schedules would finally align. The reason I left my chest bare beneath the fabric was because I’d witnessed it done on countless occasions, though during the ones specifically recounted by my child self, there had been no fabric worn at all; the boys in my classes would often tear the t-shirts from their necks and run wildly through clean cut grass when the bell indicated the various breaks in the day, yell as they threw heavy basketballs into poised nets while the sun baked their skin, and felt no visible regret for doing so. Nobody laughed when they approached, and yet, my family sat laughing as though I’d floundered; my face burned crimson as I was told I couldn’t go out that way, my mother hardly speaking through the chortles that bubbled upon her mouth. Of course, the questions surfaced with ease; I was used to asking them and had conditioned myself to accept the responses with little protest, for there was often no one that could provide the knowledge I was seeking out. I asked why, I’m sure, as the vest was pulled over my head to be quickly replaced by a t-shirt, and the response was one so resoundingly typical that the words became ingrained, even before they could be recited to me on numerous occasions; “that’s just the way it is.” I wore the t-shirt. For years to come, I wore the t-shirts, the sleeves, the skirts that had strict rules to remain below my knees. The other side swam with abandon without the weight of a top, the other side pulled harshly at bra straps that were intended to be a secret so they would snap against our flesh. The other side had excuses made on their behalf to soften their wrongdoings, while our mistakes became opportunities for rigorous correction; “boys will be boys, but you should know better.” For a long time, I refrained from wanting to know better, and wished I could leave my mind in the gutter the way the other half had.

As adolescence was left in what is now a dreamy vapor of distorted memory, age became a matter of safety, and the division was clear to me on a a much larger scale; I not only noticed differentiating standards, but could rationalize with them, and understood their severity. Young adulthood meant the implementation of rules that were no longer derived from disciplinary perspectives, but cemented in place to protect what I did not know could be taken from me. When the streetlights burnt themselves out and the sky had reduced itself to nothing but black, I was expected to return home; I watched the boys from car windows as they darted, foaming beers in hand, from place to place upon stretched expanses of lawn and into yawning doorways, while I was gently told it was no longer safe for me to join. I curled into my sheets too early, attempted to close my eyes against the grain of the pillow though sleep evaded me. I would offer to walk home instead to avoid the nuisance of a ride, to catch one elsewhere, but these suggestions only invited more weighted concerns on behalf of those that feared the outcomes. I understood; I understood the predicaments of my own side, and the leniency of the other. I understood that I could only appraise the activities from afar, stationed safely behind a walled area of glass that I could surely look through, but wouldn’t bother to touch.

It was more than just events drawn away from me, more than just rigid curfews and ducking from the front lines of words yelled from bar windows and splayed sidewalks, more than the snap of a bra strap when I was least expecting it. When the men uttered something unsavory their wrists were slapped with feather light implications to the point where it would even draw laughter from their chests to rise like phantoms in the air. If curse words or strains of distaste surpassed my lips, it was always treated with measures that would ensure I would learn to be silent from then on; “you should know better, you should know better.” The mantra meant little to me, as I was the same age as the other side in most instances, attending the same classes, the same functions; maybe it was simply that someone needed to know better, and someone had to be the cop out. Reasoning with myself on these terms did nothing for consolation, but it was necessary to avoid the frustration that would often swell. Eventually, I did know better — knowing better meant shutting my mouth when I felt the words rise at a breakneck pace, for speaking meant being shut down, and it was better to shut down early. Knowing better meant bracing myself against sentences such as “the men are talking” when my opinion was voiced. Knowing better meant overcoming eye rolls and compromising my achievements to be held at the same level as the other side, who accomplished less, but had to be appropriately valued for it.

The division of groups isn’t an acceptable basis upon which the world should be seen, and I am aware of this as I write. My mind had developed this ideology at a young age, and since that time, I’ve been unable to see past two worlds of color, converging only to convey differences. Two worlds of color that harbor opportunity and promise for each, two worlds of color that hold the same values, and apply them differently to the separate parties involved. Two worlds of color that both shame and praise in the name of upholding very different standards; two worlds of color that look the same from a distant standpoint, yet differ greatly once you find yourself in the thick of a situation, and watch the other commence from the outside. These worlds of color could never be black and white in the name of explanation, though some like to make them out to be; for me, avoiding discouragement through those that provide utter negligence to these facts, is about never lacking hope. My hope is that our two sides will converge, and not only to be compared, but to finally fall equal. I won’t hold my tongue and pretend these nuisances have any strains of inaccuracy, and will continue to speak with assertion, but have no interest in blaming the generations, past and current, that continue these trends. Hope is alive and well in the interests of equality, and there are efforts being made on both sides mentioned; teddy bear vests and lectures aside, there is progress to be made, and capabilities to be utilized. We are only at the threshold of change, dancing around edges and dips for fear of being the first — I have no fear of this.