Unbecoming: fevers, piercings, and flashbacks of New York

I’ve spent the last week battling disease — an icky, sticky virus of some kind. Raw garlic, honey and lemon cough drops, hydrotherapy and literal gallons of hot tea have all graced this house, and this morning, after all of that effort, my fever has returned and my voice has given out. What nerve.

After watching excessive amounts of Friends, Gossip Girl, and YouTube clips about robots, it seemed that there was little else for me to do but write. So let’s talk, briefly, about recent life and revelations. *My favorite*

Unbecoming: type this word into Google and an e-dictionary of some kind will give you this definition of the word: not flattering; not appropriate or acceptable.

And that’s a pretty standard reading for the word, but this post revolves around an entirely different interpretation of the word “unbecoming” – and that is, the reverse of becoming. Undoing becoming.

It all started with a meme:

Unbecoming

And the thought of a photograph that I took nearly 5 years ago; to date, my most favoritest picture. Ever:

new york 159

Let’s go.

Last month, I became infected with the idea of getting my ear pierced. Whatttttt, you exclaim. You mean to say that you didn’t ALREADY have your ears pierced? Nope. I’ve always been terrified by the idea. But you have multiple tattoos? Yes. And that’s completely different.

Anyways, the idea of getting my ear pierced seemingly came out of nowhere, and right around this same time, a group of friends I was talking with one afternoon made a passing remark that I had an “edgy” look about me. “What?!” I stopped them abruptly. “Me, edgy? No waaaaay!” I cracked a smile and started laughing. Yeah.. real edgy, Rose.

“Oh, you totally look edgy,” they repeated consolingly. Tattoos, short hair, black leather jacket.. I definitely fit the bill.

It made my day.

“Wow,” I thought to myself later that afternoon, “if they think that I look edgy NOW, just IMAGINE how edgy I’d look with a pierced EAR!” [and, since you may be thinking it, I am not under the false impression that the plural of ‘ear’ is ‘ear’; I actually only wanted to get (1) ear pierced].

I won’t bore you with the details this time; there was a lot of back and forth and deliberation but, ultimately, last Wednesday (10 days ago), I drove to Skinworx in Pelham directly after work and got my ear pierced. Twice! (two holes, one ear.) It sounds like no big deal, but it was SO a big deal. My best friend met me at the shop, sat with me as I jittered nervously on the couch in the lobby, helped me pick out the right earrings at the front desk and then held my hand as my soft and fragile earlobe was pierced, twice, with a needle the size of a freaking missile.

Conversation tidbits: Picking out the earrings

“Are you sure that you want two loops, Rose? How about a stud and a loop instead — mix it up?”

“Nah.. two hoops. It’ll look way cooler. Check out this pic I found on Google.”

“…is that a guy?”

“Yeah, the girl piercings looked lame.”

Conversation tidbits: During the surgery

“Shae, I’m going to pass out, I can’t look at the needle, please make sure that it looks sterile.”

“Okay Rosie.. it’s going to be fine! You’re doing great!”

“Oh my god — Shae, I’m going to pass out.”

“No, you’re doing great, I’m right here!”

“Shae. I can’t breathe.”

(insert the piercing pain of a missile-sized needle driving itself through a delicate earlobe and the immediate attachment of foreign metal to the wound site)

“ROSE!!! It looks so BA!”

(me, breathless and nearly dead)

Irene (the piercer): You ready for the next one?

My piercer, Irene – a petite, ethnic chick with tattoos spreading up from her arms and across her chest and collarbone – was very professional, quick, and efficient. “Pretty cool that you’re getting two piercings on just that one ear,” she had remarked as we walked into the surgery room.

“Hey.. thanks!”

“Oh wow, that was only ONE?” I exhaled in alarm, gazing up at Shae with terror. “Yes —- yes yes yes, let’s just go on and DO IT, go go go.

I, amazingly, lived through the ordeal, and Chris and I stopped by several stores on the way home to gather the necessary cleaning supplies (do you even half-way realize how difficult it can be to find unscented antibacterial soap? Good golly) while my ear throbbed incessantly in the background. “I will never, EVER get another piercing in my entire LIFE,” I told him quite seriously on the drive home, “but I am SO glad that I have this one.”

When I looked in the mirror that night – taking in the image of a short-haired girl with a pierced ear, a face free of make-up and black-inked tattoos showing through the white shirt sleeves covering her arms – I realized, with what can only be described as a wash of relief, that I was finally seeing myself, on the outside, as I had always felt on the inside. I felt complete.

This post is all out of sorts and I’m trying to piece it all together as coherently as possible, but it’s hard. Fevers, piercings, and flashbacks of New York; my mind is in a thousand places, surveying a hundred scenes and feeling a myriad of emotions, and I’m trying to condense it all into this one simple and perfect statement (or, at least, paragraph). And that’s hard.

What I’m really trying to say is this: it has been a very difficult process for me to “unbecome” everything I grew up being. I was raised in a devout Christian home where I was instructed to wear long skirts and baggy shirts and forbidden from watching television or reading fiction; I was taught that I should never listen to rock music, that I need always “set an example” for others, and that I must refrain from defacing or modifying my body in any kind of way. It’s been a very slow evolution (and many would undoubtedly – without even a second thought – refer to it as more of a degradation or a falling away), but in the last 5 years, I’ve shed a hundred artificial layers, developed a dozen callouses, discovered suppressed feelings and emotions that I didn’t even know were there and have become – in ways – both more and less sensitive. I’ve completely uprooted my belief system and questioned every pillar of the foundation that I thought the world was built upon, and where others continue to see stately marble, eternal stone and precious gold, I have felt sand crumple between my fingers and dirty my fingertips.

I have modified my appearance outwardly so that it matches the soul that I carry inside, and even harder than reconciling and not second-guessing those changes myself is dealing with the reactions and the judgment of others that I’ve both witnessed and received along the way. In the midst of all of the support and the criticism, one recent memory stands — crystal clear and apart from all of the rest:

This week, a coworker noticed that I had cut my hair even shorter and mentioned that she’d love to see a picture of what it had looked like when long (which was less than a year ago). I whipped out my phone and showed her an image that was taken last spring, and she was very obviously and honestly taken back. “Wow, Rose! That doesn’t even look like you.”

My insecurity rose to the surface. “I want to ask you something — because when I ask other people, they say ‘oh, your hair looks great this way!’ and I just don’t believe them. You’ve seen it both ways; do you honestly think that I would look better if I wore my hair long again?”

There wasn’t even a second’s hesitation; she looked at me directly and spoke two sentences that has reconciled the matter for me in a final and permanent and wonderful way:

“When I saw that picture, it really was like seeing a completely different person. The question is, which person do you feel more like?”

It wasn’t even a question; I smiled, pointed at myself and laughed. “Thank you, girl. I really don’t know how I couldn’t see that before.”

I guess that one of my many lost points is this: I’m not trying to say that, when you consciously decide to “unbecome” at some point in your life, you’re saying that the people who helped mold you were wrong. We’re all different, and we all choose what path we’re inclined to follow; when someone becomes your responsibility (like a child), it is only natural to teach them as you believe and to instruct them in a way that makes sense to you. But it is important that, when that child is no longer a child, she or he is given the space and freedom and support to evaluate (and possibly reconstruct) their world. If, at this point of evaluation, your soul is telling you that you have not yet found yourself, break down every barrier you have to in order to find yourself. If your being is screaming from the inside that there are discrepancies and fronts and that the face in the mirror is foreign to you, find out why.

Revisiting the picture from New York (and trying to tie these loose ends together):

new york 159

I was visiting Queens, New York the day that this picture was taken. It was in 2010, on a hot Sabbath afternoon, and our guide from the ministry was chastising me for using my camera on the Sabbath. This was one of the last photographs that I took before he made me put my camera away, and I treasure this simple and candid image. Someday, I’ll have it blown up on a canvas (waiting for the right promo code to stroll along..) and hung on the left wall in my writing nook.

I spent a lot of time visiting with and observing Orthodox Jews during my stay in New York that summer (in grocery stores, around abandoned buildings, at parks, and inside of kosher pizzerias), and in this image, I see a girl who is a lot like me: obviously raised in a conservative home, dedicated to her beliefs, simple and modest and acting with decorum. But I also see intrigue and curiosity, longing and desire, judgment, and sadness. Can you see them, too?

I think about her often. I don’t know this girl’s name, what state or country she was visiting New York from that summer, or what she had for lunch that day. In all of this mystery, what I really want to know is what happened in her journey after this day. Did she continue on the straight and narrow? Did her journey weave off course for a rebellious year or two, but she’s “back on track” now? Or did she crash off course and just leave the burning, melting car right there – upturned and bursting with flames on the side of the road – so that she could walk to another city by herself and start over?

I feel a kindred spirit in her, and I hope that – whatever path she took – she chose it, and that she now feels fully herself, fully alive, and at perfect peace with her soul.

As for me, this is who I am now. And as weird and lacking in common sense and juvenile as I can seem, there’s honestly no one I’d rather be. I could wish to be a beautiful and elegant and feminine woman, or a brilliant and wealthy doctor, or a professional skateboarder with his own show on MTV, and those are all nice things, but I’m honestly just fine with being just me. Just Rose.

2015-03-28 09.03.26

Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so that you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” – Michael Scott

’til next time,

Aun Aqui

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