We Don't Need Roads

“In my high school year book there is a note from a girl who wrote,
 ‘I like you even though you are very mean.’”

This is the first sentence of one of the chapters in Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. This is the reason I bought the book. I hopped into my proverbial Delorean to the golden age of junior high, not stopping to remember the love hate relationship with school uniforms and chocolate milk Fridays. Instead, I watched from outside the hall of a windowless classroom as one of the popular boys openly admitted to the entire class that he wished I wasn’t so mean. He didn’t look at me when he said this. I looked down at my feet and said nothing. I was wearing the new green suede Adidas I had gotten for my birthday.

I switched schools after ninth grade, hoping for another chance to start over. By junior year of high school I found myself in a similar scenario. It was ‘diversity day’ at a small private school with minimal consequences and privileged youth. The only memory I have of that day was the unofficial spokesman of our class, who looked like he bathed in a grease trap, telling me that I was a bitch. I like to think of this as my quasi-Pretty in Pink moment.

James Spader’s character, Steff, is waiting for Andie by her car. He tells her he’s been out with a lot of girls at their school and wonders what makes her so different. “I have taste,” she says. Because she is so defiant towards his yuppie arrogance this makes her a bitch.

As much as I’ve wanted to be a character in a John Hughes movie, I’m only using this reference to make a point. It is interesting to me that it was men of a contrived social standing who made it a point to make me feel there was something wrong with me.

Last night I was having drinks with a girl friend. An old flame from nine years ago walks by and I wave. He comes over to talk to us for a minute. He asks me why a coffee shop I used to work for closes so early.

“I don’t work there anymore muthafucka!” This was the bourbon talking. I was going for a Hank Moody or even a John McClane vibe but he took this as hostile.

“You don’t have to be mean about it, I was just asking.”

The way this word reared its ugly head back into my life was pivotal. This man had little to no impact on my life, and he doesn’t even really know me. But it stuck with me. Mean. I was being myself, albeit with a sense of humor that came across as aggressive.  I would never intentionally hurt someone’s feelings. But I would also never feed someone bullshit when honesty really is the best policy.

What I’ve learned is this: people aren’t always going to understand you if you do not line up with the expectations they have for how the world should work. You don’t owe these people anything except to be true to who you are. If that makes you mean or if it makes you a bitch then you’re probably doing something right.


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