I have this pair of shorts my mom calls my “clown shorts”. I bought them at a thrift shop in high school. They’re green and white striped, with an elastic waist that sits well above my belly button. They balloon out in the most unflattering fashion. They’re anything but cute… seriously, anything but. When I was 17 I’d wear those shorts and knee high socks to school because I thought they were funny. At 17 I was hooked on the feeling that comes with making someone smile. I was an absolute junkie, relentlessly goofy and always in search of a laugh. When I campaigned for student council that year I hung poster sized copies of this photo all over school:
(i’m on the RIGHT.)
Back then, there was no stopping my confidence and my drive to make myself look silly in the name of brightening someone else’s day. That is who I chose to be. When some kids were jocks, or nerds, or the hot girl… I was shamelessly goofy and weird. I’ll be honest, I was pretty successful at it. I didn’t make straight As. I didn’t study as hard as my parents would’ve probably liked. I was no teacher’s dream student, but I was a teenage girl and then a young woman with all the confidence a mom and dad could want their kid to possess. I knew who I was and what I wanted — what I wanted was to be known as a kind person who made people smile. I wanted that to be my mark. It was. My classmates voted me “most likely to brighten your day” a title I honestly felt I’d earned, and one I defended for several more years after high school ended. I had no intention of letting it get away, but when I wasn’t looking it did.
This year I broke. I broke into a pile of pieces so big I wouldn’t want to be given the clean-up job. Jagged chunks of my once limitless good spirit lay scattered on the proverbial floor around me. I was buried in the kind of insecurity most people know when they’re 17. You know that downward spiral of self-doubt that makes normal kids hate high school? It was that but about eight years late. Why? Who really knows? It might’ve been residual effects from spending a couple years alone in a city where I wasn’t comfortable. It might’ve been severe mishandling of the normal growing pains of becoming an adult. Or maybe, like every other step in my maturation process, I was just a late bloomer in the insecurity game. When you’re a teenager who grows tall & lanky and doesn’t develop until long after everyone else it’s sort of awkward and cute. When you’re a grown woman and you have the kind of psychological breakdown that should’ve been reserved for the terror of your first period, or a break-up with your high school sweetheart… it’s no longer cute. It’s a mess. it’s a disaster. It’s a risky situation that you try to claw your way out of all the while leaving a growing trail of hurt feelings and confusion in your wake. It’s really not cute, and it’s really not okay.
But it can be okay eventually. I can be that person again, because it’s who I really am. I’m not the breakdown. I’m not this beacon of insecurity. I’m not a person who intentionally hurts anyone. I am that girl who doesn’t care how weird people think she is as long as those people somehow feel better after being around her.
One day last week I picked up the clown shorts. They were at the bottom of a drawer I rarely open. When I held them up I found myself spilling my guts to my boyfriend about the type of kid I was in high school, rattling off tidbits of teenage me like the ones written above. I was smiling unreasonably hard at the thought of a girl who used to just not care what the world thought. He didn’t seem surprised. His reaction was just what I needed, someone who loves me still sees that person inside me. Somehow, despite whatever volatile mental state I’ve been in for the past few months, he recognizes that weird, goofy, good-spirited girl. She’s not the girl I was. She’s the girl I still am. I just needed to dig her out of whatever drawer she’s been hiding in and remember why I loved her so much in the first place.