Growing Up Jeub · Personal reflections

To the Imperfect Ones

“I thought the reason I wasn’t happy, why I didn’t fit in, was because there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t doing it right, I wasn’t trying hard enough.”

I’ve heard it from so many people. They looked like rebels and misfits at the time.

This one’s for you, rebels and misfits. The people who tried and couldn’t make it work. You have my admiration.

To the kids who dressed rebelliously while I was wearing long dresses: I admire you. To the kids who talked back and got smacked, while I murmured false prayers to fit in: you were the heroes.

To the ones who couldn’t hold back, no matter how much their mothers told them to smile. It didn’t work because you saw the truth, somewhere beneath the mask.

To the ones who kept getting angry, no matter how much they told us to be quiet, no matter how much they said your feelings don’t matter, your feelings are wrong. While I learned to let each injustice pass like my mother taught me, you were still using your fists.

To everyone who’s ever stood up to a pastor, who kept practicing an instrument when they said you’d never make it, who took scissors or dye to your own hair.

I want to say I’m sorry. In conforming, I kept you on the sidelines. They made me feel like you deserved it – after all, you were disobedient. You weren’t perfectly subservient.

None of us were perfect. That’s how it was set up – a system that pushes you down can’t let anyone feelsuccessful. Then they’d lose their power. Part of the game was that none of us could make it, and we’d feel like our constant failure was our own fault.

I fit in. On so many levels, I played the game. I felt incapable, and my journals are filled with confessions of inadequacy, a desire to perform better each day. That smile I wore, the children I rocked, the meals I cooked, the house I kept clean, the speeches I performed, the lines I memorized and repeated from our holy book of choice, it took so much work. The result was that people thought I was unapproachable and fake. Because I was. I lied to myself and thought I was genuine, because that’s all I was taught to do.

I learned it well, but the game was impossible to win. It’s a game of indentured servitude, a method that keeps the goal just beyond reach. Some of us tried harder than others. I wish I hadn’t.

When you tell me what it was like for you, you say you felt like it was your own fault, too: the rebellion, the refusal to follow and submit.

It wasn’t a fault. It was truth. It was what you couldn’t hide. What felt like breakage, what felt like failure, was you succeeding at what the rest of us couldn’t manage. Thank you for suffering the manifestation of that truth you saw.

Thank you for being the outcasts when the rest of us were scared. Thank you for your black clothes and thick makeup, for the stolen kisses in a world where we weren’t supposed to kiss until we were married. Thank you for eloping, or for demonstrating that love has no limits, regardless of gender and sexuality.

Your rebellion didn’t always manifest in obvious ways, but when you felt what you did, you were strong. You knew something was wrong, despite the lies and the false smiles. I’m proud of you, and not because I was ahead, but because I felt pride in knowing someone had broken ranks, someone had crossed the line, someone had proven that it was possible.

I know it wasn’t easy for you. I know it didn’t feel brave. I know that I, along with everyone else who conformed, made you feel alone. I’m sorry for that.

I’m so glad that in doing what you did – doing only what felt right – you gave me hope to combat the disapproval I showed you. Your freedom made me envious alongside the disgust I mimicked from our leaders.

You taught me through your own shaky defiance that it was okay to lose the foundation I thought I had.