Polished Personal – What do these texts suggest about the conflict between pursuing a personal desire and choosing to conform?
The Succumbing Syndrome
I suppose if you wanted to know about me – my age, my name, my tragic backstory and my lively coming of age – I’d tell you. But frankly, once I wanted to know these things so badly for myself that I muddled the truth so much, I couldn’t find an honest man. If I really were to tell you everything about myself, I could sum it up in just one single word: fear.
I knew exactly what fear looked like in the eleventh grade. Fear wears purple fingernail polish and has eyelashes so long they almost touch her glasses. Fear huddles in circles in the hallways, giggling shoots of noise as any member of the opposite sex strolls by on their way to class. Fear also resides in the locker room, changing itself in so many different forms before gym has started, and so quickly too, that I can’t see fear’s beginning or ending. Fear follows me home. Fear walks behind me, just a few steps back, so I have to walk backwards to see it. I end up falling onto my palms every time. Fear lays flat in every mirror and jumps out at me as I walk past. Fear sleeps in the same bed as me, and wakes up in the morning to follow me back to school.
Fear typically recedes its presence in the summer, the only season where I can completely close myself off from the hectic world around me. Fear still follows me, though, like a lost dog, in its many shapes and forms. I met a girl once; one summer when we were out at the lake. The girl stood knee deep, her purple bathing suit reflecting in the water. She’s got big, curly blonde hair; the kind of really beautiful curly hair. If I outwit myself carefully, not looking at her, I can perhaps convince myself that I like her. I stare fixed and lasciviously at her reflection in the water, rather than at her. Yet fear lived within her form as well, and ultimately I lost all my battles that day. I realized that giving into the fear I saw around me was too easy. Perhaps fear is testing me.
“What’s your name?” she asks me. I couldn’t even tell her, I was so wracked with anxiety. We were alone in the river – a whole day’s hike from the campground. I hadn’t even anticipated spending the day with her, I merely stumbled across her sunbathing on my way for a swim.
I can’t admit I’m terrified. She tried to kiss me and I pushed her into the water. Once she resurfaced, her curly blonde hair was dripping with lake water. Fear reared its ugly head.
“What? Are you gay or something?”
I shake my head madly, just like I do every time my father hints the same question. He tells me that I should be like the other boys my age. He thinks I’m not “man” enough, he tells me that other boys my age are out having the time of their lives and I’m not. I can’t understand that. How can I have the “time of my life” when I’m constantly being blamed for something I secretly wish to admit?
I can do anything. If I could be my own person and love who I wanted to love – and not who everyone else tells me to love – I could be my own self. Being who fear tells me I should be only increases fear itself. It feels shameful to hide who I am, it’s unreasonable; convention makes a mockery out of me and honesty is something I can’t find within myself if fear lives within everyone around me. Honesty trumps fear, and that’s the thing I learned when I swam to meet that girl halfway. I couldn’t look at her, and that was honesty. I wasn’t attracted to her, and that was fear.
Honesty. I know it’s something I need to be. I need to be true to myself no matter what anyone else thinks of me. Yet fear still follows me everywhere I go, but it’s external, it doesn’t live within me. Others are afraid of who I am, like I’m some kind of alien, simply because they don’t know or understand me. And that is what fear truly is. It might be hard to understand, but at the heart of my being that’s who I am. I am something almost otherworldly, but in a good way. Others are afraid of me because I’m like a mountain that no one has ever climbed – fear is their façade. The day that someone will climb my mountain – man or woman – and boldly declare to love me will be the day that I do not live surrounded by fear.