Stay in the Lines

A polished personal (creative) regarding an individual’s response to convention and circumstance.

Response to “Dairy of a Piano Turner’s Wife” and “Waited” 

When I used to see my face in the mirror, I always admired my hair the most. At school, it would sway side to side as I sashayed across dimly lit elementary hallways, smiling with pearly white teeth. It would be pinned back with straight black bobby pins and hair ties, straightened the night before with steam, and twisted together into a symmetrical braid. Because of its perfection, I was allowed to join the groups of smiling girls that would make friendship bracelets out of dollar store string, and tie them on each other’s manicured hands affectionately. Together, we would sit under neatly-trimmed ferns and color in flowers with our sharpened colored pencils. I loved taking each one and filling the empty spaces with vibrant hues that stopped just as a black line bounded it. After all, everything in life is made of lines for a reason.

Every time I finished, I would look at the ordered masterpiece and explode internally with pride. I would then flip my coloring book in their direction for approval, and they would clap three times as proper practice, never raising their voices over the allowed octaves.

But was careful to contain my happiness within me, to remain in the group. Too much self-worth meant that I would be kicked out forever, too much accomplishment meant that I would have to ruin my coloring, so no one else would be hurt by my success. We were all meant to be equal, and I told myself that I enjoyed it that way.

So, after displaying my work for five seconds, I would hide it in fear, but an itch of confusion began to weigh itself on my shoulders. Why did I need to hide my accomplishments to please others? Why was it that I could not be better than the set standard? Then I would remember that my thoughts were tumbling out of the ink lines I set for myself. So, I would cast those thoughts out of my mind, and tighten the bottom of my braid, smiling as if nothing had ever happened.

One day, I wore a pink hair clip to school. I entered the classroom happily, but it was ripped away from me soon after.

“What is this?” they asked me, and I could sense the fear in their high pitched voices.

“Nothing,” I answered shamefully. “My mom put it in my hair this morning. I know! It’s gross.” Like that, I threw the piece of plastic away into the grey trash, along with the bright smile that I entered with in the morning. They nodded approvingly in unison, linked their arms into mine, and handed me sharpened colored pencils to fill an empty flower with.

As instructed, I colored in the lines.
Now, everyone in middle school wears black. However, instead of wearing the braid to school, they sleep with one at night and untie it in the morning, as if it gives them the appearance of seamlessness. Every month, they go to the salon to trim any extra hairs that are growing faster than the others, to maintain a straight and proper line; after all, anything else is unacceptable. They make rounds throughout the school, with their muted colors, mascaraed lashed, and eyeliner that peak at exactly fifty-five degrees. On top, they color their lids just below the brow bone, and to the lash line, all skin pigmented by colors that refused to shine.

I was one of them, marching in the hallways like a soldier with my brown boots and color-coded binders, as we rushed to the class taking the same number of steps. My soul inside me began to punch my rib cage as if wanting to escape the conformity that I had shackled my arms with not long ago. I looked within myself to provide some sympathy, but she refused to talk to me. This divide within myself began to tear me apart, but I couldn’t cry, or else my tears would expose the facade of contentment that I was holding up. I ran the corner of tissue under my eyeliner and pretended that nothing ever happened.

I needed to stay in the lines.

So, I blended with them, as the burden became heavier and heavier. It came to a point that I could not keep up with their demands any longer. The itch from long ago became an anchor of dissatisfaction that had clamped on my ankle and refused to let go. They turned to look back at me, and, with feelingless eyes, flipped their curls back and sashayed down the hall without me. Hopelessness took hold of my soul, as I rushed home.

I sat on the tiled floor of my bathroom that day and pulled out my mandalas. They told me that it helps to find order when coping with pain, so I began to color. My fingers were shaking so bad that bursts of orange and magenta began to slip out of the dark and defined outlines. No matter how hard I tried, I could not say within the shape.

However, I noticed that the black lines were coated over with a sheer layer of color, barely visible, but still present. It is then that I knew that I had lost the order and perfection that I had cherished all my life. My heart was empty, and I had no clue what to fill it with. My lines only had empty space to contain.

Why was changing difficult for me to do? Why was it that all that gave me comfort was stripped from me as if it was never there in the first place? Frustrated, I threw my pencil case across the room and sobbed into my palms. After crying for a while, I got up to wash my face but was met with an unfamiliar face in the mirror.

I saw a face full of blurred lines. Her eyeliner dripped onto her jaw as if the makeup could not handle her heat. I saw a face with red-stained lips that escaped the boundaries of her mouth, stretching across her face, filling her canvas with color. I saw a masterpiece of chaos that was too beautiful to ever describe in words.

I saw a girl that refused to be constrained by lines, and it brought me unexplainable happiness.

I threw my colored pencils in the trash that day, along with the burden of belonging. Then, I ruffled my hair into a comfortable mess and jumped on my bed. I ripped my mandalas into nothing but ashes, and scattered them across my carpet, destroying what had haunted me for so long. The lines were particles of ash to weak to be my cage anymore.

The next day, I came to school wearing a bright dress that illuminated the dark hallways as I passed by with joy. Neon pins and diamonds stuck out of my dyed hair, scintillating under a light that I draped around my heart not long ago. The line of girls approached me angrily. Where was my uniform of black conformity? Why did the shapes on my dress dance freely and without care of symmetry?

I looked at them straight in the eye and approached their weak wall of ordered stone-cold bodies. With one shove, their line of rock-hard hearts split apart, and I walked on to the art room, indifferent to their looks of disbelief.

I set down my bags and set my blank canvas on the pedestal. Everyone dips their brushes into the paint, but I scoop it with my hands. My fingers dance and sway, making imperfect lines that refuse to be the same as the other. The colors mix and form an image of my tangled, untuned heartstrings. A bright, big mass of everything and anything, random, chaotic, but content. Its beauty reached places further than infinity because my fingers refused to paint in the lines.

They look over in judgment, and at that moment I knew and so did they: I was more than just a box of emptiness that they failed to constrain.

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