Something strange happened last week. In the middle of my morning commute, a man started yelling on the train. I’m no stranger to disrupters on public transit or unstable people shouting profanities, but this man was shouting directly at me.
“Bitch,” “snob,” “rich asshole.”
I felt sick to my stomach. Hidden behind my sunglasses on the train, I tried to look away, but couldn’t help it. I looked over.
“That snobby bitch knows I’m talking about her!”
My heart started to race as I quickly turned my head in the other direction. I looked down at my $5, falling apart Primark commuting shoes. I thought about the $40 that was currently in my bank account. I thought about all the struggles I’ve faced these past few months, and how grateful I was to have a job to commute to.
I hardly felt like a snob. In fact, I felt extremely self conscious for wearing the same dress two days that week, and for my shredding black ballet flats. I wanted to yell back, or maybe cry, but mainly my gut told me to gracefully sit there and ignore him. Everyone on the train could think what they wanted- I’d rise above it.
I’ve thought about the train incident a lot this past week. Although it was embarrassing and even a little scary, it taught me a lesson. For years- ever since grade school- I’ve hid behind my own mask in one form or another. Whether it was through success, relationships, clothing, or creating, I wasn’t comfortable showing who I really was in fear of being rejected or judged. I couldn’t handle criticism, so I avoided and hid.
It’s interesting to reflect on pain, and how it shaped the person you have become.
The bullies were what gave me my aloof shell- to walk fast, to focus on myself, and to ignore.
The rejection from my peers is what gave me the strength to be independent, to move to new places, to embrace my uniqueness, and to focus on my creative side.
Being called “ugly” in junior high made me determine what I thought was beautiful within myself, so I stuck with my own look and style that made me feel good.
My broken family is what gave me the ability to adapt, to embrace change, to live adventurously, and to make a home out of anywhere I go.
Perhaps some may perceive a quick thinking, fast walking, all-black wearing, cut-to-the-chase type of woman as someone who is cold and indifferent, but in my case, it helps to keep me safe. My protective shell has been there with me through long NYC nights, cross country moves, career disappointment, heartbreak, failure, and shame. It has helped me rise up, start again, and pick up where I left off- but better.
My past may not have been easy, but it has made me strong. Others can think what they want, but they will never know what’s behind someone else’s shell unless they open their minds and hearts.