It’s not a unique story. A teenaged girl decides to radically change her appearance. She starts wearing makeup, and she adopts a wild, unnatural hair color. She looks in the mirror, and she wants to see someone else. She wants to be someone else, if only on the outside. She is young, and she is only beginning to understand that at this point in her life, she can take the lead in constructing the person she’s going to be in the future.
In Schuyler’s case, it’s probably more complicated than that. In changing her look so radically, she understands that she will stand out in her last week of school. She informed me that there is one other person at her school with wild hair, a boy with vivid green on his head. For a girl of fifteen, I suspect there are multiple forces at work, an inner conflict between wanting to conform and fit in, but at the same time an impulse to break out. For Schuyler, I think it might be even more complicated still.
Because she knows. Schuyler knows she’s different. She senses it every time she verbalizes in public and gets that quizzical look from strangers. She absolutely knows it when she orders at a restaurant, her iPad reading her order aloud through a Bluetooth speaker with a crisp English accent, an accent specifically chosen because why not? Schuyler watches the kids around her grasp concepts that she has to work hard to handle, and she knows that this happens, the difference happens, because her brain isn’t like everyone else’s. In a world of special snowflakes, Schuyler is another thing altogether, and of this she is entirely conscious.
Schuyler can’t not be different. She cheerfully accepts this sometimes, but to be honest, it bothers her most of the time. Occasionally she rages against it, and at other times she commits herself to passing as neurotypical, a doomed proposition but one that usually holds great appeal to her. As she gets older, I see how she works to make peace with her difference, and now, at fifteen, she’s feeling a great deal of pressure to take on more self-sufficiency and make more independent choices, be they right or wrong. (Much of this pressure comes from me, I confess unapologetically.) Schuyler sometimes runs from her difference, and at other times she charges it with fury. But it’s always there.
This weekend, as she prepared for her final week of school and her last chance to define herself, she looked inwards and saw that she was different. And in looking at her weird and unpredictable monster, the source of so much of her complicated identity and her wild trajectory into the unknown void of the future, she decided to wear her weird, to own it and to put it unflinchingly into the face of the world.
That world doesn’t get her. It wonders why she is the way she is, and it’s not very subtle in its wondering. Now, defies Schuyler, it can wonder how such a wild creature, with electric lava hair and the voice of a robotic Brit, can move so like a tornado through this grey and contentious world. Because Schuyler is weird. But damn it, she owns her weird, and that’s not a small thing.
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