If you're not yourself, who are you?

One of my favorite parts about the southeast is that I don't quite fit the mold. Wait, what? What I once complained so much about has finally shown me its silver lining. Throughout my apartment hunting and scouring Google Maps in an attempt at learning my way around before I was even around, I managed to ignore the fact that people might just ~be~ different in another region of the US. And I don't mean like a southern hospitality kind of thing. When I first landed in Alabama, I noticed people wore really weird things, as far as I was concerned. If you're not wearing a t shirt (it has to be a Comfort Colors tee) three sizes too large, shorts whose existence are questionable underneath said shirt and clunky sandals, you're clearly not from around here. I never gave much thought to what I wore back home, I typically just threw on whatever was clean and marginally "nice." But even so, nowhere in sight was the denim, the skirts, the dresses, the footwear, hell-- even the skinny jeans. The only time these would show up were for going out, which was weirder to me, still. Back home, you got dressed up when going out. It's like everything was one step behind what I was used to. The only things I recognized in casual, everyday attire were Nikes. At least I had a pair of those. But my backpack, my water bottle, even my phone case were all wrong. Not even the terms I used seemed to be recognized among locals. Ordering at a restaurant was a nightmare. All too quickly, I realized that everything that defined me save for my shoe size was just wrong. And, because I am still an insecure teenager at heart, I tried fitting myself to that mold with disastrous results. I pulled off exactly 2% of the local style. That 2% consisted of the Nikes I already owned and a Vineyard Vines cap I bought at some fratty place in Panama City Beach on a weekend trip when I realized my sunglasses (which were also wrong) were not enough protection. That cap and I just clicked and can be seen frequenting my Instagram page.

Oyster City brews in Apalachicola, FL // Wildfox sunnies // Vineyard Vines cap

Without going into embarrassing detail regarding my failure at the southeastern style, I decided to buck up and be unapologetically myself. I stuck out, everywhere I went I felt the weight of twenty sets of eyes judging, "who's this chick wearing jeans in September? Is that a leather jacket?" But you know what? I felt good, finally. I felt like myself and I was comfortable with it, which is worth it in and of itself. But let me tell you something else: shopping here is a dream. When everyone is scouring the shelves for the exact items I have no interest in, labels and pieces that give me heart palpitations go unnoticed, and more often than not, go on super-mega-once in a lifetime-if I don't buy this now I will kick myself tomorrow-clearance.

Jeffrey Campbell booties

When I moved here, I was hauling exactly three items: a box I had shipped to myself from home, my carry-on, and my CĂ©line luggage tote filled with whatever I tossed in before heading for the airport. 95% of everything else I've accumulated has been purchased here, and my style has never been better.  I don't shop mainstream anymore. Instead, I frequent the local thrift stores and clearance racks. Boutiques don't fit me, so I don't even bother shopping locally in that sense. No outing is complete until I've pulled my boyfriend aside and quietly said, "this is a [insert label here] for $16. This never would have rolled in LA."

So while I've appreciated the quality and true comfort of Comfort Color t shirts (I have stolen exactly 4 from my boyfriend thus far), and acknowledged that you need loose fitting clothing for the summer heat and humidity, I've also discovered and cultivated my own sense of style. The best part? I'm saving a ton of money growing my baby wardrobe, too!


Etymology

Tuesday afternoons used to be my least favorite time of week, right down to the hour. Somewhere in the prime of my college career, Tuesdays were my long days. I was left abandoned on the campus that was never too friendly to me for just over 12 hours. Only three of those hours were spent in classrooms. "It's a nine hour break!" I'd complain to my mother, who drove me to school every morning. Unlike most kids my age, I didn't have the luxury of my own car. "So study. Read. Do something. But I am not driving an extra 60 miles in the middle of the day just so you won't be bored for a few hours." I knew she was right. The drive to campus wasn't absurdly long, but it wasn't a pleasant drive, either. Guilting her into making those extra trips in the middle of the day was below me, even. I was raised a spoiled brat, sure, but in my early twenties I was learning to sympathize with my parents; gas prices were slowly climbing and we lived in a rural-ish part of Texas. Driving me to school and work was not cheap. "FINE," ended our weekly discussion, "did you make oatmeal this morning? No sugar, right?"

Around noon, I'd find something to eat. Most Tuesdays my mom would pack me something she knew I'd enjoy. It's silly, but I knew it secretly made her happy to pack my lunch. "One of these days, you should make me lunch, you know. I'm not gonna be around forever," she'd tease while prepping the tilapia. At lunch I'd find a free microwave at the student union, take the fish and steamed rice from my Mystery Machine lunch bag, and keep my head low in shame when the odor of reheated fish would begin seeping around me. Lunch in hand, I'd rush out in pretend-embarrassment at the lunch that made my mouth water.

Everything would wind down after lunch. My only friend on campus would head to his next class, leaving me at a loss. Although an avid reader, I have always been very particular with my reading environment. No music. Minimal noise. Not so bright that the light's reflection bouncing off the page makes me strain my eyes and squint. Not so dim that the lack of light makes me strain my eyes and squint. Not so windy that the unread pages rustle. Finding this environment was surprisingly easy and took the form of our butterfly garden. Several park benches were arranged within some vague, indigenous bushes; a manmade pond was a host to birds and insects; and most importantly-- people left it alone. Adjusting my backpack into a pillow of textbooks and laptop wires left a crook in my neck, but by the time the pain set in I'd be so lost in my novel of choice, it went unnoticed. Hours would fly by, the chunk of pages held in my left had would steadily thicken, my Nook battery would drain, slowly, slowly.

I loved Tuesdays like these. They went on without a hitch--  unless you count my weekly reheated fish endeavor. I got reading done and, for the most part, I was content. But most Tuesdays were not like this. As the semester droned on, I no longer had time for reading literature of my choosing. As such, I began despising Tuesdays. Because although reading allowed an escape from my own life, those borrowed realities came to an end, happy or not. And somewhere in between my reading, real-reality would remind me that my friends have all graduated, I was left behind, and I was alone. And so I'd sit. For hours on end. Sit.  Dwell. Feel sorry for myself.

One day I was so desperate for escape, I Googled bus routes. Lo and behold, I found a bus that ran between the university and the downtown metro station one city over-- free for students. The metro station, about a mile and a half from home, would be my new hub. Tuesday afternoons and early evenings would be spent there. Sitting at the Subway few could afford to eat at, I'd eavesdrop on snippets of Spanish conversation while I ate my cheese pizza and Lay's baked potato chips. People shuffled about quietly as they made their way to their busses, headed for Mexico, a plethora of American and Texan souvenirs in hand. "These people that come over, they save up an entire year, sometimes longer, just for one trip across the border," I remember a friend saying, "families live off of rice and beans so that they'll get to see a real-life Abercrombie one day." This sterile yet dirty place felt more like home to me than campus. Stepping off the university shuttle made me feel special, somehow. That side door we used to enter the metro was lined with older men that I'd imagine to be my grandfather if he were still living. They looked as us and beamed with what I like to imagine was pride, silencing the catcalls younger patrons felt the need to shower us with.

Some Tuesdays I wouldn't ask my mom to pick me up right away. Instead, I'd wander around the downtown district I dubbed Little Mexico. I'd wander in and out of perfume shops and snack bars, paranoid that my backpack made me look suspicious. Shopkeepers never seemed to mind, only rarely asking me to leave it up front while I looked at cheap nail polish and $1 cosmetics. When I'd exhausted my energy for the afternoon, I'd wait at the drop-off and pick-up lane for my mom. Every Tuesday afternoon she'd drive up in that black Tacoma, a little black dog surfing on the center console, tail wagging erratically when she spotted me; yelping her hellos and licking my face.

These were my Tuesday afternoons. Some weeks I despised them, some weeks I wished I had more than nine hours between classes. Nonetheless, these Tuesdays molded some integral part of me. The park bench taught me that I don't need much to be content, a few pretty words strung together would do it. Sitting in my own self-pity stretched out those hours, but showed me how much time I actually had to myself. Discovering that bus route was my first act of real independence. I found a way home that wasn't reliant on anyone's grace or willingness to give me a lift for 10 bucks. Sitting at the metro station, people watching, taught me how to be alone and okay. Strolling through Little Mexico taught me how to be happy when I was alone. This is a skill I cultivated over the years that followed. What's that phrase? I'm not lonely when I'm alone.


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