If there was ever a person that was destined to be ‘weird’ – racially ambiguous name, not quite bougie but not quite hood, and raised by a Bob Marley-and-incense kind of mother – it would be me. For a long time I yearned to be on one of the two extremes that I considered ‘normal’ – either grown, like the hotgirls that were idolized in Omar Tyree and Sister Souljah books, or solidly middle-class, like the Huxtables. I never had a pair of Jordans or Timbs or Reeboks. My grandmother thought Birkenstocks were a better investment in my growing feet. Nor did I ever get to go on expensive vacations or get a new computer like my high school classmates. And it was good thing I didn’t.

As a kid fitting in is extremely important. Where I’m from this principle is called ‘get in where you fit in’, and the sentiment is basically this: blend in, don’t cause a ruckus, and go along to get along. For someone with a peculiar personality, doing this can be tough, and my prolonged awkward stage (ages 13-23) meant that I was quite unsuccessful for a very long time. After a while I recognized that the straight and narrow path wasn’t for me, and that it was too hard try to put myself in boxes that didn’t fit who I was. So I did the opposite. I stood out.

I stood out like my slightly bucked teeth that didn’t get fixed until college, but then went rogue after I broke my retainer. I stood out like the lopsided afro I possessed during my last 3 years in college, back when younger women were still getting their edges lyed, dyed, and laid to the side. I stood out like the random references to obscure literature and nerdery that drew sideways glances from my Hillman homies. Now, everybody is different and nerdy and edgy and natural. But before everyone hopped on the pseudo-hipster wave there were the brave first adopters who did it before it was cool.

The greatest lesson I could have ever learned was being comfortable in my own skin, and it never would have happened if I was always Perfect Patty, or if I had been given everything I wanted growing up. The growth that comes along with taking the road less traveled is worth so much more than the easy wins. And now that I think about it, I don’t think I would want to have lived my life any other way.

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