Nia Chavez always had problems seeing herself clearly. She was born with her right eye hanging a little too far down the right side of her eyeball. Her vision was perfect, but the image she had of herself was hazy. In grade school she dealt with ignorant taunts from her classmates. As a result, she decided to find ways to be accepted, even if it meant becoming something she wasn’t.
Nia learned to adapt to years of unwanted attention. In high school, she took to doing outrageously drastic things in hopes to change the gossip about her. Instead of being the girl with the “lazy eye,” she would be the girl who “took the most shots'' at last night’s party. She took on other labels like “traviesa” (troublemaker) and “nalgona” (big butt), and her wild antics eventually gained her popularity. But despite having adopted this new image as a party girl, she couldn’t help but feel further away from the vision she really had for herself.
It didn’t get any easier. Well into her years as a young adult, she faced a new crowd. Intellectual college students in their prime that were possessed by hormones and eager for some affection. Nia had a few romances before college, but university life introduced her to a variety of different love labels. Already having found comfort in experimenting with different lifestyles, she figured that her love life could be the same. She tested about everything under the sun: friends with benefits, polyamorous relationships, and a fair share of threesomes. Still, something didn’t sit well with her, and nothing made her feel whole. She couldn’t help but feel that she was, once again, losing sight of herself.
Like many young people who live on the edge, her recklessness soon became quite ordinary. She found herself craving something new, something that could give her body a new sense of purpose. It was not surprising that another muse filled Nia’s life: roller skating. Originally picking it up as a form of exercise, Nia soon found herself jumping off staircases, twirling 360s, and going down half-pipes. She felt, yet again, a new identity starting to form. This time, though, it felt more right than ever.
On one occasion she found herself apprehensively entering a skate park. The first thing she noticed was that she was the only girl there. The park was filled with men and she quickly began to feel those childhood insecurities rise up in her mind. She wore a crop top that day and high waisted shorts that hugged the curve along her back nicely. She approached the first drop of the half-pipe and skated down with a burst of confidence. Feeling good from her first run, she eagerly awaited praise from her audience.
Instead of adulation, she heard snickering from her spectators. “Yeah she’s good, but did you see her eye?” a greasy-haired kid remarked. His pimple-faced companion commented,“Yeah I thought she was cute, but I think it’ll only work out if I looked at her from behind.” Her throat choked with pains of defeat. They didn’t notice anything except her eye. She had not succeeded in changing her narrative.
She could feel the anxiety creeping up her throat and assured herself that another skate through the park would ease her mind. A little shaky, she found herself rushing down the half-pipe. Her body was present but her mind wandered to the critiques of her audience until she eventually found herself face first on the concrete. They all laughed, but she was angry.
After lifting herself up, she was determined to try it again. However, before she could, a skater with a kind face approached her. With a sincere voice he said, “Hey, that was a pretty nasty fall, and, I don’t know how to tell you this, but your shorts are completely ripped from the back.” Her face burned with embarrassment. From behind, she could feel a slight breeze where her back pocket should have been. Not saying a word, and with incredible speed, she rushed back to her car. She had been their joke, and in the comfort of her car, she cried.
She was torn, defeated, tired, and in pain. Not only over her fall, but because she had let them get to her. Pondering whether to leave, her eyes spotted a possible saving grace: a pair of basketball shorts. She was faced with a choice. Put the basketball shorts on and show them who’s boss, or save herself the snickers and stares by going back home. Refusing to let them win, her mind was made up. Nia was done allowing other people to hold her back. Basketball shorts it was.
“It didn’t matter,” she told herself. “What matters is how I see myself.” This small pep talk gave her enough courage to exit the car in her new wardrobe with her head held high. With headphones in, her feet made their way down the bowl, up a ramp, and across the rail positioned in front of the group of men that previously taunted her. They weren’t laughing anymore. This time, when she finished the course, she faced her adversaries only to see that they seemed to be nodding with approval. The man who had given her the previous warning about her shorts greeted her again with a high five. “You’re amazing,” he said. “It’s so cool how you did that spin onto the rails. Trust me, none of those guys could do that. You got guts.” She smiled and said, “Thanks, I guess I just saw things a little more clearly this time.”
Indeed she did.