Our theme for the month of June is “Top Ten.”
Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with my identity and have verbalized that struggle through conversations with my parents. Although I take some creative liberties with the conversations written here, the sentiments are real.
“I just don’t think I know who I am,” I said as she put the car in reverse and backed onto the makeshift parking spot adjacent to our driveway. She turned the key and then turned to me; I stared straight out the windshield.
“Alex, you’re a complex person. You have different facets of your personality that come out based on the person you’re talking to.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her gaze soften. “You aren’t being fake when you allow those different parts of yourself to come out. You’re being real.”
I pushed open the car door and grabbed my backpack. “Yeah, okay Mom. Sure.”
“You know, when you were in elementary school, I was really worried you were going to grow up to be a doormat,” she said over dinner, flashing a grin that said, “and now look at all the trouble you’ve been causing.” I smiled back at her and unconsciously squared my shoulders.
Later, I pulled out my fifth grade yearbook and studied the face of the girl sitting on the raised metal pipe that fenced in the playground. Why would this girl have ever believed that she would be known as “the quiet one?”
Months later, she said, “When you didn’t defend him, that’s when I realized you were going to break up with him.”
I shifted uncomfortably at the kitchen table. “The reason why I didn’t want to tell you that I was planning on breaking up with him was because I wanted it to be my decision. I didn’t want him to think that I was doing it just because you two didn’t approve. I’ve realized that I don’t love him like I should.”
She raised her eyebrows and sipped her coffee.
I stared at the TV screen, Playstation controller dangling from my hands. “Dad, I can’t beat this level. I get my scouts and my shocktroopers set up, and then a tank rolls in and absolutely demolishes me!”
“It’s good to have goals, Alex,” he offered, pushing his reading glasses up his nose.
“Dad, guess what? I’ve gotten every one of my characters up to Level 100!” I danced in the back of the car as we drove beside the rising sun, heading south to dig up quahogs early Sunday morning.
“It’s good to have goals, Al,” he said, checking his mirrors to merge into a new lane of traffic.
“Mom, why did you let me wear polo shirts all those years?” I said as I pulled out the tenth solid color polo that had been a part of my standard outfit from sixth to eleventh grade.
“Come on Al,” she chided, stuffing it in the “donate” trash bag, “you liked how easy it was! You never got in trouble with the dress code!”
I stopped rummaging through my dresser and glared. “Mom, there was one day where I was wearing the same shirt as Tim Hanely! THE. SAME. SHIRT.” She scrunched up her face and laughed.
She took a right onto Woburn Street. “Mrs. Williams says this year’s senior leaders did a lot of great work, and I loved the fact that you all did a senior blessing rather than a senior prank.”
I fidgeted in the front seat, pulling down my dress and adjusting my graduation cap. “Yeah, but you know, I didn’t get a ton done with Chorale, and people thought that the senior class serving burgers for the entire middle and high school was kind of lame.”
She pursed her lips. “I know a lot of the faculty appreciated it.”
“Wow,” she said, glancing around the Rhetoric Center, “so this is your second home?
“Yup!” I lounged on one of the deep purple and deeply uncomfortable couches. “Sometimes it feels like I run this place.”
5. Golden Child
I stared at the computer, dumbfounded. “You’re telling me that the reason my brother dislikes me is because when he looks at me, he sees everything that he’s not? Wow.”
The video pixels rearranged as my parents sighed. “He’s going through a lot right now,” my mom said.
“Now I’m rethinking every experience that I’ve shared in front of him. I don’t expect him to be the same as me, and I know you all don’t either. So why have I become some unattainable standard to him rather than his sister?”
“I guess I’m starting to believe that I may have something to say too,” I say as I lean on the counter, waiting for my new license to process.
“I knew that going on this trip would be good for you. Getting to explore New England, studying famous authors, and hanging out with Gary Schmidt!” She throws her hands in the air and a megawatt smile at me. “I’m so jealous of you.”
“I’m really glad you joined Creston CRC. I think it’s going to be a good church community for you,” she said.
I smiled at her through the computer screen. “They seem to be unafraid to talk about the hard things, and they’re super connected to the neighborhood. Maybe I can learn something new about what church can look like.”
“Maybe,” she agreed softly.
2. Mother’s Daughter
You’re a chip off the block!
She would be so proud of you.
I can hear her voice through you.
Way to continue her legacy.
I’m seeing your mom in you.
You really are your mother’s daughter.
“Honestly Mom, I was worried that I was just adding to the noise—another white person who says they are fighting for justice but who really is recentering their own experiences and drowning out Black voices.”
Love, you’re pushing for them to speak up and act out in faith. I’d be right behind you.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of the Creston neighborhood in Grand Rapids. When she isn’t reading Young Adult fiction, she’s playing board games with her housemates, listening to podcasts, scrolling on education Twitter, and preaching the gospel of intentional community to anyone who will listen.