This is what I wish I knew at 15
June 2nd. 2008
10 years ago, something happened that changed the course of my life in a profound, twisted way.
It's still a memory I come back to once, every single year.
It was June 2nd and I was just turning 15.
My dad considered this the age of a big shift: from girl, to woman.
He told himself it was special and that, I had now entered the second stage of life as a woman. To give me a sense of what he was feeling inside, which was probably a combination of pride and pain, he looked for the perfect present. He felt pride for seeing me mature, but pain for having to loose me as his protégé and become more of an independent human being. It's always a bitter sweet process for any parent, but my relationship with my dad had always been hard on both of us. We had never, really talked enough, all though I knew he loved me more than anything.
I don't know how long it took him, but he found what he was looking for. A gift precious enough to illustrate what my growth had meant to him.
I was in my tiny, square room listening to music and waiting for birthday texts to show up on the grey screen of my old phone. The walls were an intense bubble pink, that I chose as a little girl and later covered with a stack of about twenty two posters I ripped out of magazines. My favorite bands would see me going to sleep and waking up, every single day.
My dad formally knocked on the door and came in, glowing. I was surprised to see him popping his hand out immediately with a tiny jewellery box, wrapped in blue velvet. In it's elegance, it looked rather off in a room that literally embodied a teenage drama queen.
I was confused, but I reached out and grabbed my gift with a blank face, not knowing what to expect. My dad had never done this before. His eyes were following my reaction, but it wasn't there to be found.
I opened the small box and inside, there were two, small earring, that looked like little, shiny butterflies. Each wing had two clear stones and a smaller, black one in the middle.
They were kinda nice, I thought, but they were not at all my style. I was dreaming of getting a few punk pierces done on the top of my ears and butterflies were really not what I was going for. These two jewels looked too simple for my tastes. Too small, too unnoticeable.
All of that was going on inside my mind, while I stared at the butterflies.
The other kids at school would never appreciate something like that, I thought. The boy I liked wouldn't fall for my earrings, but he'd definitely fall for a sexy pair of ripped jeans, I figured.
My mind was rushing, looking for what all of this meant. To me, it didn't mean too much at all.
While I was trying to figure out where to stash the gift, I just decided I'd never wear, my dad was heartbroken. Literally.
I later found out those little crystals on the wings of the butterflies were real diamonds.
They costed my dad a fortune.
A small fortune, but a huge deal for my dad, who didn't really earn too much as I was growing up. I can still remember my parents struggle and check all the price tags, all the time.
I can still remember asking for a new backpack, for school, and see my parents cringing for not being able to afford it. I eventually got used to not asking at all.
When I found out that my earrings had been so expensive, I exploded.
I cried. Not because I didn't like them, not because my dad was deeply disappointed, but because there were so many other things I'd have wished to have owned, but never did. If I ever had been able to have that amount of money, I would have been able to forget about all the envy I felt going to the high-school I went.
At that time, Cluj had no shopping malls yet and I really wasn't all that interested in fashion in the broad sense, but I was very much preoccupied with fitting in. All the cool kids in school had the last seasons jeans from Kenvelo and wore T-shirts with catchy quotes or the brands tag. And I didn't.
My parents had only afforded to take me shopping there once and I wore the very same pair of jeans for about 3 years. I was ashamed I didn't have a new pair to replace them, but I only wanted that particular brand. The peer pressure was massive and I had always felt it.
I tried to explain all of this to my dad, who was barley even talking to me at that point. We were in his car, he was taking me to school. Back then, he was driving an old, rusty Dacia.
I started weeping before I could even start talking. I knew he was upset, but why didn't he see how upset I was? What was I supposed to do with diamond earrings anyway?
I told him the truth of what I was thinking.
I told him I would rather have had a new pair of jeans from Kenvelo, than those dorky butterflies.
I was so honest, so upset, it pierced right through him.
Then and there, he made a strong connection in his mind: his gifts make me unhappy.
He then decided to never make me unhappy again and to avoid his own pain..
It's been 10 years and my dad had never given me a birthday gift since.
This year I'll be 25.
Most birthdays, he would ask me if I wanted money, in order to buy myself whatever made me happy, but, in a whole decade, no gift I bought myself had ever made me feel like it was truly something from him.
Something that meant something, anything.
It's a sad story, I know, and I still live the reality of it.
When I was a teen, what I wanted most in life was to fit in, to be part of that group, that community. I wanted other kids to want to be my friends, just like I had wanted to be theirs.
I thought that dressing like they do, would make them like me more. And you know what? It did. I don't know if it were the clothes, or the confidence the clothes gave me, but in my tiny mind, it was all connected.
I started going shopping to Kenvelo more often. My dad would support me and I would feel more appropriate, because I knew I was doing what everyone else was.
Today, all of this makes me cringe so badly it hurts my face, but I can't escape the fact that this is a primary human need and that every single one of us, has a desperate desire to be accepted.
I truly believe it's hard for people to appreciate their uniqueness, if they don't already have a great degree of resemblance. You only want to be different if you're already the same. If you're different, you probably want the opposite.
Nobody wants to be weird, but we all want to be special. Nobody wants to be an outcast, but we all want to be a little bit better than our community.
It's the truth, just a plain, human truth. But it leaves marks.
Today, I'd give anything for my dad to show up on my doorstep, glowing like that again.
You see, my dad was only wrong with one thing: He was too early.
I just couldn't understand it back then. I didn't even want to.
He was appreciating me from his stand point, from his world understanding, that was so much greater than mine. But should he have tried to crawl in my tiny shoes and see what I was seeing? Trying to listen to my needs? To my problems? What do you think?
Most of the years after that event, I thought it was his fault for not getting it. For refusing to listen.
Now, I think I was wrong all along. I think I should have known better.
But how could I have known? If nobody taught me? If nobody showed me?
The interesting thing was, that, I eventually did get what I wanted. I ended up being the most popular girl in school. Now, I even ended up getting an email from Kenvelo, my earliest brand addiction, in the mail, asking me to honour them. If I'd known this when I was 15 years old, I'd be absolutely starstruck. But does it make a difference? Not really.
I think, what I want to tell you, is that everything has it's own time and place.
My dad was too early, I was too late, but in time, things started falling together.
If that event had never happened, my dad would never have understood he needed to take my angle, to understand my life and I would probably never had learned to appreciate him or a real gift, with a honest intention. I would never have gotten the confidence I needed to push through peer group and start having success as a semi-public person. I would never have wrote this post.
Would I have had a better relationship with my father? I don't know.
I don't regret a thing, because I know it wasn't something I could have changed. But, I know this is something I can control now.
I now have so much more appreciation of what things mean, not for myself, but for the people around. I know that clothing is a language, a dialect of belonging and that it's important. But I also know that other things, are even more. I know that, in order to understand a person, you must see the world the way they do, otherwise, you won't be able to truly grasp it, or them.
So, here I am, taking pictures for my childhoods heroes and feeling great pride and great pain..
The clothes are very much as I remember them, with a particular smell, a particular coolness to them. They're also casually feminine and very much about jeans. Denim has always been their flesh and bones.
I'm thrilled about this collaboration because of what it means to me, in a very different, symbolic way. It would have meant the world for my 15 year old self and I'm glad to have been able to make her happy this way.
What about the butterflies? you may wonder.
Well, I still have them, ten years later.
I still never wore them. They always remind me of so much emotional conflict, that I never dared.
But.. I promised myself I'd put them on, on my wedding day, and not say a word. I like to imagine my dad noticing them while taking me down the aisle and having him shed a tear of joy for finally being appreciated for his complicated, yet pure love.
Kenvelo shirt and jeans.