I painted a red accent wall in my teenage bedroom.
When my family moved during my Junior year of high school, everything in my world shifted. All of my old friends forgot me while making new connections posed a challenge.
At the same time, I felt like I was losing my identity.
My parents pushed me into athletics — mainly because the area offered few social activities. I had zero interest in it but, jogged along with the other soccer girls and kept score during basketball season. It took me some time to find my place and be a sport person. (Someone who socialized with the team and did my level-best not to ride the bench).
At the same time, I was rejected from my favorite activities. The art teacher disliked me in the way that is hard for teenagers to understand. He told me I had no talent — no inspiration. Yet, he inexplicably gave a perfect grade to someone who painted over a Xerox of The Cure’s album cover.
It felt like whiplash. My old art teacher praised my work. The new one told me it was crap.
Similarly, I only got tiny parts in the school drama and public speaking events — even though I excelled at these previously.
My best academic topics were gate-kept by teachers who had an insular mindset about students putting in their time.
And I asked my parents if I could paint my room red.
I wanted to feel invigorated and reinforced. Red contrasted that crushing pressure to blend in and keep my head down — pay my dues.
As I made friends who came to my house, they remembered my red wall. It was somehow part of my identity. I had all this vintage, white furniture, my original watercolors pinned all over, retro books, and that red wall.
Red made me feel safe, and alive, and more like me.
In turn, I decided to make whatever art I wanted. I left that art class and just studied on my own. I did exercises from library books and refined my technique.
I gave up auditioning at school and instead wrote my own abridged Shakespearean radio drama. It won first place at a local competition — performed by my friends and classmates. (I had to beg the administration to let me enter under the school’s name.)
When I found out I couldn’t qualify for Valedictorian, regardless of my academic performance — I applied for every single outside scholarship I could find (which is saying a lot in a dial-up internet world). The principal would call me to his office to ask why someone wanted to come present me with a scholarship — again.
Red became the tone of my resilience. Red symbolized my resistance to fading into the norms of a new environment. Red kept me from losing myself.
To this day, red is not my favorite color. I never wear it. I’ve never painted another room red. I rarely use it in designs. Red was just a moment for me — a way to become visible.