When I was a child I detested math class, but I enjoyed geometry. I suspected that art had somehow snuck into a subject that had none of the flexibility and imagination of other more fun subjects, and no one had noticed. Sure, there were still numbers and equations, but there was drawing, and some light shading, maybe even some coloring.
Of all the shapes we learned, I found myself mostly attracted to trapezoids. Something about triangles, squares, hexagons, and other quadrilaterals seemed so uniform, off-putting, and stern. Trapezoids, however, with their unequal sides, were friendly and unjudging. I knew, in my overly imaginative brain that couldn’t help but give personalities and feelings to everything, that if a trapezoid were a person, they would be chill and welcoming.
Trapezoids were familiar. They were a reflection of how I saw myself–an uneven, slightly lopsided shape tossed into a group of figures that all seemed to fit together. Trapezoids weren’t the only inanimate thing I saw myself in. There were also odd numbers and mismatching socks; cozy, old, worn-out pajamas with holes in them; an old, battered teddy bear with a button for an eye.
Still, a voice inside me would always whisper that I was insane. This was not the way a normal person should think or feel. I was so different from everyone else surely something must be wrong with me. It was already so hard to fit in as a Latin American immigrant child who pronounced her THs as Ds, who ate arepas for breakfast instead of pancakes, whose parents blasted cumbias loudly instead of whatever was currently on the weekly top 40s.
It didn’t stop there. My hair was bushy and unruly. My legs and arms too hairy. I had a gap in my two front teeth. Boys never noticed me, and when they did it was only to point out that I was gross. I hated gym class and recess games that involved running and screaming. I also wasn’t a genius in math or science. I was that weird kid who sat quietly at the back of the class, who read and actually enjoyed the books assigned to us, who doodled on every spare piece of paper that came her way. I sang to myself, talked too much about stories and fantasy, and the only games I liked to play were make-believe.
Even my father could tell something was wrong with me. His frustration with me and my odd ways was the best confirmation I could ask for. What a disappointment it must be, to bring home a child and find out that she is faulty and you have no return guarantee.
I was an aberration. I was certain the universe had short-circuited the day I was born, and I was the glitch in the system, the cigarette burn mark on the rug, the scratch on the otherwise crystal clear glass, a trapezoid among equilaterals.
I told myself it was squares that I was supposed to aspire to. I was jealous of their perfection, the aesthetic they visually created, so pleasing and satisfying to the eyes. I’d try so hard to bend my lines to fit what I considered to be the norm. But if you break apart the lines of a trapezoid and straighten them out you end up with gaps and a mess on all sides. That last metaphor needs very little further explanation.
It would take me at least twenty more years and a lot of therapy to begin to understand that even an odd-shaped trapezoid has its place in a geometry class. It doesn’t show up in our math books simply as a courtesy by mathematicians. Because even scientists and mathematicians understand that science and math aren’t a perfect art. That if it were, there would be nothing fascinating about chasing the next great mystery or solving the next great puzzle.
It took me too long to understand that that teddy bear with a button for an eye serves a purpose to an inconsolable child who considers it his best friend; it fills up the lonely dorm room of a college student with a little piece of home.
A cozy, worn out, holey pajama that a beloved someone gifted us years ago is that soothing hug we need before we close our eyes at night. They’re the memory of pizza and Harry Potter marathons wrapped tight around us before we drift into a most vulnerable sleep.
Mismatching socks are a secret we carry to stuffy corporate meetings where everyone dresses in muted shades and speaks in practiced tones. They remind us of who we really are inside. They remind us that we have a home to run to at the end of the day where we’re free to be children again and play.
It’s that horse you try to paint that ends up looking more like an unfortunate pig. It’s the laughter between friends as the wine flows and you try to give that horse-pig a name. It’s that friend taking your painting home to hang on their wall not because it’s a masterpiece, but because the memory of that night is.
It’s in imperfection that the true beauty of the world lies. It’s in frizzy hair like the roots of thoughts trying to reach up and touch the sky. It’s the cultural insight we get when an R is rolled when trying to pronounce “car.” It’s the missed beat of a drum that spurs the inspiration for a fresh new melody. It’s a rogue fart in the middle of a hard laugh that reminds us we’re all just human after all.
Imperfection is freedom. We aren’t robots meant to sound, look, and act in the exact same way. Still, we try so hard. Imperfection leads us to the path of our own uniqueness. It’s in owning and embracing those imperfections, our own personal lopsided angles when we find out who we really are and what our calling is.
The universe and all creation is in itself a fluke, an oddity, where even celestial bodies break patterns and expectations. Every single star shines at its own frequency. We are all made of that same star matter, so why not give imperfection a try?