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Am I a ginger?

| Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I’m having an identity crisis.

Recently, I was forced to confront an aspect of my identity that isn’t often on my mind but has subtly haunted me, looming over my head ever since I was a child who’d become aware of pop culture.

Last week, I was talking to my girlfriend when I was informed that one of her friends — we’ll call her Ruth — refers to me as “the ginger from New York.” Excuse me? I was taken aback, frightened by the harrowing notion that others label me a member of such a class. I broke out in a sweat the likes of which I’ve never experienced. My palms were drenched. If someone were to attempt a handshake their fingers wouldn’t find a grip; they’d slip right off. My heart was pounding ferociously, my legs trembled. After one final breath, everything went black. I fainted. But after 10 minutes of darkness I awoke from my slumber just in time to stop my girlfriend from dialing 911. I stood up, and as I collected myself I thought, could it be? Was Ruth right? Is it possible that I, Connor Mulvena, am … a ginger?   

I have red hair. This I know. I’ve known it my whole life. But it’s certainly a unique shade of red, tinted ever so slightly by a shade of hazel one might only recognize if the sun’s rays tickle my head at just the right angle on a warm South Bend afternoon. One might even go so far as to label my hair a puzzling shade of “auburn.” But I’m not that high maintenance. I know I’m a redhead. Although I’d simply be lying if I told you heart doesn’t skip a beat when someone acknowledges the nuance of my shade of red.

I may not think about the possibility of being a ginger very much, but really it’s surrounded my every move, every thought, all along. Life on the fringe of gingerness is not an easy one. I’m not one to complain or make excuses, but the struggles I experience in this life are profound. I’m not so sure anyone could relate. It’d be far easier to deal with my identity if I weren’t on the fringe. I could go on even if I knew for sure I was a ginger. But instead I live hopelessly on the brink, entrenched in auburn uncertainty, seeking answers but never finding peace. My recent experience, thanks to Ruth, made me realize how present this question has really been in my life.

Even to my sophomore high school English teacher I was an enigma. One day, upon entering the grey windowless classroom, Mr. Lopez said, “I can’t get a read on you, Mulvena. Your hair is red, but it seems to get more brown when it grows out. I always thought you were a ginger, but maybe you’re just a daywalker.” Daywalker? My goodness, I’d never heard of such a term. Was it worse than ginger? Better? Different altogether? You can imagine the hit my identity took at that point.

I had no response to Mr. Lopez, a man I had previously revered. I simply looked down at my desk while my peers erupted in a laughter I can still hear to this day. Behind my downward eyes were years of pain, shame and embarrassment. In that moment, time stopped. I was thrust back into my elementary years. I remembered walking into my school’s building in the morning while the jocks and the in-crowd shouted “there goes the ginger” from the hilltops. Sometimes parents would even join in on the fun, yelling “Good morning, ginger boy!” followed by chuckles over their morning coffee. Others were simply concerned, telling their children to stay away from me. I remembered sitting against the wall in the schoolyard, yearning for a chance to play in the pick-up basketball game. But deep down, I knew I couldn’t play. I was a ginger.

In high school, much of this cruel hostility stopped, and “ginger” no longer plagued my existence. That is, until Mr. Lopez uttered those words on that frightful, grey day. And similarly, I’ve eluded the ginger label in college as well. That is, until I was informed of Ruth’s comments. I was forced to relive all of this last week. And now, I find myself back in the midst of an identity crisis which, whether I want to acknowledge or not, has tormented me forever.

My current thoughts are just as troubling. What even is a ginger? Is it only the hair? Do freckles play a role? I suppose I have some freckles, but how many freckles constitute a ginger? Do non-gingers see some sort of label on me that I can’t see? Does being a ginger give me any sort of power, metaphysical or otherwise?

I thought writing this column would help. After all, writing does have a therapeutic quality. I’ve even thought of penning a novel. But I know that would be torture, addressing my past for so long. I’m afraid if I poured my soul out onto those pages, I wouldn’t make out the other end alive. But much to my chagrin, this column has gotten me nowhere. I sit here no different than I was when I started an hour ago. I’m just as troubled, just as confused. I’m afraid I may never come to grips with who I am.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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