I'm a tomato and the problem is, everyone else is an onion. I discovered this from watching the grown-ups when I was young. Whenever we went out to restaurants or the movies, I would notice things about their behavior. They were so different, yet oddly enough, they all seemed to act the same way. Adults were onions, protected by a layer of skin so that no one could see who they really were. And I was a tomato, as fragile and new to the world as could be. The slightest touch left an imprint on my mind, whether it was an insinuation or an insult. And I started thinking about it.
We're all born tomatoes. By age eleven, the change to onionhood is already underway. The whole process is very subtle, and it is seldom thought about afterwards. It begins with authority figures, any of the major influences in a child's life: parents, friends, school, and television. In order to feel accepted by these figures, children have to adapt to certain rules. Girls learn to be thin. Guys learn to impress girls. Everyone learns to get the right answer at school. And if they fail to meet any of these criteria, they get embarrassed. This is the "red onion" phase, halfway between tomatohood and onionhood.
Soon enough, kids begin inventing ways to escape criticism. The girl can choose not to eat or she can pretend that she doesn't care. The guy can choose to imitate someone famous or he can pretend that he hates girls. The kids who usually get the right answers at school find ways to seem like they always get the right answers; and the kids who rarely get the right answers find ways to show that they don't care. This is the skin of the onion developing. And by the beginning of high school, the mature onion has formed. With time, its skin grows thicker. Some onions even realize that they are onions, but are hesitant to peel for fear of losing their safety.
Occasionally I'll catch myself onionizing, especially if something really bothers me. In my freshman year of high school, I was scared that I wouldn't make any friends so I convinced myself that I was the loner type. For months I refused to meet anybody because I had already decided that we wouldn't get along. It felt awful to finally confront my fear. But I didn't avoid doing it. I knew it was going to leave a bruise on me, and that was fine because it was better than covering up my problem. And once I opened up, I had an easier time meeting people than I would have ever imagined. That's the way tomatoes are. We never try to hide who we are or how we think.
College, where one learns to question the status quo, seems like it would be the perfect place for a tomato. Yet I also recognize that the coming time will be a challenge. I will be confronting new ideas, new situations, and new fears, and will have to assimilate these experiences without changing the fabric of my mind. I will have to keep my vision of the world fresh and open, and not succumb to the hardening of established ideas, or onionizing, that I see occurring around me all the time.
In the end, it is possible that tomatoes and onions do have something in common: a comfort in the usual way of doing things, a resistance towards change. These next four years will be a shock for me, as I explore new intellectual realms and my mind continues to mature. And although I will never stop being a tomato, I hope that college will at least help me to ripen a bit.