Maslow’s Hierarchy of Expression

by Christina Ochoa

The Hierarchy of Expression, by Christina Ochoa

First category of expression: Safety

I don’t want to be seen.

I don my oversized sweats like armor, to envelop me in the same way my depression has. They swallow every noticeable form, shape, and contour of my body. I become a clump of cloth, finding safety in the certainty of my anonymity. 

The gray halls of Olin are never-ending, always too full for my comfort. I float through them, a ghost. My earbuds block out the chatter, and my eyes look down to avoid seeing their faces. My world is the yellow tiles and my hoodie. My feet drag across the linoleum floors, only getting heavier as I approach the classroom. 

I signed up for this course. This is a core course for my major. If I don’t enjoy even this I must be a horrible student. A horrible student and a horrible person. A person with no direction or passions. What a sorry excuse for a human being. I’m just a strawman in a hoodie. 

Second category of expression: Presentation

The subway is always an uncomfortable space. There is a silence that wraps itself around me like a protective blanket, accompanied with the gentle rumble of the train on its tracks that feels like a gentle lullaby. I cross my arms and rock with the movements of the subway. 

Everyone is focused on themselves. I know this, but I still feel whenever someone’s eyes pass over me. Especially when it’s a man’s eyes. I am waiting for someone to question my existence. I know they won’t, but I have my earbuds in just in case. 

There’s no reason to feel so afraid. You’re being stupid. Nobody would notice a stupid girl wearing a ratty tee who is just barely presentable

Another stop closer to my destination. People flow in and out of the train. I sit forward in my seat and take a deep inhale as the car starts to decongest with every stop further from the city center. I reach into my pocket and open my phone to avoid eye contact with the other passengers. 

I arrive at my stop and walk out into the station. I look around at the daze of people moving around and hold my phone to my chest. People push past me, knocking me around the platform. I feel as though I am going to drown until I spot my friend in the crowd. 

“Hey!” He calls to me, “You look nice today”

Third category of expression: Exploration

We spent the morning hiking along a steep trail to reach an overlook. I’m out of breath, partly from the view, but mostly from the effort it took to get here. My breath feels jagged and lacking. 

“We should take some pictures while we’re here,” he suggests to me. I oblige. A month ago I would have said no; I probably wouldn’t have agreed to come on the hike at all. I’m grateful for his patience but worry that I’m a burden. 

Worthless. You’re nothing but a negative influence on his life. 

“Whoa, look at the bug on this tree!” He exclaims, causing me to laugh a little. The critter in question is a small beetle, donning a beautiful holographic cobalt shell as his cape. The critter crawls up the trunk of the tree with an admirable determination, carrying a leaf on its back. 

I feel comfortable in my outfit. The temperature allows me to cover up with a nice sweater, but I am no longer hiding. I want him to notice me, and tell me I’m beautiful. It took me a while to get ready this morning, but I like the way it feels to care.

We take some pictures, immortalizing this moment forever. I feel better than I normally do. He knows this but chooses not to address it, careful not to break the streak of laughter and smiles. It’s the first good day after a lot of bad days, but I feel like I have reached a turning point in my journey to reclaim myself. Leaves crunch under my feet, and I feel the sensation as a part of me. I know that my past is close behind me, but I want to stay in the present. I want this moment to last forever before it fades away.

I glance over the overlook, taking in the view of the autumnal trees. Colors in every shade of red, orange, and green. The sunlight accentuating their vibrancy. A light breeze blows through and rustles the branches above us. A couple of orange leaves fall down slowly and add to the growing pile on the floor. 

I am so lucky to be alive. I want to live and experience a full life. I swear to myself I will take any moment I can to reclaim the human experience as my own. 

He pulls me into his arms and kisses me on the top of my head. “You’re the most beautiful person here.” I don’t want him to ever let go.  

Fourth category of expression: Actualization

I’m wearing a red blazer. A bold choice for a job interview. But I want to stand out. I want to be remembered against every other candidate. 

I enter the lobby and see the other applicants sitting and waiting for their turn. I clutch my folder a little tighter and sit among the sea of beige suits and pleated pants. 

You look so dumb right now.

No matter how I look, I am here now and I have to see this through. My best bet is to keep my head held high and smile. I check my makeup again. Nothing’s changed since the last time I touched it up, but that’s not going to stop me from checking five more times before I get called.

I review my materials and pick lint off my skirt. I breathe in and take another glance around the room. It wouldn’t shock me if everyone in here has already pegged me as the stupid girl who only cares about her looks, but I know I deserve to be here. I gather my belongings and walk across the lobby to go to the restroom. Once the door shuts behind me I breathe a sigh of relief. 

The pressure is lifted off my chest, even if just for a moment. I am no longer being watched. I look at myself in the mirror. My blazer clashes against the white walls of the restroom. I breathe in through my nose, and out through my mouth. 

Don’t cry. You made it this far. Don’t cry now you’ll look even more pathetic. 

A toilet flushes and out pops another woman dressed in navy blue. She sees me and asks if I am interviewing as she washes her hands. “You’re going to do great hun! Don’t worry about it!” She chirps as she exits. 

You will never get this job.

Then that means no one will remember me. Good. I give myself a couple of light slaps on the face and go back into the lobby.

The air conditioning makes me shiver. I sit and wait for what feels like an eternity. 

I count the tiles on the floor, I count the chairs in the room, I count my breaths into the air. I rub my palms on my skirt, but I can’t get rid of the clamminess. 

They call my name. I stand up, smile, and begin the walk towards the conference room. The sound from my heels echoes through the room as loud as bullets. I know this is the moment to suck it up and deliver.

The woman opens the door and I step into the room. Four men are looking back at me, eyes unflinching. I’m given the option to go into fight or flight mode, and I choose to fight. 

I flash them a smile. “Hi, nice to meet you all.” 

I shake their hands one by one, and then I proceed to answer their questions. The more I talk, the more I realize I have nothing to fear. I talk about my resume, make jokes, and laugh. I deserve to be here and I know it. I am armed with my red blazer and a confidence I didn’t know I possessed.

The interview ends and I am ushered out of the room. I feel good about the interview, but no matter what the results, I have proven to myself that I am worthy. 

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