That’s me. No filter. No make-up.
I was never the girl who couldn’t wait to wear make-up. Nor had I been one who wanted to shop for trendy clothes and look like all the others. I remember wondering why women wore that stuff and all of the boys and men got to continue being themselves. I was in the 9th grade when I realized how superficial standards would drastically effect my life.
9th grade. Still hopeful. I was only just beginning to feel the weight of what I grew to believe the world expected of me but it hadn’t yet begun to choke the fire and life out of my young soul yet. It was after I grew out my awesome nerd ‘fro that the other kids started to take notice of me in one way or another. Late into middle school I was basically forced into one of those supremely awkward and speechless “relationships” that were common during that age in the mid 90’s.
A “cool chick” I knew who eventually became a pretty righteous homecoming queen suggested my dorky behind be girlfriend to the jock type’s less brawny friend. He was a stellar freckly faced ginger boy, adorable, skinny, and according to the other’s we would be just oh so cute together. Okey doke. The problem was he and I were both as shy as anyone ever had been in the history of time. Ever. In all of the years that man had existed.
We never spoke. NOT ONE TIME from what I recall.
I remember he and his friends called my house once. I basically just let his more extroverted friends speak at me. Occasionally I would interject a one word answer in response but, I still don’t know what my first boyfriend’s voice sounded like.
That relationship dissolved amicably enough. We just stopped being together. I didn’t want a boyfriend anyway to be honest. We never held hands or kissed. There was no physical contact whatsoever outside of the one time we slow danced at school. It seemed to be a huge deal for everyone but the two of us. They even made sure to take a photo of this magical moment in prepubescent awkwardness and put it in the yearbook.
I remember that we were both so sweaty that we could barely hold on to each others hands. That’s right. Hands together, the other hand on the shoulder. I’ve always been a classy broad. I had seen that sh** in the movies and I assumed that was how this was done. I felt gross, we both smelled bad, and it was the quintessential depiction of puberty in all it’s bumbling glory. That was enough romance for me, thank you very much.
The next year things changed even more and with an even greater sense of dis-ease and discomfort.
I’d been an awesome nerd all of my life. Tomboy through and through. I spent my early formative years in the library at least once a day. It was only a few blocks from my house and there was a kick ass park outside of it. My friends and I always sported scraped knees from bicycle accidents and playing “War” in the yard with my walkie talkies. I had a bag full of nail polish but my favorite thing to do with it was to chip it off after it had been applied. I played the clarinet in a marching band, man. I had not been what most would have considered “cool”.
Hitting high school was rough. I was skinny and short in middle school but grew several inches the summer before my sophomore year. I wasn’t waddling around on my size 9 duck feet with a 4 foot frame anymore. Boys who’d never seen me before from the grades ahead of me began to take notice. Soon after the popular type, male and female, began to take notice, as well. I’ll never forget the day when “they” sent one of their henchmen to my locker.
She told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “You know, you could be so cool if you just dropped all of your geeky friends.” Gulp… I’ll never forget those words or the feelings they made me feel. Invisible was comfortable. Being noticed was terrifying.
Her words angered me greatly, though I know it wasn’t her fault. They weren’t really her words, after all. Those “geeks” were my best friends. So I simply stated, “If my friends are geeks I guess that makes me a geek too. ”
My friends were awesome. They still are. Individual, kind, good people. They were all a part of the positive force . I love them dearly. They were, and still are, incredible people. These flawless creatures were being talked down about by girls who were cool because years ago someone decided that they were cool. I honestly don’t know how we all came to that conclusion. I denied their offer and “They” had it in for me after that.
My school was very “cliquey”. Some of the chicks in the cliques were nice enough. Some had been friends of mine when we were small. They were kind, sweet, good people. But, some were insecure, cruel, vain, and vicious. Those b****** and I had words from time to time throughout high school.
Having someone say those words to me got into my head. I wasn’t any different than I had been when I was younger. At least not at that point. I was brainy, wild with my friends and reserved around strangers, kind, always willing to stick up for the underdog. The only thing that had changed was my hair, clothing, and the powder I had started wearing on my face. Suddenly, like some kind of s*** out of the Devil’s Bible, a spell had been cast and pervy old dudes were harassing me left and right.
Sophomore year was f***ing hell. A senior boy liked me. A senior boy who had been dating the same girl for 3 years, nonetheless. He’d pop up in the windows outside of my classrooms to make strange faces at me. He’d leave notes in my locker. He stood outside of the door of his classroom that was on my way to choir every day just so he could say hello. I had been to his house once with friends and he talked my ear off all night, told me that a boy in my grade asked him to put a good word in for him, all while he flirted his ass off and in return only received a shy yes or no answer to his millions of arbitrary questions. He even fooled me into thinking there was a “Hug a Senior Day”. I hugged him, he giggled, I felt stupid.
I worked at a pizza place at the time. He worked there too. I honestly can’t remember who got there first because his employment there was of little importance to me. My best friend worked there and they had no problem hiring a 15 year old. One night he took me on a delivery with him so he could talk to me. He told me he felt he’d led me on, I said nope. I told him we were cool. It didn’t turn out to be so cool though. After he graduated sh** hit the fan. Hell got even hotter.
His girlfriend was a senior now. She. F***ING. Tortured. Me. And the b**** was merciless.
Junior year while working one night she and the entire softball team she was part of, all in the cool kids club, took turns yelling sh** like home-wrecker, slut, and b**** back into the kitchen through the buffet line. I cried because of their cruelty. It didn’t end there. They harassed me at school and sporting events, anywhere I was and anywhere they saw me. They keyed my car. They would park so closely to it that I couldn’t open the doors to get into it unless they moved their vehicles. They spread rumors and smeared things on my locker. Ripped pictures in my locker down and stole from it. They were relentless.
I’m a nice girl, forgiving and empathetic. I knew what she thought had happened so I didn’t retaliate.
In the meantime I decided to take up drinking to numb the pain of all of this bullying and to take a break from thinking about the identity crisis I was trying to find my way through.
Boom. I was immediately great at it. I was praised for the volume of booze I could tolerate. I was a gold medal Olympian in the sport of intoxication. Why not do it as much and as often as I could? It shook the shy right off of me. I could finally corner all of the scary b****es I hated and scream obscenities at them during parties. I never actually remembered doing it but I heard plenty about it at school the next day. Jesus. I quickly lost my sh** altogether.
Shortly after turning 17 I started dating a dude. He was cool and all, but romantic feelings were never really in my nature. I submitted to his persistent requests to date him because he was funny, sweet, and, well, persistent. We broke up every 2 weeks for one reason or another. He’d get me flowers and we’d date again. My favorite thing about him was his patience. He was a good guy. At that point I had never kissed a boy and he was never pushy about it. He continued to treat me like a valuable individual despite the absence of affection. He waited without making me feel pressured. But, while he waited it seems others were plotting. His best friend stole the first kiss. What a jack ass.
One night after work we were all drinking and his buddy decided I needed a shoulder rub. Sure. Why not? Just as long as I can move my arms so I can drink copious amounts of this lime flavored vodka. When I had had enough, I turned around and thanked him. He said, “You owe me more than that.” Mother F*****, I don’t owe you SH**. These words were bouncing around between my ears but before I could open my mouth to say them aloud, he kissed me. On the lips. My very first time.
I ran up the stairs and told my boyfriend what had happened. He punched a hole in the wall. I cried under a table in the dark all night. We didn’t date anymore. Men were too much f***ing work. They were also terrifying beasts with carnal urges I simply wasn’t willing to fulfill. See, all the while those girls were calling me a slut, their boyfriends were calling me a prude. What the f*** was I? Good God, I was confused.
It wasn’t long after that I experienced something that further solidified my idea of men and what they thought my purpose was. I had developed an idea of this as a child. After being molested, bummer, I repressed the memory of the event but all of the concepts and feeling lingered. Men were dangerous. Men were beasts. Men were expecting things of me I wasn’t willing to give. I had high defenses and, to me, men were all the same. Every man I didn’t know well or trust was to be treated as a suspect. A dangerous predator. One got by me, though. He snuck right by security and did some damage on the inside.
I’m going to need to explain something here. I no longer hold any bad feeling for this boy anymore. I am, by NO means, excusing his behavior. But, to be fair I feel I need to disclose that in that time acquaintance rape and date rape were hardly discussed. Even now the laws regarding this matter are being debated and reformed. As it stands in most states now, a person who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol are not considered able to give consent.
I got wasted with a person I thought was my friend one night. I don’t want to smear this man because he is a man now. Not a boy. He is no longer who he was then. But this event deeply impacted my life so I feel the need to speak about it. I remember telling him I wasn’t interested in “fooling around” before we started drinking, but, with each drink he pushed further past my boundaries and when I woke I was no longer a virgin. I don’t remember much about it. Only flashes. And at the time it was pretty common for people to get their date “loosened up” with alcohol. He was just a kid. But so was I. When he denied that it had happened when my friends asked about it, I felt he was ashamed of me, not of what he’d done.
I felt at that point that I was just a conquest, a prize, a trophy on a mantle, a plaque on a wall, something to be looked at and used up. Further and further down I went. “F*** being cute”, I thought. This make-up. These jeans. Nothing but trouble. Who the f*** was I? Am I a slut? Am I a prude? Am I an angry belligerent beast on a crusade for justice like I am after 12 beers or a liter of vodka, or am I a shy and nerdy introvert like I am when I’m sober? What the f*** am I and where do I fit?
Years and years and years of struggling with my identity, my purpose, and my traumas went by. I barely made it out alive. The added torture of recalling bits and pieces of my childhood rape while blacked out felt like a rotten cherry atop a sundae made of vomit and dog sh**.
Based on what I had seen of the world, what most of the folks around were showing me, I had one purpose. To be a toy. To be viewed for pleasure and not heard or referred to with respect. As they say, my insides didn’t match my outsides but every time I dyed my hair brown and wore glasses people called me a poser.
When I started putting that make-up on I started hiding the most valuable parts of me. It was a literal mask I felt left a film no astringent could wash clear. When I put on the make-up my true sense of self was concealed and I allowed it to smother my soul for decades.
There was a discord between what I thought people valued in me and what I actually valued in myself. I had no chance at happiness. No shot at comfort. Inevitably, I had no desire to live.
It took a long time and a hell of a lot of pain, but, at 200 pounds I finally realized that my outsides were only there to protect what lies within. The skin protects the flesh beneath it. The flesh protects the bone. Bone and flesh protect the organs that create and use the fuel that carries my precious soul through this particular plane of existence.
All of it will rot. All of it will change constantly and decay eventually. The only thing that will last for eternity is the spirit I carry inside. I know that for a fact because, as confused as that part of me was for all of those years, it stayed essentially the same. Brave, kind, forgiving, solicitous, empathetic, impetuous, wild, humorous, emotional, hot tempered, sensitive, etcetera.
New behaviors can be learned and bad habits can be broken but I have to be who I am at the core in order to feel a necessary sense of self fulfillment. That is what seems to drive me forward with stability and a sense of safety as I’ve seen all of that that is external waver and flicker in and out of my personal existence.
I have been lucky. I’ve had some incredible friends who are truly angels on Earth. The difference between the one’s who’ve stayed and the one’s that went away was an unconditional appreciation and acceptance of who I REALLY am. Some walked away, with great difficulty, as they were watching me destroy my true self. No one should be forced to watch that. But, when I returned, there they were, waiting for me to return.
People I’ve been desperate to keep around, people I was convinced were good for me destroyed me slowly to bolster their own survival. They fed on me and siphoned my energy. When they were taken away I was made free, one piece at a time so long as I was willing to do the work to reclaim what I’d lost.
Then there were those that I lost but truly needed. With their departure they left me great gifts. In the wake of their loss I learned I was more than I had previously thought. I inherited parts of their spirit that I now honor by allowing it to live inside of me and in my actions, words, and mindset.
The great lie I once lived has been proven false by circumstance, experience, and triumph over cruel turns of fate. I have realized I need to maintain my sense of self. I fought for it. I’m keeping it. I will nurture it. It would be selfish of me not to. Harming myself to suit the needs of others will do no one any good. If they truly need me and I’m not truly me I am lying to them and dying inside. No one can benefit from such an arrangement.
I knew who I was and then, I forgot. 32 years old and I’m back. I’m finally able to be a real benefit to those I encounter, confidently aware of my assets, humbly recognizing my weaknesses, and, most importantly, unafraid to let everyone see it all in it’s entirety without the illusion of that worn out old mask. Ready, willing, able, and unafraid to let some go or let some in because, within myself, my spirit is whole enough again to live without the ones I lose and strong enough to stand tall in the presence of any other.
All I need, I find within myself.