My story is still incomplete. A work in progress, if you will…but it is comprised of many, many moments that make me…well, me. The days of my youth were spent trying to figure out who the “me” was. I honestly, truly believe – without a doubt – that I only just started to know the answers.
When I look back I remember deep orange shag carpet in the living room, replaced years later by pale blue. When we arrived home from school, there would be lines in the carpet from the vacuum. Today, I firmly believe that my mom would sit around ALL day long and just vacuum right before we walked in so that it looked like she’d done something while we were gone. I remember a white Easter dress with a yellow blazer, a hand me down from my cousin Amanda, whom I didn’t really know until we were much older and we found out how much alike we are. That dress came with a bright yellow hat and when I wore the outfit, I thought I was a star.
I remember sitting in the “waiting” room at Betty Tillotson’s school of dance while we watched my big sister’s dance class. I wanted nothing more than to strap on her tap shoes and run out there…I bet I was no more than three. Later, I danced until my knees ached and my toes bled and it is the best memory I have of feeling driven toward something bigger than myself. I remember walking to the Masterman’s house two blocks away from my own, where you could create “experiments” with the lotions in the bathroom and where no one worried about messing up the lines in the carpet. They had a cat named Nike and later, the biggest black cat I’d ever seen, aptly named Inky. I always secretly wondered if Lucy Masterman was my real mom, as she was SO much cooler than my own. Maybe I just wished it.
I remember making myself sick with anxiety about who might like me – at school, at church, in our neighborhood. I wish I could tell my 12-year-old self to straighten my shit up and realize how cool I was without even knowing it. Or maybe I wasn’t cool, I still don’t know. In high school, I learned about race by falling hard for the one kid who wasn’t sure he could be with a white girl. In retrospect, it was for the better, but I learned a lot about myself and even more about how people relate to one another from that experience. I remember thinking that my entire world would collapse when Justin Peck told me he didn’t want to go out anymore. Which is pretty funny now, considering we never actually went anywhere. That angst is still so palpable I can nearly reach out and touch it. I remember riding in the backseat of my parent’s car to Woodstock, Illinois to visit my grandparents and listening to The Cure’s Japanese Whispers album the entire nine hours. That album will always bring me back to plaid shorts from the thrift store, white t-shirts and old Chuck Taylors.
My story includes two early 1980s Chevy Chevettes. One blue, one turd bucket brown…each more embarrassing than the next to my 16-year-old ego. What I couldn’t see back then was how lucky I was to have a car at ALL. I remember the feeling of freedom that came with driving. And I can recall sitting in the driveway of our home with my sister after she had driven us home from school one spring day. We knew my mother was lying to all of us, but that was the day we started investigating. And when a mother tells such a deliberate lie to her children – much less to her husband – it is then that a relationship must change forever. That part of my story led to a relationship with my smart and funny and amazing sister that I might not have had otherwise. A relationship that I treasure and hold close to me in the deepest part of my heart.
My story includes boy after boy whom I tried to change. Time and again I would sacrifice myself to please someone else, or just to keep the peace. My story includes a lot of other stories that I won’t repeat – things I am not proud of but that I would not change, as they are things that shape who I have become. The one who told me I was fat and stupid, who left my self esteem so completely broken that I was merely a shadow of who I was before I met him. The one who was good to me but just didn’t know how to love me without a mountain of drama to accompany that love. I learned that the only person who could change the way that story would go was myself – and it took me far too long to figure that out.
My story is about a boy, the best one ever, the one who finally just let me be me. Who still patiently lets me figure out who “me” is and never, ever asks me to pretend I’m someone different. The boy who makes me laugh every single day, the one I can’t wait to grow old with. My story is about two amazing, smart, beautiful and funny little girls who make me want to be a better person. My story is important because I can and I will teach my girls all the things I didn’t get from my own mother, things that I needed to hear (and might still need to hear) and the lessons that I couldn’t learn from her. I try to remember that the one lesson she did teach me many years ago does not ever have to shape who I am today. My story is realizing that I am not so different from my kind and gentle father, that we share a passion for words and language and a knack for avoiding conflict. All those years I spent fighting to be someone different, running from what I thought was so wrong, only to find that those are the very qualities that define me.