Driving past Essex Intermediary School
How do tiny people do it?
How do they enter a room, a building full of rooms filled with people they don’t know, and speak? And exist? In public?
They’re nervous, maybe even scared, and they do it anyway. Fear isn’t much of a deterrent for tiny people because they have us, the Adults, in their ears and in their corners, assuring them that it’s okay.
That they are okay. Fear is just a feeling and kids know that Adults are bigger than feelings.
We tell them that they have to walk into rooms built of uncertainty and concrete and declare themselves. We tell them that this is how life works and how people become friends, and that you need friends. You need other people because they help you become who you are, and you help them become who they are. You celebrate one another, and you sing one another--for every atom belonging to them, as good, belongs to you ("Song of Myself").
My mind balks at the reality of one person walking up to another person and saying, “Here’s who I am. Who I am wants to know who you are. Do you want to know more?”
The thing I didn’t say as a tiny person, the undercurrent of that conversation-turned-confession pulsing like a live wire was, “Do you think I’m worth it? Do you think I’m worth your time and attention?”
My Depression tells me to be afraid of disappearing, but the truth is that I have never felt like my presence and existence was appropriate or even wanted. I have always felt simultaneously invisible and too visible. Even as a tiny person, I was a gross, messy paradox.
I was too much.
My crooked teeth—the front two jutting out like a pair of milky icebergs, parting my impossibly big lips—were greedy.
My freckles were distinct leopard spots juxtaposed against the lily white backdrop of my pale, dry, wart-ridden skin.
I had clusters and constellations of warts covering my legs, hands, and the bottom of my feet. I don’t remember exactly when they first appeared, but I can feel with absolute certainty the weight of the shame and disgust that accompanied them. They seemed inevitable considering the too-muchness of my physical presence and appearance.
My body was larger than the bodies of my friends and my sister, but it seemed proportionate to my mother’s body. Based on appearance alone, it looked like I belonged to my mother—a woman at war with her body. She devoted years of her life to developing strategies and battle plans. The most efficient means of defeating the enemy--the body in which she carried me , the mirror image of my body--was to deprive it of resources. Fat was the enemy: her body was fat, which rendered my body fat. Therefore, if we were fat, we were also the enemy. I thought she and I could join forces. I thought we were on the same side. But one divided self plus one divided self does not a whole person make.
My hair was unruly. It insisted upon itself, begging for attention the way curls do in the humidity of middle Tennessee. Like all wild and true and free things in the world, it was constitutionally incapable of caring what was expected of it.
We spent so much time, energy, and money on fixing me.
Braces for four years. An appliance for the roof of my mouth. Rubberbands. Retainers. Weight Watchers. SlimFast. Snackwells. Curves. Nutrisystem. The Weigh Station. Step class. Conditioning.
Highlights. Lowlights. A shag haircut. Thinning layers. Bangs. Face-framing layers. More bangs. Conditioning treatments. Curling irons. Curling wands. Straighteners. Hot rollers. Picks. Combs.
AquaNet. Tangles. Tears.
Change. Change. Change.Wrong. Big. Slow. Crooked. Lazy. Unnatural. Big. Huge. Fat. Worthless. Still Wrong.
I believed it.
I was too much of not enough of anything anyone would want. I grew up believing that my physical characteristics comprised my actual being. That was made up of faulty parts. I was a walking, talking Island of Misfit Body Parts. I was too much of everything bad. I was a pack of Starbursts filled with nothing but yellows.
You couldn’t miss me. You couldn’t avert your gaze. I was always there, and I was never present because presence to me was someone acknowledging me. Claiming me. Giving me permission to love myself. I have been asking for permission and begging for forgiveness for who I am.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know that it was possible to be me and be seen and loved.
I’ve been chasing my reflection for 33 years.
When I close my eyes, I see her. She is exactly as she should be, exactly as she has always been.
My daughter texts me as she rides the bus to school. She is having a raging dumpster fire of a week and is relieved that it’s finally Friday. I ask her how she feels about facing this day and making her way through it.
Are you anxious?
Are you scared?
Do you feel alone?
And the tacit-turned explicit question rippling through every syllable:
Do you know that I love you?
Sometimes, but I know I’m not. Not really.
I am not bigger than her feelings, but my words and actions are the foundation of her beliefs.
She will come home to me and belong, just as she is, exactly as she should be.