As many of you have noticed I have been away for awhile. Aside from a few book reviews, I haven’t had much to say lately. The reason is because I wasn’t sure what to say. Some of my readers are friends who have some understanding as to what has been going on in my personal life while others are strangers who found me through the Internet and know nothing about me. Aside from my husband and a couple of close family members no one really knows the “whole story” so to speak. I have decided that it is time to tell it. Not that I think many of you are terribly interested but because I find it healing to write it out and because it will explain the very new and different direction in which this blog will be going.
The most important thing about making any art; music, painting and even writing is one simple rule: be honest. This isn’t always easy because most people aren’t even able to be honest with themselves. Also, it can be uncomfortable because people are very judgmental and feel that they have some inalienable right to give you their two cents on your life. Well, after 33 years I have finally come to one vitality important truth; screw them.
So in honor of that new attitude here it is, my truth:
I will basically be telling the story of my life (obviously only up to this point) so don’t expect it all in one post. I will be spreading it out over a few. I promise to try to include only what has lead me to the person that I am today. But there is a lot to say. I hope to have it done in a week or so which will make for a few long posts. I apologize for that but I want to get it out there and then move on. If you already feel you don’t want to invest the time, I respect that, but consider for a moment that it is very possible you will find some of your own truth spelled out here in my story. It is incredible how we find similarities in our lives regardless of the often very different circumstances. Just a thought, take it or leave it.
Well, I started off as a poor black child… (First The Jerk reference down). No, seriously I was born to two seemingly average Christian hippies in 1978.
They eloped when my mom discovered she was pregnant with my brother, Sean. He and I are so much alike in many ways but still at times seem to be worlds apart.
Neither of my parents finished college and both had pretty crappy jobs. My mom was a nurse aid in a nursing home working nights and my dad worked for a build-board company. My dad had Crohn’s Disease (which I now have as well). Money was always very tight for a number of reasons. First, their jobs didn’t pay well. Second, my dad’s constant illness was expensive and took a lot of time from work. Third, my parents were determined to give my brother and myself the best possible education and insisted on living in the very expensive Jackson Township for the privilege. As a child I didn’t notice anything about money and I didn’t realize that we had any less than anyone else until I was in middle school.
At some point in my young life (I don’t recall when for certain but I was in grade school) my parents decided that they would like to foster children. If you don’t know what this is it is when a child has been removed from their parents for what is meant to be a temporary time. These kids were often abused and/or neglected. In other words, screwed up. I know that sounds mean but it isn’t a judgment it is just the facts of being a child in a bad situation, it will screw you up to no fault of your own. Anyway, some of these kids were now going to be coming to live with me and my family. I don’t mean to gloss over what would seem like to most people to be a major point in my life but honestly it just wasn’t. We had kids come and go for about 5 years, I guess. But I was very young, our last foster kid moved out when I was in 6th grade, so I was pretty resilient through the whole thing. I never felt my parents’ time or affection was being taken from me, none of the kids were terribly misbehaved and in fact most were about my age and just grateful to have a safe stable place. I know this should seem like more of a big deal but it really wasn’t for me. I had a few built in friends and if spending time with us gave them any amount of happiness than that is great. I can’t say that it had absolutely no consequence in my life but not as major a one as some might assume. Either way, it took place over a decent part of my childhood so I wanted to mention it.
Now, as a child, I was not at all your typical little girl. I never played with dolls. I didn’t like make-up or dressing up. I wanted to be on my bike with the wind in my hair or climbing a tree and making forts. Up until 6th grade my life was pretty carefree (as I am sure is the case with most people). But there are a couple of events that happened before that time which had a big impact on me as a person.
First, in the middle of second grade we moved within the same school district but to a different elementary school. I was at Lake Cable and moved to Amherst. I was nervous about a new school with no friends. But my dad golfed with a guy named Keith who had a daughter, Regan who went to my new school. I had never met her but they arranged for me to be in her class and she was instructed to watch out for me. Since we would actually only be living a couple of streets away she was responsible for getting me on and off the right bus for the first week or so. I never got lost so she must have done a great job. I know it seems like I should be saying that we became the best of friends but that isn’t what happened. I always liked her and she was a nice person but we were never in the same social circle. She took care of me throughout the rest of second grade but that was about it.
I don’t remember very many distinct details from my childhood but a few things do stick out. My mom and I spent the morning in the principal’s office my first day so I ended up actually arriving in my new classroom while everyone else was at lunch. The teacher let me in the room and showed me my seat (next to Regan) and for whatever reason left me alone in the room. It was around Christmastime and I still clearly remember seeing that every desk around me had one of those clothes pin reindeer drying on their desk. Everyone but me. I also saw that every desk had a little tent shaped name tag that they had personalized. Mine was just “Lisa” in black. I sat there looking around at everything that symbolized that one of these things was not like the others (me). As a kid all I wanted was to be like everyone else. I didn’t want to stand out in anyway and everything in this room seemed to be big electric signs pointing to me “new girl!” As all the kids came running back in the room from lunch and settled in to their seats a few started to notice me sitting there silently. I began to feel like a two headed freak the way they stared. No one came near, not one person introduced themselves or wanted to do anything other than stare. Now as an adult I am sure it was because they were as unsure of me as I was of them but at the time it was unnerving. The teacher, thankfully, returned and introduced me to the class who all fained a welcome “hello” in unison. The whole thing was unbearable and I wanted to crawl under my desk until it was time to go home. Then, there was a loud knock on the classroom door. As the teacher went to see about it the class felt safe to continue the gawking at me. I was trying to will myself to turn invisible when suddenly I heard the teacher behind me say, “Well, isn’t this nice.” As he placed what I remember as being a HUGE floral arrangement on my desk. The first thing I noticed about it was the teddy bear. I just sat there stunned. The teacher could see that I was at a loss. I had never received flowers before and didn’t know even for sure if they were really for just me. So, he kindly reached down and pointed to the card gently explaining. “Someone thinks you’re special. Go ahead and read the card.” I realized he was saying that these were a gift for me. My mind raced trying to make sense of it. At first, I thought it was something the school did for new students. I was shocked to read a lovely little message hand written by my dad. I was so grateful to have a moment to focus on something other than all those sets of staring eyes. Suddenly, I became very aware that all this was doing was drawing more attention to me. I smiled at my teacher and looked at the basket taking up my whole desk with no idea what to do with it. I think he understood. He sweetly took the bear out, handed it to me and announced, “Why don’t we put the rest of this right over here out of the way.” I had a death grip on that bear the rest of the day. The best part was, since I didn’t read the card out loud to the whole class everyone’s curiosity got the best of them and by the end of the day almost every person in that class came up to me and asked who sent the flowers and what they were for. I don’t know if it was my dad’s intention but it made for a great ice breaker.
Second, I was a very self-conscious kid. I don’t know if it came across as shy per se but I didn’t like to be the center of attention. The main reason for this was quite frankly my mother. She was constantly on me for as far back as I can remember about my weight. She had me convinced that I was fat.
Looking back at pictures of my self from my childhood (a few I have posted) I have no idea where she could have possibly gotten this idea. The fact is, my mom was tiny, absolutely tiny as a teenager but after having two kids (understandably) she gained some weight.
I truly believe that she was projecting her insecurities about her weight on to me. I was too young to understand that or to even know if she was right, if she said it was so than I thought that it must have been the truth. This issue would haunt me for the rest of my life.
So, in 4th grade I had a teacher who liked to have the students read out loud from the text book in class. He would randomly call on a student to start reading then out of the blue call on the next to continue. I hated this. I hated being put in front of everyone like that. This insecurity manifested itself in a complete and utter loss for my ability to read out loud. I stumbled, stared at the page voiceless and often pretended I didn’t know how to read the words in front of me. The ability to read it wasn’t really an issue it was the reading out loud and taking the risk that everyone was looking at me and my (supposedly) fat ass. Eventually, the adults all took notice of my apparent inability to read, a meeting was called, it became a big issue. So to determine just how illiterate I was they decided to test my reading comprehension to see at what level I was and how to progress from there. When the test came back saying I could read at an 8th grade level they were positively stymied. Of course, no one thought to just ask me why it was that a fumbled around with reading so much in class but was reading at twice my grade level, that would be too easy. Instead, somehow, which is beyond me, they came to the conclusion that I was obviously enamored with my teacher. My 4th grade self was so in love with my 40 something, not terribly attractive teacher that I lost the ability to read out loud. Talk about adding insult to injury. I felt like a Salem witch, the more I denied it the more certain they all were of it being true. That was the first time in my life I felt that I couldn’t find a way to have myself heard. Everyone was so sure that they had me figured out and nothing I said would change what they knew to be true about me. Of course, the real issue was never realized or addressed. Finding my own voice and speaking up when I know something is wrong has been something I have struggled with all of my life since then. There have been periods of my life when it was impossible to do so but there have also been times when it came easily but that isn’t until later in the story.
You will see this issue of my weight come up again and again. When I get to my high school years and my struggle with anorexia you will not be surprised. So, I am going to tell you now the most formative moment of my life. It happened when I was in about 7th or 8th grade. My parents had a group of friends with whom they (and I) spent most of their time. One couple had a pool and gave pool parties from time to time. It was not uncommon for The Group to have certain activities or nights set aside as an adults only thing. So, I didn’t think anything of it when my mom told me that there was going to be a no kids pool party with The Group. I was a natural born fish and loved to swim so I was a little disappointed but didn’t really think too much of it until…
A few weeks or months (not sure) later to prove her point about how fat I was my mom pulled me into her bedroom and sat me down on her bed for one of her talks. She told me that the party was not in fact for the adults only. She made that up because she was too embarrassed to have me in front of her friends in a bathing suit. That conversation has never left my mind. For many years it was the driving reason for my self hatred and shame. It popped into my head for years any time I even thought about food. Those words beat me up again and again for the majority of my life. It took a lot of convincing to even decide to include that scene in this writing. However, I made it clear from the beginning that this was going to me full on no editing and I can not leave out the most influential moment of my life. I did not add it because I want to trash my mom either. I am simply relaying the facts of my life and the effect all these moments have had on me and in some cases still do have on me. This particular moment no longer has the power over me that it once did. It doesn’t beat me up any more, it doesn’t make me feel bad about myself or say anything to me about who I am or was. Eventually, it got to the point that it simply made me very angry but it doesn’t even do that any more. Now it is nothing more than sad a memory.
(More to come tomorrow.)