We celebrated my niece Kaitlin and her 13th birthday on Saturday, at the home of Kevin’s mom and step-father. My eldest niece had one of her closest friends over, an 18 year old girl that we’ll call ‘Blue’. In the telling of my stories and reflections one thing I am increasingly aware of, is that I do not have the right to tell someone else’s story in detail and assign their name to it. So for this post, her name is Blue.
Blue sat close to the kitchen table at my mother-in-law’s home, and taught me that my first impressions are virtually never on the mark. My assumption was that she was a snarky teen, obsessed with fashion and pop-fiction, tall and blonde, flippant and rather full of herself. In my defense, I struggle to understand most adult women, so that fact that younger women can be irritating to me with their flakiness, is no surprise. I’ve never had children, or raised them, so the “age and stage” that kids go through is still very much a mystery to me. I find that most young women get fairly intolerable between 16 – 24, and then are sobered somewhat by life, and college loans to the point of being capable of rational, mature conversation again. I watch TMZ more than they do… they just don’t know it.
As she started to share some of her family life and story, I felt like a complete piece of shit for having built this profile of her in my head that was neither fair, nor accurate. Her story is a painful and confusing one that involves parents being irresponsible, and rejection by her parents. I looked deeper this time because she wasn’t all “glammed up” like a know-it-all teenager girl. I saw something in her eyes, and I heard something in her heart that I knew too well.
Then she said something that figuratively, punched me in the face emotionally. “No matter how hard I try, no matter how great the marks are, or how I perform, I just can’t make them care about me. I can’t make me matter to them.”
Like a javelin… straight through my heart. And then I looked deeply into her face in a moment I hope she didn’t find too creepy or awkward and said…
“It’s not you Blue. It’s them.”
And she took a deep breath, but kept her eyes connected to mine.
“You don’t get to pick your parents. And nothing hurts more than being a good kid, with shitty parents. Or abusive ones. And you walk through life looking at all these other wonderful, close and loving families and you ask yourself why you can’t have that too. On the days it hurts the most, you will manage to convince yourself that there is something about you that is unworthy of their love. That’s a lie. In the wild, some parents nurture and raise their kids, and even form packs with close relationships, like wolves. And then, some animals eat their young. It sucks, but it is random. And one thing Blue that it is not… is ever, EVER your fault.”
I’d be proud to have a daughter like Blue. Pretty on the outside with a tremendous singing talent. She reminds me of this lovely little sad bird that sings in a cage. Smart (she wants to be a lawyer) and driven to win, but perhaps by the belief that if she DOES succeed in her business life, that her parents will love and respect her more. Who was I to take that away from her, when I believed the same thing at the age of 18; the same year my mother in a fit of rage, hit me on the skull with a pointed oak lamp, and sent me to the hospital for a day. After a scene worthy of “COPS” in our rural driveway. Five days later when the details of the domestic violence were listed (with our family name) in the local paper under the crime section, my boyfriend’s mother told him he wasn’t allowed to date me anymore. Because I was from a bad family. Because my Dad had been a feature in that section less than four months previous, for striking my mother.
Because the night I had the concussion, staying awake was no problem. I just sipped from a Diet Pepsi can slowly to make it last, while replaying so many things over, and over again in my (throbbing) head. What I could have done differently to manage her rage. His selfishness. Their divorce.
I don’t think Blue will ever read this. But if she does, I want her to know that the least perfect but most awesome people sometimes are formed through life adversity. In fact, anyone creative or exceptional in some way that I know… has traveled a hard road, in one way or another. That these experiences will hurt forever (as much as I wish I could lie and say it gets better), but that in time you become able to compartmentalize the painful memories. You can put them in boxes with labels on them, and only open them sometimes… but they live on a shelf in your mind and heart.
The truth that you can’t see yet, is that bad parents happen to good kids, and that they don’t deserve you. But they will spend forever trying to sell you your own inadequacies, because my dear, they can’t see and confront their own.
Smile when you want to cry. Cry with people who love and care about you. Keep walking, when you feel like giving up. Run at the walls in front of you, don’t stare at them thinking you aren’t strong enough to conquer them (you are). And perhaps one day you’ll choose to be a great wife and Mom, and raise children that never have to ask the question “Do you love me?” because they will already know with unwavering faith that you do. That’s how real love works. And you will be able to tell the difference, because you’ve been on both sides of the pendulum.
Don’t wait for them to be sorry either Blue. Years, or even decades later, they’ll simply revise the story so that it is more comfortable for them, than admitting they hurt their offspring. People who can’t see fault in themselves are incapable of asking for forgiveness. All they know is anger, and misdirected blame, and words that are sharp as daggers.
You’ll have to grow your happy behind a walled garden. And you’ll have to get really good at giving yourself permission to protect your heart. You have to. Some animals eat their young. And some people have to learn to be their own parent. And architect a life and identity of happiness beyond emotional injury … and just sing bravely, even when it feels like it’s against the wind, and no one is listening. You’ll learn to be your own hero.
It will never feel okay to be hated by them. And it will never feel okay to hate them enough to create a happy life without them.