Thursday, November 11, 2010

Am I the Same Girl?

If you were to ask my mother, she would tell you that I’m exactly the same now as I was as a newborn baby - that I never loved her, that I screamed when she walked into the room, that I was never grateful for anything and never wanted help from anyone. She would tell you that my independence pushed her and my father away from the first time I insisted on calling them “Mom” and “Dad” instead of “Mommy” and “Daddy,” and the first time that I felt uncomfortable sitting on their laps.

I think I was 9.

Recognizing the separation of self and parent is an important part of a child’s development, and a normal part of growing up, but my parents always wanted me to need them as much as they (or my mother) needed me. I just…didn’t.

But 9 years into my life turned out to be a watershed year: I transferred from parochial to public school, met a whole new diverse set of fourth grade classmates, and then zoomed ahead of all of them and started functioning at a seventh grade level in math, spelling, and reading. Somehow, as I grew into my first bra and my precocious mind accelerated to a speed my parents couldn’t understand and at a rate I had no vocabulary with which to articulate, the essence of me suddenly bifurcated. Two roads diverged, and the 9-year-old stood still, frozen in time, holding onto childhood comforts like a time capsule somewhere deep inside of a growing girl that would soon become a preteen, and then a teenager, young woman, and now, bafflingly, middle aged.

As much as she hides, though, I can sometimes see the curtains moving. I know that she is there, watching the bizarre world that surrounds her, my Inner 9-Year-Old.

Her hair is short, boyish and cowlicky.

Her knees are fat, so plump and bumpy that she dreads the class photo which will surely be taken with her knees exposed from beneath a schooldress, bulging out bent in seated position.

She crosses her arms over her stomach so that no one will see, unknowingly drawing more attention to a middle section that her mother explains away as “baby fat” but never matures into a more manageable, sculpted version.

Her eyes are wide with hope behind thick, magnifying lenses encased in huge, pink plastic frames. She still can’t see very well, and staggers with each new pair of glasses.

Her feet are constantly wet and cold from the Sears winter boots whose outer shell invariably cracks and peels, and whose sole reliably leaks without any visible evidence of structural damage.

Her earlobes are unpierced, but indented by the clip-on earrings she suffers through for hours just to add a little color and sparkle to her life.

She does not bite her nails because she does not want to damage the nail polish her mother lets her wear. But the cleaning solvents that her mother forces her to use inevitably damage it anyway.

She knows she’s not pretty. Based on her mother’s wisdom, she can only hope that boys will one day stop being so superficial and will like her for how smart she is, since she will never be pretty.

She doesn’t want to eat so much, but she gets yelled at if she doesn’t.

She’d rather sit on the floor than worry about damaging her mother’s couch. Eventually, she’s accused of wearing down the carpeting.

She takes her punishments bravely and humbly, but she still cries through them, because she knows she doesn’t deserve them.

She really wanted Make It Big on vinyl but will wear down her cassette anyway.

She is bored.

She doesn’t want to go home.

She doesn’t want to get up.

She loves her stuffed animals more than any person she’s ever met.

She wants to play the flute with the pretty girls, but when her parents can’t afford to buy one for her, she accepts the free French horn from her band teacher and lugs its huge, hulking, hard plastic case to and from school every day. Her lips and hands constantly smell like wet metal.

She cannot collect enough stickers, perhaps the first indication of her addictive personality.

She cannot collect enough prizes, awards, and academic accolades.

She will lie to get herself out of trouble, and to make you like her more. Most of all, she will lie to herself when she chants that everything will be all right.

She is afraid of everything: her house, her mother, her dreams, bees, spiders, dogs, strangers, illness, loneliness…Everything but death.

People sometimes think she’s a boy, even when she’s carrying a pink purse. She often wishes she was a boy.

Her stomach hurts all the time, especially after dinner when she lies on the kitchen floor, writhing – a condition her pediatrician attributes to “growing pains.”

So is my mother right? Is this the same girl that I am now?

My hair is long, shiny, and graying, tamed only by days without shampoo and the harsh discipline of a curling iron.

Lenses are now directly upon my eyes, surrounded by lash and sparkle and a thick black line. I only wear my glasses when I’m trying to look older, or want to be taken seriously.

Lobes are pierced, twice each. My nails are painted and unbitten. I am thrilled beyond belief when people think I’m pretty, finally.

My knees eventually emerged, cap and joint proudly poking out from beneath years’ worth of flesh and shame.

My arms and hands still instinctively go to my stomach, first to cover it and then to pat it down, marveling at how flat it is.

My feet are constantly wet and cold from walking around the streets of New York in puddles of rainwater and beer, protected only by flip flops that break or ballet flats that absorb the elements instead of shielding me from them.

I don’t want to eat so much, but I feel better when I do.

I take my punishments bravely and humbly, but I still cry through them, because I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve them.

I don’t want to go home.

I don’t want to get up.

I love my stuffed animals more than most people.

I cannot collect enough promotions, raises, and game show wins.

I ignore most of my fears, but bees will still cripple me.  I do not fear death; I only fear being maimed.

I still wish I was a boy, and often dream that I am one.

My stomach hurts so much sometimes that the pain has sent me to the emergency room, and often places me on the floor of my office and public restrooms. Doctors have been unable to diagnose the cause, and since becoming uninsured, I’ve stopped trying to figure it out.

Am I the same girl?

Aside from the adulthood-borne influences of alcohol, sex, travel, adventure, responsibility, money, aging, and flirtation, am I that girl? Does losing 45 pounds change the 9 year-old inside of you who’s tugging at your intestines? Does going on a few nice dates silence her, stuff a rag in her mouth to stop up the self-doubt and the self-consciousness, the desperate need to be liked and saved? Do having a job and being self-sufficient and paying the rent eliminate the need for comfort and stability and reassurance?

Do wearing Silly Bandz, collecting dolls and listening to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry placate her enough to keep her hidden away, or do these actions merely encourage her to show her tiny, pale, tear-streaked face?

Can I be confident now and yet cognizant of who I was and where I’ve been? Can both versions of me coexist in one body, or must one dominate the other, squelching the things she doesn’t like about the other, adapting and co-opting the things she does?

Or are they necessarily the same person, the same girl, and my current self is just a phase on my way to regressing back to age 9 when I am 90?

If I was truly born this way, is it possible for me to ever truly change?

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