August 27, 2015

Hand-Me-Down Girl

I've always been second in line.

I was born 15 months after my sister, and although I was more precocious than she, I still ended up inheriting her secondhand bicycles and shoes and jackets and dresses.

From birth, I have always been a hand-me-down girl.

I suppose I was lucky to have others' cast-offs bequeathed to me. Money was so tight—and my mother overspent on the house so much—that there wouldn't have been any money to buy me enough of what I needed. As it was, the items that were handed down to me were inexpensive, cheaply made, and worn out by the time they got to me.

Some of my clothes and jewelry even trickled down from my mother, whose weight would fluctuate wildly on her petite 5'1" frame, and when something no longer fit, she'd try to convince me to take it. But in this case, there was a cost to the transaction. My mother could never give me anything. I always owed her something, and in her best case scenario, that would be money. When I was a teenager saving for college, she pushed one of her dresses on me and then demanded I pay $50 for it. Even when I begrudgingly took the dress and paid up (because I felt like I had to), she acted like it was still hers, and that she'd only loaned it to me.

I never wore that dress. Eventually, I gave it away to Goodwill.

In my adult years, even when I haven't had any money, I've recoiled from flea markets, thrift shops, antique shops, and estate sales. As much as I love vintage clothing and furniture, I really can't stand the idea of someone else having slept or sweat in or on the thing. But I still eat off of my grandmother's floral china and wear my mother's pearl earrings. I live in an apartment that has been occupied by countless tenants since 1929, sleep on the same Murphy bed frame, hang my clothes on the same rod in the same closet, turn the same knob on the same door.

I guess nearly everything was somebody else's, at some point.

While I've been reticent to accept material possessions that once belonged to someone else, for some reason I have no hesitation in taking someone else's place. I am the understudy who gets onstage. I seize other people's jobs when they fail at them. I usurp indiscriminately.

I don't pursue these opportunities, per se—they are handed down to me. I have become a "fixer." I proofread and rewrite. I smooth ruffled feathers. I make good on broken promises.

As life has worn on, I've grown to appreciate these inheritances. I don't have to scheme. I don't have to lie. There are no ladders for me to climb, no competitors to sabotage. I just have to wait for someone to mess up, because someone will always mess up.

Being second in line doesn't have to equate to being second best. Sometimes people have to make the wrong choice first, before they realize what the right choice is.

Maybe I'll be someone's second wife. Maybe I'll be someone's adoptive mother. Maybe I'll rescue a puppy. I'm OK with inheriting the wrongs of the world, and trying to make them right.

Related Posts:
Mine, All Mine
Black Swan, And The View from Behind First Place (Excerpt from Extra Criticum)

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