The more I dig to the roots of my trauma, the more anger I feel at the people responsible for it. I’m not really at a point where I feel I’m ready to tell the world at large what was done to me here, but suffice it to say, it fucked me up good and hard for the past 40 years.
I had dreams and aspirations, just like anyone else. My biggest one was always to be a mother and have children of my own, but I had other ones as well, ranging from becoming a botanist to playing the piano for David Bowie (which is, unfortunately, something that will never come true).
I also wanted to be an actor. From the first time I could read fairy tales on my own, my siblings and I would act out all sorts of things ranging from Sleeping Beauty to Night on Bald Mountain using toys, ladders, and other props. We called it “Mount Sinai Theater” (and the spelling of Sinai was so atrocious that I’ve blocked it from my memory, but it was WRONG).
Hell, even that happy memory was tainted by the mockery of my phonetic spelling of Sinai.
As one might guess from the name of our home troupe, we grew up in a strictly religious, conservative, authoritarian home. We weren’t even allowed to listen to modern music when my father was home, so 80s music has a special place in my heart as a refuge. (He relented a bit when a friend of my mother’s introduced us all to Amy Grant, but that was the extent of how he bent.) Fortunately, he had a soft spot for showtunes, jazz, and Roger Whittaker, and that was why we were allowed to indulge in theater.
My sister Rachel and I liked to record things together and be silly. We even came up with recordings we called “Sunshine Radio.” As we got older, we and our brother Jesse acted in school plays and musicals. By the time I reached high school, I was the go-to person to play the villain. When it started to bother me, I was told to be grateful I was chosen for anything at all.
You see, I stopped being skinny and bony when I was four years old, even though I grew up in poverty and knew hunger and scarcity like an auntie who lived in a spare room. My weight gain is thought to be tied to a trauma that began when I was four and continued off and on until I was eleven. By the time I graduated high school, I was 180 pounds, and much of it was muscle from weight training, but much of it was also fat.
Even without the weight and muscle, I am still a person with a large body frame and a broad, high-cheekboned head. I’m also not nearly as pretty as my sisters or as smart as my brother, which was something I was reminded of a lot growing up. I was a natural for the villain because of my looks and size.
On top of that, I had undiagnosed autism, so I didn’t understand the things that came to others all but instinctually, and I had a hard time making friends or understanding the unwritten rules of society. My siblings did their best to educate me and help me not be too much of an embarrassment to them, but I still managed.
And people were cruel. When I was in high school and mentioned that I dreamed of playing piano with David Bowie, a girl who delighted in bullying me told me that by the time I got good enough to play with David Bowie, he would be dead.
She was right, though. My parents couldn’t afford piano lessons, much less a piano, so the best I could do was learn to play the trombone, and I didn’t even do that very well because of the constant heckling I got at home when I tried to practice. I was too humiliated to tell the band director what was going on at home, so I gave up playing. I still have my trombone, though. I guess it’s a memento to yet another deferred dream.
I’ll probably talk about this more another day, but I grew up surrounded by people who broke me down and stole my joy. With some of them, it was intentional, but with others, it was just what they thought was normal and acceptable…or maybe they thought if they made me an object of ridicule, it would be easier for them to hide their own flaws in the shadows.
Anyway, it worked for a long time. I’ll be 42 in two months, and I’m just starting to rediscover who I am and what I lost over the years due to bullying and being forced into a container that didn’t suit the shape of who I truly am.
And right now, in this moment, I am blessed. I have a wonderful, supportive husband, two great kids, and the rest of my life to be my true self without the people who poisoned me along for the ride.
And my dears, it’s going to be a good one.