A few years ago someone asked me what I wanted for myself in the future, and I said, to be my best self. I’m fairly certain that I’m not not there yet.
All my old faults haunt me. By now any casual follower of this blog could recite a litany of them, on bended knee, squirming on a hard priedieu. I would not discount one iota of the recitation, no matter how cruel the intonation. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. But surely at some point, even the worst sinner deserves absolution.
I suppose that forgiveness requires me to be contrite. But I don’t feel it. I trace the neuro-biological impact of my childhood and accept my fair measure of responsibility. I’ve had six decades to overcome; or maybe, to be fair, four-and-a-half. My siblings rose above the hand dealt to us, at least three of them really well. Long-term marriages, stable jobs, beautiful homes, vacations in far away places requiring passports and vaccinations. Only one suicide. One late-life marriage. One with a steady career though some lumpiness along the way, which she has overcome or at least, nearly so. Another who might or might not be a drinking alcoholic but has a lovely partner who dotes on him.
And then, there’s me. On the scale of rose-above-it to sank-beneath-the-surface, I cling to somewhere-in-between with dogged determination. I have a passport but just got it last year and have only used it because Missouri driver’s licenses don’t qualify for Pre-TSA. I’ve been married and divorced three times but remain on speaking terms with my stable of ex-husbands — or mostly; one’s gone rogue and the other posts on my Facebook page so I suppose that’s enough to qualify. I’m self-employed, though I’m fairly certain that I’m the only person who would have given me a job before this decade.
You get the picture. Muddle, muddle, muddle. But muddle through.
So why can’t I apologize? Why can’t I admit to my legions of detractors that by God, they have a point. I could have taken my Jesuit education, shaved my legs, worn a real suit or at least matching separates, and clicked my way through a tidy career with 2.4 children (2.6 if I stayed Catholic) and a fawning husband.
The answer is: Pick one to die. Pick one to thrive. Pick one to get enough right to look the part even though her insides are jelly. Roll the dice and come up snake eyes. Throw in a virus to which only .001% of folks fail to develop a natural immunity, a crazed Persian in an uninsured VW, re-routed wiring from that early trauma which impacts everyone a little bit differently, and you’ve got a cocktail that goes down smooth and freezes into noxious bile.
Yeah, you guessed it. Some fumbling combination of nature and nurture that solidified into the female Frankenstein. A gravely-voiced mildly benign monster who pens these missives by flickering 40-watt bulb, straining to put something worthwhile in every entry, often falling short but sometimes getting it right, even if by obvious omission.
Does this sound like I’m complaining? It isn’t mean to be. It’s me bunching my twisted knickers into a knot and hoisting myself from the muck and mire. I’m swiping a gnarled hand across my sweaty face and slapping my hair back over my shoulders. I’m staring in the mirror til my eyes cross and sticking out my tongue, hard and fierce. I’m slapping my cheeks and pinching my arm until a welt rises and lava floods my face. I’m looking over my shoulder at the sister leopard standing there and snarling, Okay, I got this. And turning, sharp, before I see her sympathetic glance.
I’m stemming the tide. I might be more than a few hundred days late and at least million dollars short. But I have seen far worse fail to fell so many others. I’ve seen meth addicts get straight and welfare mothers find jobs and get off the dole. Get their children back. Move out of one-room by-the-weeklies into two-bedrooms with a lease and a security deposit. Maybe they have a resilience that I don’t have, but I’ve got some. I’m digging deep. I’m fighting back.
I’m stretching for my best self.
It’s the sixth day of the forty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
Post Script: My friends, I write this entry not to denigrate any good that I’ve done, or my fine son, or any goodness inside me. I write this entry to remind everyone, including myself, that it is possible to rise above adversity; that it is permissible to express frustration or fear. I write this post to encourage myself, as well as everyone else, to persevere; to continue to put one foot forward whether it’s your best foot or not. I invite you not to feel sorry for me, or to suspect me of self-flagellation, but to see that I recognize my potential even as I acknowledge that I’ve possibly not honored it. And the reference to 2.4 / 2.6 children is a statistical reference to the average number of children in a family back when I was “of marriage-able age”, not to any perceived deficiency in myself for only having raised one. Thank you. With special thanks to a certain English professor who has turned out to be one of my number one fans. Thanks, Andrea. I appreciate you.