My science fiction twin
Decided to become invisible
He has my eyes, my face, my voice
But he’s only happy when I’m miserable
–Elvis Costello/My Science Fiction Twin
When I was about 13, as I got ready to leave for my first ever formal dance and was spinning around to show my Mom and our company my dress, my Dad said:
You’re ugly. You look like a hooker. Go wash that shit off your face.
Yes, the company was stunned and appalled. I wished the ground would open up and bury me, and handled it by bursting into tears and running into my room. I did not look like a hooker. I looked more like a little boy playing dress up in a floor length lace dress and blue eyeshadow. I looked kind of goofy, but pretty.
At age 15-16-ish after I lost my second job, he took me aside and told me he had some advice for me. It was:
You are lazy, fat, and stupid. You’ll never amount to anything or be able to hold a job. You’re useless.
In his defense, if that can be considered one, he was very drunk both times. I doubt very much that he remembers either episode. I do, though. In fact, it’s the only memory I have about my seventh grade dance at all. There’s a picture of me taken just before the comment was made, big doofy grin…holding the skirt of my dress out in mid-spin. I’m not sure I even went to the dance. It’s always a bit weird seeing the photo with my giant smile, braces and blue eyeshadow knowing how crushed I was a few minutes later.
The thing that baffles me is how powerful those memories are, and how strong the negative images they instilled in me still are so many years later. My rational brain knows that what he said mostly isn’t true. I am both fat and somewhat lazy. I’m certainly not stupid. I have the reading history and grades to prove it. Usefulness is a little harder to quantify, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not entirely useless. He put just enough truth in the barbs to make them really sting, and to make them really hard to pull out. My brain can tell me it’s not true, but on the inside? A lot of times I still feel as ugly, stupid and useless as I did when my Dad first told me I was. The purely rational side of me might know it’s not true, but that’s not what my inner core feels a lot of the time. What I feel in my core is that he was right. Why would anyone say something like that for no reason? It must be true.
It has a lasting influence on how I act, as well as feel. I’ve worked at the same company for over 20 years, in part because I’m still proving that I can keep a job. I’m sure that has come at an economic cost to me. I have a hard time just accepting a compliment. I am quick to feel unloved or abandoned. If I do feel abandoned, it’s not only painful, but also what I feel like I deserve. It’s my own fault–I’m ugly and stupid, so why would anyone want to be around me? I am a teenager all over again.
Core beliefs don’t do logic. They are pure emotion.
Things happen to us growing up and they stick. Words can break people. Sticks and stones, my ass. Give me the fucking broken bones. Broken bones are way easier to fix than broken feelings. Words can be soul killers.
It takes a lot of self-convincing for me to get over believing bad things that people I love say to me. If I was between the ages of 12-20 when it happened, I’m not sure I ever really do. Something about the combination of hormone overload, a brain still forming and an inability to sort out good input from bad makes it nearly impossible to get teenage stuff out of my system.
On the other hand, the good things are definitely still there too. Many, many good things.
A long letter about sea turtles on the beach in Florida, a long distance phone call on a trip to Disneyland, memorizing the Dead Parrot sketch riding around in a Celica, putting speakers in my bedroom window and laying on the front lawn with Kiss blaring, drinking Mad Dog out of a champagne glass in a blue Pinto and laughing until I cried, listening to the neighbor play “Smoke On The Water” on his bass EVERY EFFING DAY until I am not sure I could have gotten ready for school without hearing it, watching Fritz the Cat at the drive in from the back of a pickup truck, limericks in typing class, hiding from Henry Rollins at a Black Flag show because he was clearly the bastard son of Jim Morrison and Charles Manson, finding the one place that sold tortillas in Paris when I thought I would die if I couldn’t have a taco, care packages with Top Ramen in them.
I can totally rewire all of the bad shit.
No problem. All I need is another 10 or 15 years.