I’ve been thinking a lot about this journey to the other side of the country, the tasks I’ve set out to try to accomplish, the extreme disappointments and awesome highs that make me look in the mirror and say to my reflection, “what made you this way?”
And a few things came to mind.
I failed at being a little girl. Both the little and the girl part.
I was plump. My grandmother tried to soften this by calling me ‘pleasingly plump,’ squeezing me and complimenting my hair. But I was that fat girl. A little girl that identified with how she looked different before the age of ten.
I wore jumpers when everyone else was buttoned into their fair aisle cardigans and elastic-waisted corduroy skirts. I required an A-line silhouette, large blouses that sagged at the shoulders, paneled pants. I never looked like anyone else in the school photos, filling the space of two, my hands tucked between my knees, hunched over on the bottom bench.
I went to two tennis lessons and never returned because I just knew how bad the outfit looked on me. It had to — I couldn’t breathe.
And then there was the girl part. Play dates were a terrible idea, though I begged for them. For one, the friend arrived and I tired of her instantly — her request to see my dolls (I had none) or go pet my pony (forget it, mine), or the worst, to play a game (seriously) and within the hour my mother was deployed to play and I had left the room to read my book. They were boring. They were girlie. I was not.
Eventually, my mother refused all requests to invite anyone over.
“They aren’t my friends,” she said finally.
But the lowest point of my little girl years was the sleepovers. Anxiety began to build the moment the invitation arrived — Do I need a nightie or pajamas? What will they all wear? Do I get to read or do I have to stay awake? What if they tell ghost stories (they always did the scarier and improbable the better) and I was frightened?
But mostly I couldn’t hide a hideous fact: Sleeping bags were too hot. And when I got hot in my sleeping bag, I peed. In the bag. After a few soggy sleepover parties, unfamiliar mothers finding me extra pajamas, a spare bed in a different room, nowhere near the giggling party, rolling up my wet bag and dropping it into a trash bag or worse, calling my father to come collect me in the middle of the night, I stopped going.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t be social. I was chatty and engaging and happy. It was just that I wasn’t like them all in so many ways. I knew this. You just had to look at the class photos to know this.
I was my own playdate, a fact about myself that it took me years to appreciate. Back then, in little girl land, failing at playdates and outfits and sleepovers was fatal. I was simply weird. But weird taught me to be myself. And laid the foundation for how I have made decisions for the last forty years.
So now instead of leaving the room to read my book, I’ve left to go write one. When you think of it, this is really no surprise.