And I bet you've had enough. Of all my bullshit. Well, tough tamales. I gotta write what I know, & most of the time, I don't know anything.
“You’re Lacey’s sister, aren’t you?” he asked, his eyes searching my face for a resemblance. Finding none there, he looked lower, as if my endowments, to put it politely, or lack thereof would provide the answer. Disappointingly, for him anyway, they did not.
“Yeah, I’m her sister,” I said, blinking owlishly into his face, impatiently waiting for something more.
“Ohhhh.” Always a long sound, like his mouth needed time to process the information his brain was collecting. “I thought you’d be…different,” he hesitated, as he cautioned one last glance at my chest.
It was my first day of seventh grade, my very first day in a public school that my older sister had recently vacated, and every single eighth grade boy visited my locker, a steady drive by of the same interaction, over and over again. All of them consistently crestfallen when it became apparent that unfortunately, I looked nothing like my tall, long legged, dark haired sister who modeled. Guys, she was an actual model. I had barely touched five feet by then. Who am I kidding? I’m barely five feet now.
For most of my life—well, all of my life really—I’ve been the youngest of three girls, the youngest in a well known family in a small town. And it’s obvious by my face, because it’s the exact face of my father and my aunt and my grandmother and my cousin. The same ice blue eyes with a thin, navy band around the iris. The same dirty blonde hair—dishwater, as my dentist calls it. I don’t see that dentist anymore. The same full, expressive mouth so eager to have the last word. The same body type and button nose and bushy eyebrows. A carbon copy of those that came before me. My genetics made plain for the world to see.
“Which one do you belong to?” I’m always asked. Ummm, excuse me, but I belong to myself. I’m not property, you crotchety asshole.
“I belong to John,” I always respond. Through trial and error, I’ve learned some thoughts are not appropriate for polite society. But feel free to ask me about my favorite serial killer anytime. Hint: it rhymes with Teffrey Bahmer.
"Too much and not enough, all at once."
I am one, petite part of a legacy of belonging. A legacy that includes anxiety. That manifests in my genetics, too. I see it in my dad and in my sisters. In my grandmother and in my uncle. In recognizing my own, I’m now privy to a club that admits everyone else’s, even when they are not aware themselves.
And yet, I have never really belonged. I have always been the sister that’s just too much or just not enough. Not the smart sister or the pretty sister or the popular sister. If I had to categorize myself, I’d be the know-it-all sister, the unstable sister, the baby sister. I’m not tall enough or skinny enough or fun enough. I don’t light up the rooms I walk into. I don’t make people feel comfortable or smart or interesting. I’m not effortlessly cool or even effortfully cool. I am a bad wife. And a bad friend. A bad daughter and sister and employee. I am nothing at all, really. Anyone else feel this way? Just me? Ok, then. Please wait while I lock myself in a closet and cry.
But truly, that is all I have ever been. Many days, I feel like there’s no part of me outside of how I relate to the others in my family. I am Lacey’s sister, John’s daughter, Kyle’s wife. My societal contribution merely a compilation of how I’m connected to them, a fly caught in the center of a massive web of relationships. Comparison is the thief of joy, and I am relentless, constantly tallying all of the ways I have failed against the successes of my peers.
I am tight with terror that I will give this anxious legacy to my children, paralyzed that I will resent being Fill-in-the-Blank’s mom. It squeezes at my heart and tells me motherhood is impossible. “No,” it whispers, a caress, a jeer. “You can never be a mother. You are too irresponsible, too controlling, too selfish.” Too much and not enough, all at once.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it recently, but I have this anxiety disorder, and it means that I say really awful things to myself fifteen thousand times a day. Cruel things. Things I would never say to my best friend or my husband or my sisters. You probably couldn’t tell. It’s not like I write about it on the internet or anything equally ridiculous.
"If I strip away the affectations, I am left with only me."
In the last week, the world lost two special people, people who, in theory, had lives worth living. They had more than most others dream—successful careers, world recognition, financial prosperity, loving families. And yet, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to halt the darkness as it rolled in like a thunderstorm, the angry swirl enveloping them into nothingness.
And my heart aches for them because I understand. The soft lull of silence is so alluring sometimes. It is a lullaby, as surely as the sirens sang to the seamen, gently luring them to their violent deaths on the rocks. It relentless and uncaring and overwhelming.
If I strip away the affectations—the self deprecating humor, the intellectual posturing, the peacocking confidence—I am left with only me. The me that the world hardly knows. The me that I barely know myself because it is too painful and too uncomfortable and too shameful. The me that is separate from my role as a daughter and a sister and a wife and friend. It is the me that writes publicly and unheedingly about my broken brain, the me that understands how someone could feel so fractured from herself, she’d choose the unthinkable choice. It is remarkably both comforting and terrifying, simultaneously.
But therapy is an incredible tool, and Phil is the energetic angel of my manic pixie dreams. Because in exploring my deepest fears and my darkest shame, he has anchored me to myself. In peeling back each layer of my anxiety, he has revealed the quintessence of my heart, a whole person yet to be uncovered.
"We all belong to each other and to ourselves."
And for now, that must be enough. Because I shudder to think what will happen if it isn’t. Because when my anxious brain tells me all of the ways that I am not enough, every minute detail chronicling my inadequacies and my failures, I creep one incremental step closer to the edge. One step closer to a precipice which leads only to oblivion. And honestly, I’m super afraid of heights.
So, I must be content that I am more than sidebar, a footnote in the lives of all the people that I love. I am a whole version of myself, even on the days I know I am not. I must accept the cellulite on my thighs and the bump on the bridge of my nose, my limp, dishwater hair and my squat, stubby fingers.
I must embrace the lost opportunities, the layoffs, and the beaten, anxious bits.
I have removed the armor of my affectations and become the spider, plucking each silken thread of the my web to reverberate back through my soul, to anchor my connectedness, to reinforce my contribution. “We all belong to each other and to ourselves,” it murmurs, a lullaby, an applause. I may be Lacey’s sister, John’s daughter, Kyle’s wife, but they also belong to me, and for now, forever, that is enough.