If you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, why do publicists make book covers and dust jackets so appealing? Why do women wear pounds of makeup and heels that make their butt look firmer and tighter? Why do men wear snappy suits and get sleek haircuts? Why do we have to drive the shiniest, nicest car on the lot, or have the biggest, bestest (yes, I know, ’tis not a word) house on the block? Beauty is only skin deep, right? Right? My point isn’t even that our society is shallow and hypocritical (though it is). My point is that I’m a total asshole. Upon reflection today, I learned that after being bullied my entire life by various people (including adults), I became a bully myself. Even if it was in my own head. And I don’t mean the whole “you-are-your-own-worst-enemy” scenario. I think I’ve fulfilled my quota of allegories for the first 10 sentences of this post. I literally mean I was a bully. Whether it was by force or out of my own insecurity, I have yet to determine (but might by the end of this), but I am a mean person. I know some of it is a layer of protection. It’s my own dust jacket to make sure the wrong people don’t get too close (you knew it wouldn’t be the last analogy…come on, who are we talking about here?). I’ve let the wrong people get close to me my entire life…like, I would be friends with a bag of moldy lettuce and allow it to make me sick, as long as in return I got company. What’s it called? The scientific relationships…consulted my consultant (AKA, my brother). I always willingly join in on parasitic relationships, except I’m the host. The other person/people are the parasites and I willingly let them destroy me…slowly, painfully, and usually at great cost to more than just me. Now, I’m not limiting this to a certain person. I’m saying that the majority of my relationships (intimate or benign) are like this. Now, we could argue the whys for a million years. Ultimately, the only answer I think we’re going to settle and agree on is the fact that I wanted/needed affection and attention and what I was getting from my parents wasn’t naturally adequate for me. So, hoping to find a relationship that would be symbiotic (my consultant says this means it benefits both that participate…sue him if he’s wrong, not me), instead I would end up in relationships that ultimately hurt me. I gave up my values, my self-respect, my dignity, my family, money, time, resources, energy, all of that in order to make the other person happy. And it was done in the hopes that if the other person was happy, I would be happy. A lot of it came out of fear too because I was always afraid of them leaving me, deserting me and not being my friend anymore if I denied any of them the simplest request. That built onto the happy=happy theory because I equated their not being happy=abandonment. So, if I could please them, it was a double win for me: they would stay and they would enjoy staying, which would make my life that much easier. Whenever I see shows like Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs, I’m always more interested in “Downstairs.” Why? Not because that was what was really running the house. Not because those were the people whose blood, sweat and tears went into making the “Upstairs” lives that much better…but I used to think it would be fun to have that type of relationship. It was an “approved” or “socially acceptable” servitude. It would’ve been an excuse for me to act the way I did. I like to believe that I naturally have a stronger capacity to nurture and care for other people anyway, which is not helped by my total lack of spine, but I always thought devoting my life to a bigger cause, to giving my life some meaning, even if it was dressing another woman for dinner every night with her family, I could be caring about something. Because the majority of the time, I’m spent caring only about the welfare of the people I love. That’s it. My time oscillates between sheer boredom and extreme anxiety nowadays. And extreme anxiety is what got me thinking to this twisted notion. When I was in elementary school, I distinctly remember a teacher calling my parents when I was struggling with math and telling them that I was going to be a great leader someday. Middle school happened, then high school, and somewhere in the middle of that, my mom brought it up because I had never heard this conversation. She mentioned it in an argument we were having. She didn’t say it in anger (typical Mom, never spiteful), but said it in disappointment, something that was new for her. I think that’s what solidified it in my brain, even after all this time. She said, “Your 5th grade math teacher told me you were going to be a great leader one day. Back then, I believed him. Now, I don’t.” Then, she walked away. I was crushed. That was the day I realized I had truly become a follower. I realized that everything I ever stood for (which, of course, being in high school was as vast and uncertain as the ocean) didn’t matter anymore because I wasn’t standing for it. I wasn’t even sitting in protest for it. I was lying on the ground and allowing the weight of the world to slowly crush me, like rocks crushing a vagrant’s chest in Puritan times. Rather than try and defend myself, I allowed my “friends” at the time, to holler “witch!” and haul me away, smear and besmudge my character and who I was in any way they wanted to, and then watched them walk away after finally telling them enough was enough. And even after all of that, I would still hope that they would come back, grab the tomatoes and keep throwing them, continue the name-calling, the teasing, whatever they were doing just so that I wasn’t alone. And when all of that was turned inside out because I had Mara to lean on. I was suddenly cool and popular. People wanted to talk to me because I was a dog that followed someone around. They felt sorry for me and by association, felt the need to include me in plans. This was reciprocated though. Mara’s behavior became my own. I couldn’t move independently of her. I couldn’t free myself. She was Peter Pan and I was her shadow, but Wendy had already sewn me to her foot. With a compromised character and replaced etiquette, I was doing things that weren’t okay with me. That included illegal things (that’s another story for another day!), and morally illegal things, like bullying. I was now the heir apparent to the monster that had made my life hell for my formative years. And, of course, that’s what stuck. The wish-washy, quiet, meek, little girl didn’t last. The girl who throws up a front and makes everyone believe she’s mean and tough is what has lasted the longest. She’s the one that has survived this long. And you know what? Maybe that’s why people are so mean. Because, ultimately, that’s what it takes to survive. Everyone’s meanness is just compounding on everyone else’s and in the end, it’s a cycle that never stops. I judge books by their covers all the time. No seriously, if the book isn’t visually appealing or colorful, I’m not picking it up. (Sorry, meant that literally! Got a little sidetracked!) I make (what I feel) are off-hand comments about strangers’ appearance all the time. And if I don’t say them out loud, I’m still thinking them. Part of the problem is the whole building-the-barricade-and-beating-the-enemy-to-the-warfront thing. It’s an arms race and to win, I have to think/say something about them first. I don’t do it to my friends or people I hang out with but I do it to random strangers. I want to now type “I can’t help it” but I think I can/should. I don’t want to inherit the demon that sat on my back for forever and bent my spine so bad it fell out of my ass. I know people with depression, eating disorders, anxiety, etc. talk about bullies and how it affected them, how they can never forgive the person who did it to them and stuff like that. I know exactly what they’re talking about. I’m in therapy, and have been/will be for a long ass time because of the people who bullied me. I don’t even think I realized it truly was “bullying” until very recently. But I also feel extremely guilty when those types of conversations come up. Why? Because I feel like I’ve batted for both teams…and scored a few runs for each.
*title quote is actually reversed- “I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?” is the actual quote and was spoken by Benjamin Disraeli (Forbes.com)