While reading “Resolution for Women” this morning, I was asked some questions that… well… I didn’t want to answer. We all have chapters we don’t read aloud, and certainly not to anyone else.
The author was talking about how she found herself basing a large part of her identity on small, inconsequential things, whether they be cultural statements like her weight or her appearance, or something that happened in her past that has changed the way she has lived her life ever since. And then she asked me to see what things in my life were that way; what things did I blow way out of proportion and consequentially use to smother out things that were actually important… actually me.
It is hard being the oldest, especially in a large family. You start out the smartest, the best, the most capable, #1 at everything and in everyone’s mind. And then your little brothers and sisters grow up and find themselves, their gifts and their talents, and every time they do, they steal that little bit of you away. Well, that is how it feels. And whereas you want them to grow up and be happy, so much so you sacrifice a lot of your own happiness (usually unnecessarily) helping them find themselves, on the other hand you wish they would stay little and let you stay the best. So much of how you see yourself is wrapped up in what you can do, what you’re good at, that it is hard to watch as your little siblings surpass you (especially when you were probably the one to introduce them to it in the first place). Seeing yourself that way isn’t healthy at all, and it is not like it is anyone’s fault that this has to happen, but it still stinks.
Vaguely, I remember the day when I still felt beautiful. I remember, when I was about 7, having this red dress. It was a beautiful dress and I loved it. It had long sleeves and a full skirt, just perfect for twirling in. I would spin and spin in the church narthex, and, being the pastor’s kid and one of the only kids in church, I would get smiles and compliments from all the old ladies and gentlemen. I shone.
Right about then, my little sister was growing up and learning to shine, too. I loved having a little sister to teach how to twirl and spin, have tea parties, and play house. But, it wasn’t long before it became obvious (well, to me) that she was a lot prettier than me. Boys started noticing her and talking about her right in front of me. I remember one of them telling me, “You’re fun to play with, but Hannah is the pretty one.” And, maybe it was all in my head, but I always felt that my dad felt the same way. Suddenly, I wasn’t the prettiest anymore. I was second-best, and no one was choosing me.
That summer, I remember looking out my bedroom window to see my mom selling that red dress to a stranger at her garage sale. It devastated me. For me, that dress was all that was left of the days when I felt beautiful. Wearing that dress made me feel like, maybe, if I tried hard enough, someone would still choose me. And, though I knew that it no longer fit and I couldn’t wear it anymore, it symbolized the end of those days.
That was the day I first stopped trying. If everyone was always going to pick someone else first, why bother? Who wants to be second-best?
And so it continued down the line. My brother was better at sports, my next brother at art. My next sister was prettier still and had charm to boot. By the time I got married, the only thing I was still the best at… was cleaning and caring for the babies. So while this sister was asked to organize the family vacation, and that brother to create an art piece, I was left doing the dirty work, as I saw it. Did I realize then that cleaning and caring for children were the gifts I was going to need the most as a mom? No. All I saw was that I was always second-best, that no one was ever going to choose me.
I remember the first time my now-husband came to visit my family. I had met him at summer camp, the only place I went without my two sisters. Therefore, I was terrified. I was terrified that as soon as he saw my sisters, he was going to forget all about me… just like countless other guys had done. In fact, I was so sure that that was what he was going to do, I was preparing myself to be happy for my sister, since I wasn’t one to try to deprive them of happiness out of vengeance. They were still my sisters, after all. But, that isn’t what happened. And, for the first time I can remember since I was 7, someone chose me.
Suddenly, it was worth taking the time to be beautiful, because he thought I was. Suddenly, it was worth the effort to be smart, because he cared for my opinion. Suddenly, I was no longer second-best, and that meant everything.
You think that that would last, especially since we’re now married and he chooses me over and over again every day. But, one exception in hundreds of cases wears off really fast. It didn’t start a trend, it didn’t change the fact (as I see it) that I am not worth being chosen, being singled-out, being noticed, being loved. I am just another face in a crowd, one in 7 billion people desperately wanting to be noticed. And I rotate between not trying at all, and trying way too hard; between throwing other’s opinions to the wind (which usually ends up in my hurt and anger spilling all over after having been hidden and undealt with for so long) and being a people-pleaser (which always ends in tears because someone inevitably reminds of my bad reactions when hurt, or my inability to be “okay”, or decides that my hurt or my passions are not worth it)… both of which just make things worse.
And why should I believe anything different? Why would anyone chose to love someone who is incredibly hurt and suffering with no idea how to fix it? Why would anyone chose to single-out someone who is totally ordinary? Why would anyone notice someone who has no noticeable talent, no noticeable beauty, no noticeable anything but pain and loneliness? The only time I’m noticed is when I act out, and then I’m told to shut up and go back to work. I have to choose between people being mad at me and ignoring me. When I do voice my pain in an honest, non-abrasive manner, culture tells me my pain doesn’t count because of the color of my skin, most of my friends end up telling me it doesn’t count because they ignore it, and those who do say something might be there for a day or two but always end up finding something more worth their time. At the end of the day, I am left with my husband (who is currently my only lifeline) and maybe my grandmas… who I love tremendously, but they’re my grandmas. I could be the most worthless nobody in the world, and I would still be the light of their life, which is occasionally reassuring… but usually just goes to show how worthless I am if they are the only ones there for me.
Maybe being #1 isn’t what matters. Maybe I should try because I was indeed made the way I am for some ambiguous purpose. Maybe being yourself is much more valuable than being #1. But when “yourself” needs a lot of help and the world keeps rejecting it, is it really worth it? All I know is that I am no longer #1.