I used to get jabbed with a hot poker once a week. Sometimes more. It was always right in the gut.
You see, I used to be crippled by jealousy. Not the “Oh that girl has such nice highlights, I’m going to go spend $150 and get some of my own” kind. I’m talking the gut-searing, shame spiral, hide-in-a-closet at-a-party because you’re convinced that everyone is comparing you to her kind.
I’d see a girl somewhere (anywhere), and I’d feel the heat of that poker getting closer. Tall, short, blonde or brunette, it didn’t matter. She could have eight piercings on her face and eye shadow up to her forehead, or she could look like a yogini nursery school teacher, wearing earth shoes and sipping herbal tea. It wasn’t about their physicality (though at the time I thought that it was.)
I thought, maybe, if I took up someone else’s characteristics I would feel better. I thought that changing my outside would lead to changing my inside.
When I was in high school, the hot poker in my life was named Melinda. She was of course the most popular, the best looking and, as in all great high school horror stories, her boyfriend Dave was the cutest, most popular boy at school.
I became obsessed. I dyed my brown hair blonde like hers. (Oh please, don’t look at me like that. Every high school girl has a little Single White Female in her, you know it). I listened to bands whose tee shirts she wore. I got some cheap replicas of her super cool combat boots. The blisters they gave my extra-wide, in-need-of-arch-support flat feet were just further proof of my inadequacy as a stylish, and therefore happy, human being.
One day, the most unbelievable thing happened. Dave and Melinda broke up. Dave and Melinda broke up, and after they did, Dave started looking at me. Me. The boy of my dreams picked me over the girl I was most jealous of!
Does it get any better than that?
Well, actually, no—it gets worse. You see, in my sad little head, the more time we spent together equaled the more time Dave had to compare me to her. Instead of being able to enjoy the true affection of one of the sweetest human beings I have ever met, I spent most of my time with Dave berating myself for not measuring up. Happiness in the palm of your hand.
Needless to say, there were many more Melindas to follow—too many to remember all their names; many whose names I never even knew. There were boys that made me ache too. Not because I wanted to look like them (although I’ve always envied the lack of grooming that is required to be considered an attractive male), but because, again, I wanted to be some aspect of them. X or Y chromosomes were irrelevant next to the depth of my low self-esteem.
Many years, shrinks, drugs, sweat-lodges, hairstyles, fashion choices and vision quests later, I still burned with jealousy at every other turn. I wish I could say that there was a singular “aha” moment when I realized that the jealousy was really about my own self-esteem, and that it wasn’t going to get better unless I learned to love myself, but like most changes to our psyches, my transformation came slowly, painfully and subtly.
Maybe I just got tired of fighting?
We’ve all heard Einstein’s story, about how sometimes his way to solve a difficult problem was by simply walking away from it. He’d give up the struggle and suddenly the answer was there.
My own answer didn’t come suddenly, but it did finally arrive. I really wanted this one guy to like me. I knew that I wanted him to like the person I would be if I was someone that he liked—it wasn’t really me I wanted him to like. If I was the kind of person he liked, well, then I would be that person. We hooked up, several times. Maybe I thought if I slept with him enough it would transform me. Yeah. That didn’t happen. I saw what was going on.
After years of knowing what needed to change on an intellectual level, sometime in my blessed 40s something finally cracked through the rubber walls of my heart.
Many months later came a day when I was confronted with the woman that this guy had gone on to fall in love with. I tensed in anticipation of the jab that was to come. Amazingly, there was no jab. I thought it was a fluke until it happened again. Another gal, another situation; no pain.
I ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I actually liked what I saw. OK, maybe liked is too strong a word here—but at least I accepted that reflection. It was still me, but it was OK. I looked inside and, surprise, much of that was OK too. Without realizing it, somewhere along the way I had actually built a life for myself that fit me.
It wasn’t a copy of somebody else’s life. It was mine, inside and out.
I felt around for the poker, sure that it must be laying in wait somewhere nearby. It must have just been taking a rest and was going to blindside me one of these days. I searched long and hard.
Finally, I realized it wasn’t there anymore. It had gotten cold, been left out in the rain, and ultimately rusted back into the earth from whence it came. I stand on the soil that it’s left behind.
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Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing/Ed: Sara Crolick