“Every girl must decide whether she to be true to herself or true to the world”
– Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior
Two years ago. That is what I can remember being the first time I opened up to a man. The funny part is that I barely knew the guy. We were neighbours who occasionally said “hi” to each other in passing, and from time to time, he would come over to my porch and we would have cringeworthy small talk while smoking a cigarette. That was all, until it wasn’t.
One night, I went out to my porch and he made his way over, as he typically did. This time though, the conversation was far different than our typical script and I, for once, did most of the talking.
To be completely honest, I’m not exactly sure how the conversation began and how it turned into a lot more sharing on my part. I guess that’s what you get from having too much tequila in your system.
I shared a lot of my past and a lot of my present that night. Maybe it was the tequila. Maybe it was my need to let go of everything I keep bottled up inside me for so long. Maybe it was a weird connection I felt having finally met a fellow writer (who by the way, doesn’t consider himself to be a writer, which is such a writer thing to do).
Anyways, I feared a response of pity. That’s typically what I always fear. I don’t really know what response I wanted in return, but what I received was something I never could have expected. Or perhaps it was something I should have seen coming all along.
He said, and I quote, “You’re so lucky you’ve been through things. Like, actual hard stuff, you know? You get to have a cool story.”
First of all, why is it that so many of the writers I have met are terrible speakers (myself included)? Our written words are delicious, but as soon as anything comes out of our mouth, we either sound like two-year-olds learning vowels for the first time, or high school teens trying to act cool after being confronted by a group of popular kids.
Anyways, all I could feel in that moment was disgust. All I could feel was a tremendous amount of insult and a lack of perspective.
Here is what I wanted to say:
“How dare you? How dare you distance the credit I deserve for holding my shit together and reward the lottery system of the universe for starting me off in poor circumstances? How dare you stand there feeling jealous of my story? How dare you even call it a story? Because no, this is not a story or a movie or a book where everything is tidy and scripted and edited and the ending is wonderful. This is not a story. This is my fucking life.
And no, I will not stand here pitying you either for not having your “story” be more “hard”. I will not taste the venom for your privilege of being a caucasian male who comes from a well-off middle-class family. I will not pity you, nor will I feel jealous of you. Why? Because you sir, have the amount of ignorance that I am incapable of even breathing around.
When I tell you about my father’s suicide attempt when I was 15 years old. When I tell you about the dark hole of peace that alcohol gave me, along with how it completely ruined me. When I tell you that having a home or groceries on the table was never a guarentee. And when I tell you the embarrassment that came along with walking into food banks and then being turned away. When I tell you these things, the LAST thing I want to hear is that I am lucky. I am NOT lucky. I am fucking strong. This is not the story I was given. This is the life that I made.”
That’s what I wanted to say. Here is what I actually said:
“I’m not lucky for having a hard life. I’m just managing things as they come and I’m not really good at it but I’m trying and I’ve always tried. But I guess you’re right. I’ve learned a lot from having things be pretty difficult.”
It’s not like I didn’t speak the truth because I did. However, I didn’t allow my opinions to have a voice either – a problem I find many women tend to have. You put a smile on your face and you agree with his stance even if a fire is burning your insides in opposition. You do it because that is what history has taught us to do.
I didn’t use my voice that night. Instead, I let him continue to think that I approved of his ignorance. To this day, that is the story that haunts me, and also reminds me to never let that happen again. I should be able to say something and I should not hesitate to stand up for myself. It is not my circumstances that should get the credit, it is me.
It took me a long time to learn that, and I’m still learning. We’re all always learning. To be a woman in this day and age comes with a lot of uncertainty. History has expectations for us that our minds and hearts contradict. We don’t have the same role models that men do. We don’t have generations upon generations of women who have the type of freedom that we are being given now. So ,we don’t exactly know what to do with these choices and this freedom. I can’t tell you what you personally have to do with it. However, what I can advise is this: Do not hide behind it. Do not hide behind your freedom and do not hide behind yourself.