The Girl No One Saw

Growing up, I had what I will call, an alternative childhood. I loved books and one of my greatest unmet childhood desires was to be read to. My mom and step-dad worked crazy hours and there was rarely anyone around to guide me or nurture me let alone read to me. Without a present parent, the circumstances were far from ideal. I did not have sleepovers or even a best friend. How could a girl have a best friend when she had no clue how to even be a friend? Now, as an adult writer, it is my job to not only write about what happened to me but how it affected me and how I grew because of it. Most importantly, how I managed to get through to the other side.

I’ll be honest. I made it through by stumbling my way along, picking up experiences as I went. I learned life-lessons from sharp comments and public humiliation. I learned how to laugh because of social ostracization. I learned how to do things by watching others from the sidelines of life. The perpetual wallflower. The fly on the wall. The girl no one sees. Finding better ways to be ignored rather than to be abused or humiliated was my central goal during my early years. During this period, I tried to make myself small and insignificant– to which I succeeded for the most part but also hindering my growth.

Also, my alternative childhood left me too scared to try new things, a problem which has continued to plague my adult life. I was not taught that it was okay to make mistakes because that is how you learn; I wish I had been taught that one. Instead, I was taught that not only was making mistakes a bad horrible thing but that I was only good at making mistakes. That was my everlasting teenage state. I was always wrong. I was born wrong into a world that would always see me as wrong, a single weed in a valley full of beautiful flowers.

But in a way, these turned out to be good experiences. I learned to entertain myself. I learned to embrace my weirdness and used it to create laughter when I could. I was semi-cautious and managed to stay out of trouble for the most part. However, I’ve struggled as an adult to learn all the things I missed out on as a child. I’ve found that as a writer, I must observe everything around me in detail, and in doing so, I also am able to shine a light on my own flaws. “To succeed in life is to be able to transform.”

I think this is why I like writing so much. I can write to my heart’s content. I can let it all spill out on the page. I can use what I find within myself, deep below the surface. I can take what I learn about myself and transform my ideas both on paper and in my mind. I can choose what I focus on and how I focus on it. I can find my own alternatives and develop positive action.

When I share what I have written, I am always surprised to find others who feel how I feel, have had similar experiences, or who share my perspective. It reminds me that no matter how alone I feel, I’m not. There might not be many people like me in the world, but there are enough of us that I can finally open to the world around me. I cannot change it no matter how much I want to. All I can do is observe and adjust my own sails. I will always come up with solutions. Being resourceful is how I have made it to my alternative adulthood. Growing is how I made it to the other side.

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Personal Essay #49

Are you coming into middle age? Welcome to gray hairs that have minds of their own and skin that seems to hang a little looser than it used to. Welcome to noisy joints and slower moving muscles. Welcome to a mind full of experiences, knowledge, and perceptions, yet still able to learn new information, making middle age the most fertile ground since infancy—only now mixed with the largest number of possibilities. It’s also a time for re-evaluation and making life-altering directional changes. So, settle into the middle part of your life’s story and see what more you want to write.

When we hear the phrase ‘coming of age’ we usually think of the ages between 13-21 depending on various factors. But I never hear anyone talk about the ‘second’ coming-of-age, (the stage that happens between ages 40-60) other than the overused negative phrase ‘mid-life crisis’. I believe instead that this is a mystical and magical time in ones’ life, this middle life, this second chance that not everyone makes it to. For me, I personally feel like I am coming into middle life like a toddler who is learning to run, but I simply keep propelling myself forward as fast as I can, in order to keep from falling flat on my own face.

So, what does this next section of life feel like (other than the aches and pains)? Well, hopefully by middle age, most of us have enough life experience built up and are brimming full of knowledge and wisdom. Yet at this point, most of us are still young enough to use that wisdom as a tool while still being young enough to try new things and to push ourselves to new limits. Many of us also now have grown or almost grown children giving us a huge portion of our time back and with this new found freedom a second childhood or second attempt at creating the life we truly want.

This can also be a time for stepping out of comfort zones, trying things that have sat on the back-burner while we raised families or even the secret longings forgot since our own childhood. Perhaps this step is fueled by the sands of time sliding past the narrow neck of the hourglass, by the knowledge, that time is absolutely running out. There’s so much life still left to live, we are at the halfway point, looking at our future with the fuzzy vision of declining eyesight. Unfortunately, it’s also common for potentially fatal health issues crop or pop up, disrupting any and all of our plans. As my granny used to say, “When you have your health, you have everything.” Life has no quality to it when you no longer have good health.

In this next stage of the adventure, we continue on with everything we have left. It’s the time to make a difference in the world–if we can. The perfect opportunity to figure out what else we can bring to the table of life. The focus is often on overall improvement and trying to make good on things we might have gotten wrong earlier in life. It’s a time for enjoying the years left ahead of us to the fullest as well as accomplishing things that have merely been dreams. Some say it’s all downhill from here and perhaps that is true but it’s more enjoyable than that. I feel middle life comes with a unique freedom that other stages of life are lacking. What will you do with this precious stage of your life? What dreams do you have left unfulfilled? If you are lucky, you still have plenty of time to find out.

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Personal Essay #45

The time I fell in love with a narcissist.

I didn’t know he was a narcissist when I met him. It took me about a decade to figure it out. It was by far the strangest love affair of my life and it nearly destroyed me. I never understood which was worse the fact that I let it all happen or that he willfully hurt me time and time again. I learned many things about myself during that time and in the reflection of his mirror, he showed me what areas I needed to work on. Just like all things, there was some good with the bad.

During that time I suffered from a lowered self-esteem. Now whether this was just who I was then or whether or not something he did made it worse, who can say? I try not to talk about it. He had me so crazy in my own head for far too long. My friends still cringe when his name comes up. This one particular heartache is one that I don’t think will ever fully heal.

This all came to the surface again recently after I read an article on “Why empaths are attracted to narcissists.” Suddenly that entire relationship made sense to me. Every misstep, every low blow, every complaint, every odd quirk, every dishonest or telling moment… now it all made perfect terrifying sense.

Now, let me be clear. This was not physical abuse. I know he would never have laid a hand on me. He’s not that guy. But I do think he emotionally hurt me and did so with intent in order to keep me attached to and dependent on him. It took years of no contact in order for me to be able to look back and see things clearly.

After these years, I can now see the clear path of destruction and the grieving and the eventual rebirth of my path. It was a growing experience that taught me things I couldn’t learn any other way. It gave me a new perspective on life and love and intentions. It also planted a permanent seed of distrust which has taught me to be cautious in general.

I finally did the update to my email that Yahoo has been reminding me to do for months. There now appeared a place with pictures from old emails. When I opened it there popped up pictures from an outing we went on but no pictures of us together. There never were. We were never like that. It didn’t hurt like I thought it would, it just made me remember. Now it seems that all happened another lifetime ago.

I am still grateful for the lessons even though the cuts were deep and took forever to heal. The scars keep me protected. They’ve thickened over time with maturity and learning. The lessons I learned gave me the strength to walk away from any situation that is no good for me. I learned that I keep the key to my own happiness. Because the old adage is true…

If someone else holds the key to your happiness, they will drop it, they will drop it every time.

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Personal Essay #44

I’m going to tell you a story that is quite possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever done. Like most of the “worst” things I have done, this was completely unintentional. Not that it made the situation any better; it never does. My crime was breaking trust and in the process, I lost a cherished friend. This is one of the bigger issues for me as I am not one to make friends casually or lightly or even easily for that matter.

This incident still haunts me. It was one of those situations I wish I could have gone back and done differently. But the truth is that I didn’t handle it well and there was nothing I could do to fix it once the damage was done. Once the words escaped me there was no getting them back. The scene was one of friendship heartbreak. All the sorry’s in the world wouldn’t fix it. Instead, a pile of pain laid where once a friendship stood. The remnants broken, trashed, and useless.

I learned so much from such a small slip. She even sat me down and confronted me giving me a chance to at least explain myself—to own my shit and admit to my wrongness. She was calm and open about it.

It was a chance no one had given me before and it instilled in me a greater sense of responsibility. I, in turn, gave her the ability and opportunity to express her feelings and disappointment. I even allowed her to dump all those feelings onto me like trash upon the pile. I can still to this day feel the pain and the guilt, but I learned.

I lost her then. Well shortly thereafter, she uprooted herself and I have never seen her again. Not another word was spoken or passed between us. She fell off the face of my planet. I miss her. I still have some pictures of us together in Vegas. They are in a box somewhere around here. I don’t know why I still think about her but I do.

I’ve been wary and careful in the making and keeping of friends ever since. It’s a hard thing to trust another person (especially women sometimes). It’s also hard to be trusted and you never know the level of expectation the other person has for you in their own life. Therefore, I have very few close friends anymore.

My closest friends are now mostly independent women. I like that and need that independence as well. It’s not essential to see each other all the time to keep our friendship going and growing. I have changed in many ways over the last few years (thank the gods). I now keep secrets without fail. I am careful with feelings when I can be. But I believe sometimes we do need to hear the hard stuff. I believe sometimes we have to be confrontational and express what we are feeling and allow others to do the same in order to better things. I’m still not good at all the intricate bits and confrontational stuff is, and will probably always, be hard for me.

Examining my list of the worst things I have done, I’d have to say this one rode in on a high learning curve. Which in my perspective, turns a mistake, into a lesson.

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Personal Essay #42

During my childhood, I was starving to learn. There were no real books in our house and no one around to learn from as both my mom and my step-dad worked two jobs during those early years. I wanted to learn to work on cars, throw a ball, and climb trees. Instead, I was taught how to fold laundry, clean the bathroom, and do the dishes. I was rarely around people that I could really learn from and my life took on a very secluded and barren state. I wanted to learn to do real things. I wanted to grow.

I watched instead, longingly. I tried to watch and learn on the rare occasion that I was near someone working on a car before they shooed me away. I sat on the bench, watching others out on the field toss around and hit the softball with ease and grace. I watched nimble children climb trees. Even though I wasn’t the girlie type, I even watched the girls at school putting up their hair in pretty styles while I struggled to make the basic ponytail look good.

There are even more things I wanted to learn to do. I’ve always admired strong swimmers. I have never been one nor am I graceful when I do swim. All these things make me wonder, especially now that my own child has grown, why didn’t I learn these things? (I gave my son as many opportunities as I could afford.) Was it the opportunity? (I know I had few if any.) Was it just a lack of natural ability? (Please don’t throw me a softball as I am likely to catch it with my face.) Was it fear? (I’ve always been quite timid about learning new things even though I have a strong desire to learn them.)

I do have skills that I have learned over the years, many of them self-taught with minor instruction. Therefore, many of the things I can and do, are not done efficiently and most likely don’t fit into what is commonly taught. Although I do partially learn by watching, I also learn by doing and I have learned to do a great many things through trial and error.

The great thing about learning and about being self-taught is that I have learned to figure things out and to solve my way out of problems. I am rather successful at solving the majority of problems I have to face. I won’t lie, I still have plenty to learn, but I am done with watching things from the sidelines. I am halfway through my life and running out of time. It’s time to start doing.

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Personal Essay #41

“Not everyone is going to like you.” She said.
I was in my early twenties and still new to this world in so many ways. I have always been a sensitive person so I won’t lie; this statement cut me to my very core. We all want to be liked and to fit in and I had always tried too hard and I often failed miserably. I was perpetually socially awkward, (who am I kidding, I still am) with little in the way of ability or experience to fully understand the dynamics of interpersonal communications, let alone possessing any of the tools or skills needed to navigate certain aspects of social interaction. I felt like the child who’d been raised by wolves or apes, possessing no clue as to how to accomplish more than meeting my own basic needs of survival.
This handful of words struck me hard, hitting me like a knife tip sticking into the wood after it’s been thrown, leaving only the ominous sound of pain behind it. This one sentence changed the course of my personal growth. It shifted me into a state of being and learning that would take decades to come full circle bringing about harsh truths of the matter relating to the reasons why not everyone is going to like you and why you will not always like everyone you meet.
Someone may not like us because we annoy them or because we behave in a way or do things that encroach on their personal space or bubble. Sometimes this dislike grows slowly over time and other times it is an initial first impression. Other times it is a conflict of personalities or a difference in beliefs. Sometimes the dislike will evolve into change for one or both parties. Sometimes, and as is most often the case, things will escalate into some kind of drama, some personal or public confrontation.
It happens— it happens all the time.
So who was the woman who spoke this life-changing sentence to me? Honestly, I don’t remember her name. I only remember her face because she was someone I used to work with but I barely knew her. I can’t think of anything specific I could have possibly done to incur her wrath. Looking back, the only thing I can think of is that she didn’t like the person I was then. Honestly, I can’t blame her for that. I didn’t like me then either.
This moment, this sentence, this catalyst, made it easier for me to accept when someone didn’t like me. I was able to spot the signs right away and just steer clear. Though it didn’t take the sting out of the feeling, it gave me the ability to not really give a damn, at least not as much. However, it also provided me the ability to be okay with my not liking someone else. Therefore, I have learned to pause and take stock in the “why?” And then act accordingly. I have learned this introspection is necessary and important and can be very revealing on a personal level.
“Not everyone is going to like you,” …and that’s okay because not everyone has to.

The only person who has to like you– is you.

CUDsWeL
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Personal Essay #39

I loved flying alone as a child. Flying meant freedom. Flying meant independence. Flying meant to escape. Flying meant being welcomed by warm inviting faces. I am not sure exactly how old I was on my first plane ride, most likely under 3 though I don’t remember it. I do, however, remember the first time I flew somewhere all alone.

I was 5 or 6 and I am thinking I might have been in kindergarten or 1st grade because I still had my front teeth in pictures. Things were different at the airport in those days; security and rules were nothing like they are now. My mom escorted me onto the plane though she had no ticket. We met the pilot and they let me look around inside the cockpit. It was Delta Airlines and they gave me a pin to wear that looked just like the one the stewardess was wearing. My mom strapped me into my seat, wished me a safe flight and exited the plane.

The stewardess checked on me often, smiling with her perfectly made-up face and her Delta scarf wrapped around her neck, tied and pointed outward in the flamboyant style of the 1970’s. I can still remember the scent of her perfume over the thick smell of cigarettes. Throughout the flight, she loaded me up with gum, snacks, and a deck of playing cards. She was very nice and kept me from getting scared during the take-off and landing (which are still my least favorite parts).

I was traveling from South Florida to Atlanta, GA on an Easter trip to see my Grandma V (her name was Vivian). She was my dad’s mother and as in most divorce cases back then, I didn’t get to see my dad’s side of the family very often (years). So to me, this vacation was a nervous treat.

Both of my grandmothers couldn’t have been more different from each other. My mom’s mother was a down to earth woman and lavished me with love and learning. My dad’s mother was younger and more put together but always slightly reserved— but a bit distant. She was a talented singer and always had an air of performance around her. I don’t remember her voice anymore but I remember what it felt like. Her voice rang of hope and faith, no matter what she was singing.

I remember her being a shapely woman while I was a super gangly child. My legs and arms too long to fit right into clothes and my bony body still skinny and short. My features were huge and stood out on my smallish face as though someone had put me together haphazardly. My Grandma V, on the other hand, was graceful and wore stylish clothes with a figure that seemed unnatural for a grandmother to have. I don’t remember ever seeing her hair messy or her face without makeup. While she always seemed happy, I felt a sadness behind her eyes when she looked at me. Perhaps she could foresee how difficult my early years were going to be, knowing there was nothing she could do.

While visiting her, I remember things like feeding the ducks in the pond by her condo and getting my first bout of motion sickness in her husband’s car as we rolled through the Atlanta hills with the top down on the red Oldsmobile. I remember hunting for Easter eggs in my favorite dress that was now too short. I loved that dress mostly because it had strips of red velvet sewn onto the sleeves, waist, and trim. I remember loving the soothing feeling I got from rubbing my fingers against the pieces that dangled from perfect bows. The dress was considered a ‘special occasion dress’ and because of that I only wore it twice and the last time it had fit perfectly.

While I remember other flights by myself, that one sticks out because of the fear I overcame and the acceptance I felt. While many of my flights involved some measure of excitement and sometimes their own kind of fear (fleeing a hurricane), that particular one was my first step into myself. It was the first experience I had with learning about myself and with traveling alone. It was a good lesson to learn at an early age and while I hate being on a plane and all that comes with it, I love the experience of going somewhere new, on my own or with others. It still means escape, freedom, and independence even though I might take it for granted.

So, while I fight back the motion sickness with Dramamine and use breathing techniques during take-off and landing to calm my nerves, I am grateful that our society is able to cut travel time by defying gravity. It is still my least favorite form of travel. However, it reminds me that I myself can defy the things that scare me, that I am able to step out of my comfort zone despite fear and anxiety and that just because something seems hard, difficult, or impossible, doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes you have to hold onto hope and have a little faith.

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