I was always the first to bow out, step down, back off.
I never competed for anything.
I always accepted mediocrity.
It seemed easier.
It seemed protective.
It felt safe.
I remember the moment in time when accepting things for how I thought they were happened for me. It was a fall day. I had arrived home from school and shucked my clothes on the floor of my room. I rifled through my drawers for those exercise pants. As I pulled them on and went in search of the t-shirt I wanted to wear I had the brief thought, “Why?” I pulled the t-shirt over my head, used my fingers to fix my hair and sat down on the edge of my bed to put on my socks and shoes. As I made my typical rabbit-ear tie in my shoelace, another thought passed briefly through my head, “Who cares?”
I headed out the door to exercise. I found myself walking and jogging through a neighborhood that was familiar to me, but not mine. I noticed the air, it was cool and smelled like falling leaves. A dog ran the length of the fence barking it’s greeting at me. I could hear my feet hitting the pavement. In spite of the perfect day, the air, the beauty of that fall day, I felt miserable. I stopped. I stood in the street. The house across from where I stood had an interesting look of chaos and disorder. There were ropes and ladders and stolen street signs and wooden platforms covering every inch of the yard and climbing into the trees, reaching high above the house. I stood staring at the house for a long time.
Before I knew it, my feet had wandered on. My thoughts had wandered as well. They wandered to my friend who was going out with my lifelong crush. She knew I liked him. He knew I liked him. It didn’t matter, they liked each other, I wasn’t enough. They wandered to the kid at church I always had a crush on, who teased me and treated me like I was something to be scorned. I was someone who deserved teasing and scorn. They wandered to my sister and her boyfriend, her kind and funny and sweet and wonderful boyfriend, who treated me like a sister and a friend. I wanted someone like that in my life, but there was no reality in believing that could ever happen. They wandered to my ever shrinking group of friends who I found I couldn’t really stand to be around. My own pain, mingled with their inner drive to be popular wasn’t mixing well, besides, I couldn’t be popular. They wandered to my hair. I hated my hair.
I realized there were tears on my cheeks. As the late afternoon sun began to set, the air began to bite at the tears streaks on my face. I realized my hands were cold and I just wanted to feel the safety and warmth of home. I slowly made my way back there.
It was then I gave up and counted myself out. I’m not sure how old I was exactly, but I remember it as clear as it happened yesterday. I think often on that day, the day I decided I wasn’t worth fighting for anymore, the day I gave up and started to die a little inside.
When I met him, the one who would become my husband, I had been counting myself out for years. It had been happening for so long, I wasn’t even aware of it anymore, it had become just another facet of my personality, the one that always said to me, “You will never be enough. You will never be okay. You will always be ugly. You will always hurt. Life is pain.”
We broke up twice in the three years we dated. Both times we found our way back to each other. For me, it was mostly out of fear. If I let this one go, there would never be another. I was so desperate to be loved and wanted, I believed that came with a price. The price was never truly being fulfilled. The price was laying yourself down completely for the sake of the other. I learned to pay that price, daily. For twelve long years I woke up each morning and dropped my coins in the bank of my husband. I thought that is how it was supposed to work.
Last night, I kissed my boys and wished them sweet dreams. I was drowning in frustration and hurt and exhaustion. I left the room and stood in the hallway. The small talk between my mom and I was drowned out by my own thoughts. I began rifling through my drawers for a pair of pants. As I put them on and went in search of a t-shirt I asked my mom if she would mind if I went out. Within five minutes I was dressed, my shoes were tied in their typical rabbit-ear fashion, my headphones were on, and I was off. As I walked and jogged through these unfamiliar neighborhoods last night I felt alive and excited and ready for the future. A dog barked its greeting and ran the length of the fence as I jogged by. The air was crisp with fall and smelled slightly of falling leaves. I could remember the exact moment I counted myself out of my own life, but I couldn’t remember in these last seven months when I started counting myself back in.
It’s been years and years. There were incredible and amazing moments in those years, but the ache in my heart was the ever present burden of my life. The idea that I should be counted out as not pretty enough or smart enough or witty enough or funny enough or just simply enough conquered and demanded my every thought.
It’s tiring living that way.
So last night, as my feet hit the pavement, as my body moved and my lungs drew breath, as my head filled with the music of these moments, I told myself that I will never count myself out again. I will become worthy of my own love and as I have worked towards that, peace has become my friend, and peace is a much better friend than pain. My life will be consumed by joy and love. It’s the new promise I make to myself. I want to own every second of my life, the joy, the pain, the peace, the sorrow. It’s doesn’t all have to be beautiful and perfect, but it belongs to me. The moments of pain will come and go, the sorrow will be present, but so will the happiness, the joy, the laughter. I no longer choose to be defined by the ugly talk that has dominated my head for years and years. I want my life to be lived. I want to be able to say, I lived.
And so begins the new chapter of this amazing life.