Growing Up Girl
Last year, I was asked to write a series of blogs promoting a mother/daughter retreat dealing with the theme “Unloved.” The blogs went out anonymously, which was fine; but it’s been nagging at me thinking of them out there on the internet, like little orphans alone and unclaimed. I’ve compiled an abridged version of them here because I think they are sad and true. They do not reflect the way things should be, but they do reflect the way things often are. And this is what I know: If we want to help our daughters and sisters, students and friends – or even ourselves, first we have to see.
It was his voice on the phone, but I could hardly believe it was him speaking. He sounded so cold. And the words made no sense at all.
“I don’t love you anymore,” he said. “I don’t want you in my life. It was good for a while, but things change. So, I’m done. And don’t bother texting. I won’t reply.”
The line went dead, but in my head, I could still hear his voice, repeating over and over like an echo: “I don’t love you anymore…”
It was the “anymore” that hurt the most. He loved me, and then he didn’t. I belonged to him, and then I didn’t. He wanted me, and then he didn’t. What changed? More importantly, what is wrong with me that makes me so hard to love?
My guidance counselor said to me the other day, “I understand, high school can be a lonely place.” I rolled my eyes. He doesn’t get it. Not really. He doesn’t understand that there are like five levels of lonely in high school, and they all come out at lunch time. There is level one lonely, that sits in a group but never gets talked to. It’s the kind of borderline inclusion that just rubs in the fact that you’re not really accepted. Then there’s level two lonely. That’s sitting at a lunch table all by yourself because no one wants to be seen with you or talk to you. No one cares about getting to get to know you at all. I used to be a level three, which meant I walked the halls, pretending that I had someplace I needed to be, when the truth was I just knew the one place I didn’t want to be. Now, I’ve been here long enough, and enough bad stuff has happened to me, that I’m a level four. That means I take my lunch into the bathroom and eat it in a stall. I pick my feet up off the floor and hold very still when someone comes in. I hold my breath and don’t start chewing again until I hear them leave. Being a level four scares me, because I know what comes next. The fives climb the fire escape to the roof and think about some very bad things. Please, help me! I don’t want to become a five.
My mom caught me crying in front of my mirror again today. She told me I was being ridiculous. Like that helps. She’s always telling me how lucky I am. How she would have given anything for my long blonde hair, skinny figure, and clear skin when she was in high school. She doesn’t have any idea what it’s like to hate what I see in that glass so much. She doesn’t have to hear the voices in my head that tell me how ugly I am. How flawed. I hear my grandmother’s voice remarking on how “cute” it is the way my ears stick out when I wear my hair in a ponytail. I hear my doctor’s voice commenting on my posture, how it isn’t worrisome yet, but I should try to stand up straighter. And I hear my ex-boyfriend’s voice telling me how stupid I look when I laugh. Loudest of all is my own voice telling me I should do the world a favor and hide in my room forever so no one has to look at me. I want to scream at my mother, “Don’t you get it? I hate myself!” 4
Do you know how hard it is to be invisible? Off everyone’s radar because they all think that I’m perfectly fine? I’m a straight-A student, the class vice president, and my parents aren’t divorced. So, what on earth could possibly be wrong in my life? Even I am ashamed of my “problems” because they are so small compared to what some other kids are going through. But they’re real to me. I hate so many things about myself. I struggle to connect deeply with my friends, and I am so often alone. I am haunted by fears that keep me awake at night, and I wrestle with an anger so dark it would frighten anyone if I were ever to let it show. I know I need help. I drop hints like breadcrumbs that nobody follows. Why can’t you see? Are you even listening to me? I have no idea where to turn.
A little girl twirls in her fancy dress, balancing on her tiptoes in shiny black shoes. As she spins, she looks down at the ruffles flaring around her tiny hips and smiles. Then she looks up and risks it all:
“Am I pretty, Daddy?”
A teenage girl scoots up close to the boy she hopes she can trust. She twists her hair up into a messy bun, pulling a few curls loose to frame her face, soft and feminine. She smiles into the eyes of the one to whom she has given her heart and risks it all:
“Am I pretty?” she asks.
A young wife, her body changed by the process of carrying and nursing her first child, stands before a mirror, critically surveying the stranger that is herself. Uncertainly, she puts on the outfit she has just bought in an attempt to flatter this new woman’s figure. She turns to face her husband, who has not changed the way she has changed, and risks it all:
“Am I pretty?” she asks.