When was the first time you realized that you were small? When did you see that being small meant there would always be people who, like certain glossy-eyed and evil children with ant hills, would delight in smashy you into gritty nothing?
I’ve spent a busy decade hiding. I’ve gained weight. I’ve worn high heels. I’ve cultivated a version of myself who does not seem as small, as little as she really is. But, when I’m tired, thoughtful, or not feeling well, I shrink in the eyes of the people who know me. More than once when this happens, they’ve turned and looked at me with new eyes. “Wow,” they’ll say, “you ARE short!” It’s true, I am. I’m short and small. I bruise easily. My upper body strength is nil. But most of the time I’m too full of other stuff, too busy or loud (even when I’m shy and quiet, I do those things loudly) to ever be thought of as small.
This is good, because someone thought I was small, once. Someone thought I was weak, once.
That was not a crush. That was something different, but important: A voice that makes you cower. Fingers that are a too forceful. A mouth full of teeth that wants more. That presses until you’re sure you taste copper. They want it all and you, small, give away pieces of yourself that have taken lifetimes to discover. You will spend another lifetime trying to get them back. Words that belittle and demean and are worst of all maybe a little true. Words that slake the hunger of the villain in my head who is desperately hungry -- always -- to be torn into little pieces, to lay there shredded and raw in the afterglow of total annihilation of the self.
Yes, somebody realized I was small once and I have tried very hard never to be so small again. I dreamed of kindness. I dreamed of a hand nervously taking mine and saying, “Your hand is so soft,” but with wonder and reverence instead of tinged with a hunger to crack it to pieces. Please don’t crack me into pieces.
That’s where we are. That’s who I am at 19, at 20. I don’t remember if I was a sophomore or a junior when I fell for Micah. I’m going to say I was a sophomore with the understanding that this could be wrong. I don’t remember, exactly. But he was -- or seemed to me to be -- one of those kind men. A strong-soft person, an antidote to hurts. I was bashful and awful back then, in a lot of ways. Well, bashful in one way -- in the only way the word means. Awful in too many ways to count. Does every girl let the damage get the better of her at one time or another? What a busy little monster I was back then, so desperate for the world to like me that I was maybe the least likeable, the least knowable, person in any given room.
I made an idiot out of myself more than once in front of Micah. He wasn’t a student. He had been, but he graduated, and, by the time I met him, he was working in the shop at the theatre center. I spent a lot of time at the theatre. Surprise, I was an actor, she wryly admits. I also worked there, downstairs below the scene shop in the costume shop. Micah was a carpenter. You know, like Jesus. He was fair and ruddy cheeked and a babe and it’s not like we were ever even really that close but god, I liked him.
He was soft-spoken and so cool. I wanted to befriend him badly and I didn’t know how. It would probably be easier now, now that the only lies I tell are white ones and the only person I struggle to impress or dazzle is myself and even then I don’t do all the time. One night leaving a party, I spotted him, and, being drunk, asked him to take me home. He’s a nice guy, so of course he said yes. Of course he did. I thought he was smart and talented and so, so kind. All I had to offer was every so often succeeding in making him laugh and hoping I impressed him when he saw me in some play. I could be vulnerable and open on a stage. In life? Not so much. I could tell you how I really felt if I was using somebody else’s words and you were willing to listen for secret truths.
Standing by a lake, we were all there -- a concert maybe? Everyone was drinking and we were talking and I don’t even remember what we were saying, just that he ended it with “...and I’m not saying that because I want to kiss you.” Interrupted before I could process. Which is fine, which is life, which is good maybe even because we didn’t really know each other and if he was being so effusive he was probably really drunk, right? Oh my god, this is so embarrassing to reflect and reconsider because it makes me feel 19 again, and stuck and like an idiot who doesn’t believe one good thing could ever happen to her. “And I’m not saying that because I want to kiss you.” Drunk nothings. We weren’t even friends, not really.
In the days following this I tried in vain to catch his eye. How did I do this? I wore a dress that wasn’t mine, I did my hair, I put myself in the rooms where he was and he left those rooms. I felt uncomfortable and naked and desperate and I hated it. Who did I think I was to pursue this decent person when I was such a nothing? But he seemed to care when I talked. He seemed to think I was nice.
A Halloween party, he was dressed as Jesus and I was dressed as the Snow Queen. Accidentally kind of perfect when I look at the photo now. I was icy and unreachable and desperate for a savior. I wish that I was braver back then. I wish that I had been, I don’t know...I guess just better.
I wish I’d thought enough of myself just enough to believe that I might deserve love that wasn’t conditional or mean or that left marks outside or in. I try to hold on to how it felt to be that way and believe those things so that I don’t fall into that way of thinking now again years later.
But it’s hard to do, sometimes.
I want to believe, not in a perfectly good and kind man, because no one is perfectly anything and we are all of us (people worth knowing) riotous messes, but in someone who will be good to me and let me be good to them. I do not believe that I can be saved or that anyone else can for that matter. But a piece of goodness, a soft exchange of silent sleepy smiles, a kiss to start the day, to be held in the small hours of the morning and to know that I am small and dinged in places but whole -- that seems like something real.