Saturday, February 14, 2009


ke·loid (lo̵id′) noun: an excessive growth of scar tissue on the skin

I'm invited to a wedding next month, and as usual, I have had a bit of a melt down. It happens every time I am looking forward to something fun and exciting: weddings, celebrations, gatherings, etc. It happens just about each time I have to think about how I look. And every time, I hate myself for acting so ridiculous.

The more I think about it, what angers me today is not what I grew up with. My parents may have had less tact than some parents and thought they were helping us improve ourselves. That is not how it turned out. I was always thin skinned and sensitive. Being compared to others made me seethe with rage and jealousy that my parents thought other children were better than me. Their comparisons never motivated me to eat less or study more, I just hated myself more. I was sure there was something hopelessly, incurably broken about me. My poor parents had to love me because I was their disappointing child and they were stuck with me. Their methods didn't work out too well on my brothers either, even though neither are as sensitive as I am.

I should have grown out of my sensitivities. I've lived away from them for almost two decades. Their cutting words have become less frequent, a combination of distance, less contact and their having given up on fixing my faults. And yet, the scars remain. Much like keloids that stay behind as ugly reminders of past wounds, I see the effects of their words and ways each time I prepare for something I look forward to. Each and every one of their words flood my mind as I stand naked in front of a mirror trying to prepare. I'm reminded that I won't look good in anything, that it's a waste to buy anything decent before I lose weight and 'fix' my problem spots and on and on. And every time, not matter how hard I try, I break down. I ruin things for myself and everyone around me--which makes me hate myself even more.

Today was basically the last full day I had to try to look for a dress to wear to the wedding. I wanted to find something within my 'budget'--a number so low that even I know I couldn't find anything decent with that price. I had already gotten into an argument with M over this, but today was more than I could take. I was asking a friend to come and help me find something, but I refused to go to the mall where she suggested we start our search at Nordstrom--almost always her first stop. "Nordstrom?!", I said to M, "I can't go to Nordstrom! I can't shop there." And that was the beginning of my breakdown. With each word, I was beating myself up more--I was thinking and saying everything I have ever heard and hated. The worst part is, no one needs to do anything to me any more, I've been trained well and am on autopilot. I would never treat anyone else like this; why would I be more cruel to myself than I am to strangers?

Despite the angst ridden morning and my still burning eyes, I have found some dresses--almost all of them from Nordstrom. I'll only keep one and will go to the wedding to celebrate my friends. But I need to stop this. I'm too old and too exhausted to keep beating myself up in this way. I try so hard not to repeat their ways when I deal with my brothers and husband--something that took me a while to realize and let go of. I have to have at least as much respect for myself as I want others to have for me.

This may have to be my next project.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Original Miss Jane Marie

For reasons that I still haven't figured out, I attended kindergarten at Rock Hill Presbyterian. My mother was a recently observant Muslim who had just adopted hijjab and become friendly acquaintances with the Kosher butcher in downtown St. Louis. Frankly, if I had understood any more about religious identity, my childhood would have been even more confusing that it already was. As it were I spent my days trying to avoid Jesus' gentle gaze in the chapel, hoping he wouldn't notice that I didn't believe in Him as much as I believed in his Father. Still, I took great comfort in the stories promising that He loved me.

When I wasn't avoiding Jesus, my days were filled by Miss P, Miss J and Miss Jane Marie. Each had a specific role in my life: Miss P, the principal, was all love and patience. I remember the day she taught me to count in tens. Miss J was all business and order in a way that made me feel safe. Nothing bad could happen around her because bad things were not part of her daily plan for the kids. And finally, Miss Jane Marie was the thorn in my side. She was tall and very heavy in a way that only Midwesterners seem to be; an accident waiting to happen and the opposite of Miss J in every possible way. When I realized that they lived across the street from each other and sent their children to the same school, I was fascinated for days. I imagined a street bi-sected, pitting neighbor against neighbor. These thoughts made prayer time much more interesting.

After a few months, my mom started working at the church. My hijjabi, Muslim mother joined the pre-school staff and would sit next to me on the pew during prayer. She would peek into my classroom to see if I was behaving and soon became friends with the three grown-ups in my life. Frankly, in a time when my lonely mother needed support the most, these three women were by her side. During the days that my mother had to take my brother to the hospital, they would offer to babysit me. The Miss J days were wonderful: Snacks on actual plates; kids playing games and doing homework; dinner being prepped and a cat watching all of us lazily from the top of the stairwell. Miss J made being a single mom to seven children seem effortless.

Staying with Miss Jane Marie was like a smelly, whirlwind. As the proud owner of four cats, two dogs and four puppies, she had a given up on cleaning after them. Moving around her house was much like navigating my way through a field of landmines, "Oh! Don't sit there sweetie, that's where Mr. Whiskers likes to pee." or "Smell the pillow before you use it for naptime! I haven't washed them after Lady gave birth to the puppies." She was not a great believer in showers, handwashing or house cleaning. Meal time at her house was filled with anxiety for me, because she liked to reuse paper plates (the thin white ones) that no one had bothered to throw away from whenever. What time I didn't spend locked in the bathroom, cautiously washing my hands and air drying them, I would spend staring wistfully out the window at Miss J's house, planning my escape.

One day after church lessons, I asked, "Miss Jane Marie, is cleanliness really close to Godliness?"

"Yes, of course."

"And do you love Jesus?"


"Then why..."

To her credit, Miss J wasn't just orderly, she was incredibly fast, too. She had scooped me up and relocated me to a pile of books that needed organizing by size. Sadly, I never got to finish my question. Nor could I offer her any five year old wisdom on the necessity of bathing regularly and not discussing one's bowel movements.

Strangely, in second grade I met a girl at my new school who looked like she had been plucked out of a Peanuts cartoon, complete with her own dusty aura. Her name was Jane Marie. I went home that day and declared, "I think I don't like the Jane Maries. They're all the same! EWWWW!"

I would like to say that I stand corrected. I don't like the St. Louis Jane Maries.