This article is part of a series titled “In My Own Defense”
”How do you kiss someone for the first time at 21???”
This is a question posed by an interviewee in the above video: A Hasidic jew who decided to venture outside the community as a young adult. Ill-prepared for the “real world”, they all had to confront a “rude awakening” to certain aspects of life. I found myself much like them – wholly unprepared for the real world without the provision of basic social skills necessary to traverse it with any success. This comment resonated with my own experiences and succinctly described why those “it years” were so traumatic. I recall now watching this clip for the first time on t.v., as my eyes filled with tears and mind flooded with intrusive and painful memories of all those lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way.
What strikes me most are the depths of my own cluelessness. Was I really that dense!?!?
As memories flood my mind I first experience a vivid replay from a child’s eye view. I remember feeling perplexed at why everyone saw me as a social leper. “I’m a good person, what’s wrong with me…what is it I must do to be good enough?”
This viewpoint is in stark contrast to the perspective that 20/20 hindsight provides me, after years of learning lessons the hard way.
According to Siri, naïveté is defined as a lack of wisdom or judgment; innocence. This concept fits me to a “T” (((or at least the young adult version of me))).
I will never forget the day my parents drove me to college as a freshman. We spent the weekend setting up my dorm room and buying all the necessities. As a bullied child, I had built up this day in my head over the last four years. I felt like a parolee who just completed a long prison sentence. I was so glad to leave high school behind and looked forward to a fresh start. I promised myself I was never going to be that isolated and miserable dork again. Leaving school was like finally removing the “scarlet letter” that tends to accompany a bullied child’s daily experiences. I was literally starving for acceptance and belonging: especially from the opposite sex. Until this point the only kind of attention I received were complete ongoing reminders that I was a reject. My bullies were always male and always ganged up on me in collectivity during school so all could enjoy the spectacle that was “Kathleen.”
Sometimes it was in the hallways were they called me names as I tried to ignore them.
Or it was in the lunchroom where I always sat by myself while praying in silence that my attempts at social invisibility were successful and everybody would just leave me “the fuck alone”.
The point is, these experiences left me with a feeling of unbridled fear and trepidation around any males my own age.
At this point in my life I only had the benefit of one-sided perspective of me. I had unknowingly internalized my bullies words. I was ugly. I was unlovable. I was worthless. There was no way anybody might happen to actually want to be with me. So therefore, if I was actually able to find someone “willing” to date me I’d be the luckiest girl in the world.
My hopes would be instantaneously shattered as I was felt with the a brutal blow of stone cold facts.
I couldn’t run away from my problems because I carried them with in me as unresolved traumas set at auto-rewind.
For whatever reason, my mom saved some pictures I sent home to her of my dorm mates from my freshman year of college. While visiting my parents last Christmas, I decided to dig through some old boxes of things in my bedroom closet. These pictures fell into my lap while I was flipping through my old baby book. I recall the feelings of elation that I actually was included in various social activities….And how it was quickly replaced by hopelessness and despair.
Over the course of my first semester it became clear that a huge cavernous divide separated us.
They were your typical freshman with the sort of typical social life I only witnessed from a safe distance.
And with these experiences came opportunities for social and emotional development.
I remember listening in on conversations while hanging out with fellow residents in the t.v. room or cafeteria. They shared various dating experiences while I listened as a fly-on-the-wall. In time, it was clear my thinly veiled attempts to hide my differentness failed. These ladies were all talking about adult-like experiences in a manner reminiscent of your typical SATC episode.
At this point, I hadn’t yet been on my first date or even had my first kiss: “the flaming virgin”
I recall listening in on s conversation in the bathroom as we all got ready to go out for the evening. Honestly, had no idea what was planned for the evening and was just grateful to be invited. Keri, a popular cheerleader and ballet dancer in high school eyed me while commenting to another girl: “You know there’s a big difference between virgins by choice versus virgins by circumstance. One I have respect for, the other is just pathetic.”
Then there was the day that my mom stopped to visit me after a meeting she had in town.
My roommate had decided to visit her parents that weekend so we had the night to ourselves. She slept in my roommates bed and we spent the evening catching up. That following morning we went shopping and out to eat. As my mother began packing her things and getting ready to go, several ladies knocked on the door. They all introduced themselves and made idle small-talk. As my mom got ready to go and gave me a hug, Keri commented: “You know it’s just wrong to send a child so naive and innocent without firsy empowering them with any real-life wisdom.”
Back then, I sincerely didn’t get it. I was just plain hurt at the time that I didn’t fit in. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I be their equal?
At the time, desperate to succeed in fitting in, it was my goal to catch up by making up for lost time in order to somehow gain equal footing. However, it goes without saying that this thinking is sorely misguided, there is no making up for lost time. Things have to just work through the work to naturally overtime and my pathway forward was to remain divergent and unique. So they continued trying to invite me to things but it just didn’t work out as I had hoped. Chronologically, I was your typical 18-year-old girl. However emotionally my development had been stunted. Inside I was at stuck in time as that insecure 12-year-old girl who had just lost her best friend after she moved away to the local Indian Reservation. With her gone, I was left alone friendless and destined to remain socially isolated myself in the world of my imagination – only safe place to be.
And there are no words that can adequately do justice to the experience of this. Inside my head this feeling of pain nagged at me as I asked myself: “Why am I so different?” You see, I honestly didn’t know. Looking back at it, I can attribute the problem to a global isolation that was inescapable.. It started in school where I was known as that girl who didn’t talk. It continued at home where I spent 99% of the time in my room, with busy parents who didn’t know and couldn’t understand.
My father was my idol: he marched to the beat of his own drum and appeared to be above others’ opinions not giving a crap one way or the other.
…And then there was my mother who always appeared so self-assured, confident, pragmatic and logical: As if she had all of life’s answers.
And my sister served to act as as proof that I was a human defect, by succeeding in every area of life I failed at.
I was isolated into the world of my imagination. My body was in school, but I wasn’t in my body. I was in my mind, and learned to exist in an inescapably painful situation by being beyond the point of feeling or reacting to it. Mentally numbed into a zombie-like state for the sake of emotional survival. It is only with 20/20 hindsight that I can see what was then invisible to me. The understanding that I needed as a solution to my problems existed just beyond the pain I was unwilling to face.
My father, the idol, was also socially clueless and ostracized – like me.
My mother, the one with the answers, was also naïve and ignorant – like me.
My sister who appeared to succeed was also struggling in her own way – like me.
When examining the origins of my pathological naivety I must say it comes down to the fact that life developed a one-sidedness based on others’ opinions and my inability to see beyond them.
I have had to examine my own personal narrative to include information that had been previously overlooked. This idea of me being not good enough has haunted and perplexed me much of my life. And until I was willing to confront the traumas of my past, I had no idea why people reacted to me as they did. I just knew it was hurtful and made no sense. With no one guiding me there to help me, I naturally blamed myself. Within me was the thought I’m worthwhile person. Around me everyone had these terrible things to say coming out of left field.
In order to pass PE class all you need to do is simply participate. I flat-out refused freshman year and got an F, which really ticked off my mother.
I was always the last one to be picked. Whenever we games like baseball, there eventually came the moment whe. attention would fall upon me and the taunting began. The usual suspects all jumped in with a barrage of verbal insults that felt like knives hurled upon my soul. I would try, in futility, to swallow my tears but was never very successful at if. My heart has always been clearly visible upon my sleeve as an easy target. In those moments I would pray for the ground to swallow me while in order to be rendered invisible. But, this never happened.
So anyway what I did to survive PE was to conveniently forgetto bring my gym clothes. Our teacher said if you didn’t have your PE clothes you could not participate. This strategy worked for a while and I was able to sit safely in the sidelines. However, at some point my teacher eventually sent a note home informing her of my perpetual oversight to not bring gym clothes. From that day forth I was unable to get away with leaving my gym clothes at home. There was no way out.
So one day after the usual taunting and ridicule, we went to the locker room to shower and change. For the most part, the girls in my class ignore me, which was preferable to the verbal ridicule the boys always dished our. Around me several other girls started undressing talking about normal high school stuff like this party on this weekend or so and do’s boyfriend. I remained quiet and simply went about my business thinking to myself, “they have no idea how lucky they are getting to be normal”. However, at some point, I start noticing everybody giving me these funny looks. Perturbed by the stares I gave the girl next to me the “evil eye” as she asks: “who bought you that underwear and why don’t you shave your legs?” I looked down at my underwear, having not given it a single thought until that moment. It was the underwear that my mother bought for me. It had pretty little pink flowers on it and was the modest granny style that my mother approved of. They of course have this fancy underwear that you get from the Victoria’ s Secret. The kind my mother would always comment that only “slutty girls” wear. Then, as I began examining my hairy legs I thought to myself in frustration at my mothers steadfast ignorance. Ignorant of the varied social niceties required for one to fit in at the typical American High School, she didn’t understand why sending your child to school with hairy legs and granny panties was not a “good idea”. I begged for normal panties and she would ask “why do you need those, nobody will see them anyway.” I would try stealing my father’s razors, but she would lake them from me. At one point, I just gave up and thought to myself, the boy’s all hate you now anyway, its not like shaved legs and bikini underwear are bound to make a dang bit of difference at this point. I’m not exactly sure what my response was, but I basically asked: “What’s the point? The boy’s here hate me?” I could tell, by the looks on their faces, that I wasn’t making any sense, but at the time I really didn’t give a shit. I had no desire to explain myself to anyone in that moment.
As I reflect on this memory today, I can’t help but think about a new girl back in 5th grade who moved to town. Since I lived in a small town, “new kids” were a rarity and most of us grew up together. I had her in P.E. class and this was our first time having to undress in front of others in a locker room.
Everybody was just developing and wearing training bras. This new girl, however still wore those “underoos” with superhero characters on them. She would dance around like a little girl as everyone looked at her strangely for her odd behavior. I couldn’t help but wonder how this girl could be so clueless, that she was oblivious to the fact that everybody thoughts he was an oddball. Was this me in Freshman year on that day when somebody asked me about my granny panties? Probably so. I remember telling my sister this story one day, and recall her responding bluntly, “Oh my God! There’s no way I’d let that happen. I would have found a way around mom.” In other words, I was still to blame for my own cluelessness. You see, it appears that ignorance is not an excuse. Societal ignorance is equitable to a character defects I suppose – an unforgivable one.
So what defense can I provide for daring to do things like wearing granny panties to PE class? I can see within my mind the opinions of those who knew me from this time: “What’ the hell’s wrong with her? She was such a weirdo!!” In my own defense I simply would like to note that I was really clueless.. At no point has anyone given me advice or assistance on how to fit in and be like a normal kid. The fact is there are so many things working against me. I was raised in a home with two unique parents. My dad is socially awkward and marches to his own drum. My mother was a foreigner unfamiliar to many aspects of teenage life in America. I had absolutely no friends after sixth grade.
Fortunately for my sister who is six years younger, my parents had already endured watching me struggle socially. They wanted to provide my sister different experiences. So the raised her very differently and retroactively attempted to give me those things that she had gotten first. My younger sister was first to get a car, first to wear makeup, first to date. I followed her and was to retroactively receive these things – as somewhat of an afterthought. I think this was their way of making amends for failing to provide me what I needed to survive socially in your typical American School System.
Point #1: “In my own defense”, I wasn’t only ignorant of the rules of law regarding fitting in. Doing so was legitimately complicated due to the prolonged isolation (both at work & home…