Monday, January 22, 2007

Reflecting Words

There are words in my life that just seems to stick out. More specifically, there are words and phrases – some spoken by friends, some by enemies, and some by family – which I can’t seem to forget.

I call these moments, these words, “reflecting words.” These are the words and phrases that help me see myself as other people really see me. Not as how other people may want me to believe they see me, but how they actually see me.

Some of the moments are small and trite. Words spoken in haste or anger, but as is often the case, the truth tends to spill out, unchecked, when we are in a hurry or angry at someone.

I think what is most difficult about reflecting words is that when aspects of my personality, even just perceived aspects, are reflected back at me, the effect can be hard to swallow. To realize someone sees me that way.

I, of course, rarely see myself that way.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of reflecting words/phrases that I occasionally come back to during harrowing times. Or sometimes just to check if I am, indeed, really being that way.

So, here are my top “reflecting words” in order of earliest recollection.

1. “I’m fat. I’m ugly. No one will ever love me.”
As part of my daily middle school humiliation routine, Josh would force me to repeat those hateful words. Again and again I said those words until he was satisfied. Sometimes up to ten times a day. I came to believe them and occasionally still do.

Unfortunately, my classmates heard them too, and walked away believing them. I sincerely believe that is why no boy in my class ever wanted to come near me.

Of course, now I am grateful I never dated those boys. But, I’m not grateful for the inner self deprecating belief Josh helped install during my most formative years.

2. “You think you’re so special?”
Believe it or not, my MOTHER said those words when I was in middle school! I couldn’t get my hair to look right that day and (I’m sure) was complaining about it loudly. Mom was trying to be sympathetic and said something like bad hair days happen to everyone. I insisted that they DIDN’T happen to ME.

Mom looked at me, in disbelief, and said, “You think you’re so special?” And I realized exactly who I was acting like – a spoiled, self-centered person who thought she was better than everyone else. That she couldn’t be touched by anything as mundane as a bad hair day.

Mom’s words and her tone hurt me, and I was pretty mad for the rest of my bad hair day. But, I learned something. I saw myself through my mother’s internal mirror, and I didn’t like what I saw.

So, now, occasionally, when something bad happens, I try to remind myself that I am, indeed, NOT so special. Tends to knock me down a peg or two.

3. “You’re being rude!”
You would think this phrase is no big deal. We’ve all heard it a hundred times, right? Well, I’m sure I had heard it before, too. But this time, the time I remember, it came from one of my favorite teachers, Mr. K.

I was a great student. I worked at it, since it appeared to be the only thing I was good at. I wasn’t thin, pretty, popular, or good at sports (still the same score on all those, I’m afraid) – but I was GOLD scholastically. Not that my tepid classmates ever presented much of a challenge (except for the all too brief years with the Amazing Jeff Z.).

Anyway, for the most part, my teachers liked me. Perhaps they sensed school was important to me, that I was one of the few who appreciated their efforts to educate me.

I had a good relationship with almost all my teachers, a begrudging two way street of respect. The only exception being one unqualified teacher (who shall remain nameless) who had a wandering eye and only bestowed favor on the prettier girls in the high school – a club of which I was never a member.

But it was he who lacked my respect, not the other way around. Actually, he was the first cocky-Christian-school-guy-all-grown-up that I knew, and I made a conscious effort to avoid men like that for the REST of my life (still doing pretty good on that score).

Anyway, getting back to the situation, I was having a little trouble with Algebra while my best friend, Deborah, was having a LOT of trouble. We decided to go ask Mr. K. if he could tutor us during lunch on my “one” problem and Deborah’s “several” problems.

We sat side by side in his class, during lunch, while he helped us work through the problems. Looking back, I realize it was extremely nice of him to give up his lunch hour to tutor us. At the time, I guess I expected it (Aha, you say, now I see where this is going).

I asked a question. Mr. K. explained it. As I was working though my problem, using his solution, Deborah asked her question. Mr. K. was halfway through her solution, when I interrupted him to clarify what he told me.

I still remember the look of stone-cold-anger he gave me. In a very clipped and precise voice, he said, “You’re being very rude. Do you realize that?”

His words cut me to the bone. Ouch. Really, really painful – ouch.

I blushed and immediately looked down at my paper, completely, totally embarrassed. And sure that Mr. K. would never, ever have any respect for me again. And, deep down, in total embarrassment, I realized what he had said was very, very true. By interrupting him, I was saying my problem was more important than Deborah’s, plus I was disrespecting him and Deborah.

Thankfully, Mr. K.’s anger didn’t last, and by the next class period, he was back to smiling at me and including me in the class discussion.

But, it taught me a lesson. The shame, absolute burning shame, still happens whenever I catch myself being rude. I often remember his words when I realize I am over-interrupting.

But seriously, ouch! I felt so bad for his kids if and when they did something wrong!

4. “We thought you were Dottie!”
It was just a small incident, a blip in high school, but it was one of the first times I realized how overweight I was.

I was standing at the back of the auditorium of our school. Some girls were up on the stage practicing a choral number for our next school program. I waved at a couple of the girls. They strained their eyes (I was back quite a ways) and eventually returned the wave.

A few minutes later the girls were finished and heading down the center aisle. When they got closer, one of the girls came up to me and said, “Oh, Ann-Marie! It was YOU. We thought it was Dottie, and we couldn’t figure out why she was here!”

I was shocked! Dottie was a girl in our church youth group. She went to public school which would explain why the girls didn’t know why she would have been at school. But, I had always thought of Dottie as a bigger girl. I certainly had thought she was MUCH bigger than me.

Later, I stood in the school bathroom and examined my girth in the mirror. I realized I was the same size, maybe even possibly larger, than Dottie. It was a sad, eye-opening moment.

I didn’t blame the girl who mentioned it. There was no way she could have known how it would affect me. But, I swore then and there to try not to compare one person to another, in case it would bother them. I also learned that we rarely see ourselves as clearly as others do.

5. “You’ll stretch them out!”

This quote is attributed to my cousin Charity, and as a footnote, I must admit that there was an underlying semi-animosity between Charity and myself up until I went to college. I’m sure I said many hurtful things to her that would outweigh the balance of this one comment.

She is the closet thing to an actual sister I’ll ever have, and I love her dearly. She was Maid of Honor in my wedding.

But in high school, we shared the same two friends – J&T – and both thought we were closer to them than the other one was. We hung out only because we had the same two friends, plus I was more than a little jealous that the amazingly smart and sweet J&T were in HER class while I had boy-obsessed cheerleaders in mine.

We were at Leadership Camp – some lame excuse to try to make leaders out of the noodle-backed boys who populated our school. Leadership Camp combined two of the things I hated the most – camping and high school boys who loathed the site of me.

Anyway, somehow, Charity and I ended up in the same six person camping-style dormitory. Sometime, in the middle of the day, I had to run out of our “cabin” and grab something from the school van. I was near the door and decided to slip on Charity’s shoes (we were FAMILY, after all) for the quick dash.

When I got back, I slipped off Charity’s shoes, looked up, and saw Charity fuming. She snatched the shoes from my hand and examined them carefully.

“Don’t borrow these again. You’ll stretch them out,” she snapped at me before going back to her bunk.

I sat there, stunned. Stretch them out? What, I was SO fat that my feet would stretch out her precious shoes? I was furious. So that’s how Charity saw me. Some fat sow who she wouldn’t even lend her shoes to for thirty seconds? Some family!

I was mad at her for that – for a LONG time. Probably longer than she even realizes.

In hindsight, I should have used my own shoes, or at the very least, asked before I borrowed hers. Then, at least, she could have made up a (possibly nicer) excuse for why I couldn’t borrow them.

But I had always thought Charity would understand about being overweight, since my Aunt Kathy (her mom) shared the same burden of being overweight as I did.

It came as quite a surprise that she did not understand.

I remember feeling hurt, but I also learned to be prepared. Due to my weight, I have never been able to “share” clothes with friends. The “shoe incident” (as I like to think of it) taught me to have anything I might need on hand.

It’s probably why I have such a HUGE purse – to hold all those things.

6. “Mature, Ann-Mare, real mature.”

This chiding quote was delivered in deadpan seriousness from my rarely-serious college roommate, Kelly.

Kelly and I had become roommates by divine intervention. My freshman year roommate had never shown up, and she was the third person shoved in a two-person dorm room. We hit it off immediately and considered ourselves fortunate to be able to “choose” the person we wanted to live with.

Amy lived next door to us. She was a frequent visitor to our room and the reigning drama queen of our floor. Amy would repeatedly fling our door open, throw herself down on the nearest available bed, give a sigh, and regale us with a dramatic retelling of what AMAZING or HORRIBLE thing had just happened to her. She did this with such regularity that we developed the habit of jumping off our beds when she entered so she wouldn’t accidentally fling herself directly on us.

In spite of her theatrical tendencies, Kelly and I liked Amy. She was funny, sweet, and really like being our friend.

Amy was visiting one day when I had a cold. I was complaining (as I am wont to do during any sickness) to Kelly and telling her all my symptoms. As my roommate and comrade-in-arms, Kelly was used to my infrequent whining and knew that “this, too, shall pass.” But, Amy, who didn’t know me all that well then, jokingly said, “Wow, you’re really being a whiner.”

Now, I knew she was joking, but I was sick, and when I thought about all those times that Amy came into our room and whined about events in her life and how I never said anything about it, I couldn’t help it.

I looked her directly in the eye and said, “YOU’RE calling ME a whiner? YOU?”

She immediately teared up and raced out of our room.

I looked to Kelly for confirmation that I had done the right thing and found myself locked in her angry eyes. “That was mature, Ann-Marie. Real mature.” With that, she got off her bed and went next door to console Amy.

I was dumbfounded. I knew I was right. Amy was ten times the whiner I was. And she was in our room all the time, complaining, and (up until now) I’d never said anything. Then, I complain one time, and SHE corrects ME.

But, I also understood Kelly’s anger. We both knew Amy didn’t have a lot of friends, and she definitely didn’t have a close friendship with anyone like Kelly and I did. When she was with us, she could be herself, her dramatic self, without being judged. But, now that I’d snapped at her, she would feel guilty just barging in our room and being herself.

Plus, I’d just been mean. Plain mean. And now was trying to make an excuse for myself.

So, I grabbed my Kleenex box and went next door. I apologized to Amy (and read Kelly’s forgiveness in her eyes) and between the three of us went through the whole box of tissue.

Kelly’s honesty taught me the value of a true friend. A true friend who is willing to call me out when I say something hurtful. To help me realize I am not always right. It’s painful, but a true friend is there to help you become a better person.

7. “You were both bossy.”
This is the quote that forced me to think about reflecting words. For years, I’ve kept a mind catalog of these words, these times in my life. I’m only recounting the top few to you. But, this particular quote, delivered just this Christmas by my cousin Colleen, is one of the biggest surprises, one of the BIG reflecting moments in my life.

You see, for most of my life I held the belief that my childhood self rescued Colleen from Charity. No longer did Colleen have to play with bossy Charity! We could play together, have awesome adventures together, and do whatever we wanted! I saw myself as the Anne to her Diana (Anne of Green Gables), and Charity as the Felicity to my Sara (Avonlea). I had always thought that Colleen and I had the greatest times together.

At least until high school, when we went different directions (she went conservative, and I went a little crazy).

But this December, as the three of us were sitting down and working on an ill-fated Christmas Eve reading together, I made a joke about Charity being bossy when we were growing up. Colleen smiled and said, “You were both bossy.”

What? No, no, she must be mistaken. CHARITY was bossy. I wasn’t bossy. I was fun. We were equals – we were fun TOGETHER.

When I asked her again, she said, “Oh no, you were both bossy.”

My world turned upside down. A substantial chunk of my childhood cornerstone crumbled. I’d been bossy? Really? I’ve prided myself all these years on my openness, my “live and let live (even if you’re wrong)” policy.

And I was a bossy kid? And Colleen should know. We spent a TON of time together in grade school.

Talk about eye opening. Well, can’t change that now. But it did make me re-examine my life. Maybe I am occasionally bossy, even though I’ve never seen myself that way. So, I guess I’d better start looking – start making sure I’m not being that way.

Well, those are my top reflecting moments. Here are some runners-up:

“Yeah, she doesn’t need any extra padding.”
Delivered by my cousin Aaron (talking to his friend) during a family camping trip, when he saw me sleeping on the floor. Although, obviously, I wasn’t fully asleep when I heard his comment.

“We have to invite Ann-Marie to everything.”
From my cousin Tammy on how I (apparently) complain when I feel excluded. I’m owning up to this one, as I do, indeed, feel excluded when I’m not invited – it’s part of being an only child. What can I say?

I’m sure I’ll think of more. But those reflecting words run the gambit for me. In retrospect, most of them came from people I love very much – which just goes to show you how much those who really love you can teach you – even when they don’t mean to.

And, I guess I’m really fortunate that most of them still manage to love me, in spite of my apparent tendencies to be selfish, rude, easily-insulted, borrowing-without-asking, mean spirited, and now – rumor has it– BOSSY.

Thanks for loving me, guys! I know it’s a rough job.


Charity said...

Hey I accidentally posted a c omment for this blog on the vacation fever blog please read!

mom2mine said...

This post had my mind running in so many directions! I completely understand those words that stick with you for so long! It has made me really think about so many in my life.
A few random thoughts...

I still need to find out which Josh it is. I can't put the name to the face! He was a mean little kid

Dotty - Funny you mentioned her. I hadn't though about her in years until just recently. Did you know she died this last year? I think I heard that she commited suicide. She was always a troubled girl.

Charity... She was always bossy.
JUST KIDDING Charity! Just checking if you are reading these.

Mr K... just brough back some good and bad memories.

Leadership camp - your description was priceless.

The poor teacher- I SO KNOW who you are talking about. Still a poor excuse for an educator. Think of the educations he hurt. WOW.

Okay. Enough of me. Talk to you later.

Ann-Marie said...

Isn't that funny? I always thought you liked that teacher - well, not "liked" but at least got along with him. Do you know I complained to Mr. Stille about him AT Leadership Camp one year? And was told I was "imagining" things!" It's amazing I'm SANE after graduating from that freak fest! Oh, well!

I didn't know about Dotty. In fact, I barely knew her at all. I just thought I was smaller, apparently...but like I said, not so much. That's too bad. I wonder if her weight was a factor? When I contemplated the big "S" in middle school, it always revolved around my weight.

As for my tormentor - Josh - his full name is Josh Gilchrist. You've got to check out my "Bully Chronicles" posts that detail our relationship in elementary and middle school. It's in the archives on my blog.

Thanks for the agreement on Leadership Camp - I never, ever understood why we were dragged there!

Thanks for reading...I read your blog - FUNNY - ALL the time!

mom2mine said...

Thanks for the name on Josh. I had read your Cully Crhonicles, but could never put the last name to the face. I remember the little punk well. I was scared of him, and he was two years my junior!

THAT teacher. Always got along with him. Still do. We have a long history. I believe he is a POOR EXCUSE for a teacher. It is sad what he has done to so many kids' education.

Dotty. I don't know exactly what brought it on. I do know she was always living with a tormented mind. I think I remember her as being bipolar. Maybe schizophrenic (I have no Idea how to spell that!) too. I think she used to hear voices. Plus her parents. That is another story.

I enjoy your blog too. I ready all the time. *giggling* about the Funny comment - I showed him!!!!

Have a great day.