I was a pliable kid, able to bend and mold myself to fit the needs of the moment. Flexible for a chubby girl inside and out, I could size up a situation and ride the inevitable wave through the most dangerous waters of life with incredible ease and determination. I longed to be resilient, though I was regularly crushed under the weight of my own sensitivity. Somehow I knew that deep inside, buried under my emotionally unstable personality lay a spiritual warrior fighting to take charge of my life. I would not find her for many years.
My ability and desire to float freely from situation to situation was a blessing and a curse. Because we moved so much when I was growing up, the inherent skills I possessed of fitting into new groups, making friends without being attached to them, and leading people to trust me came totally naturally to me. But, inside, I lacked a certain ability to really KNOW myself. I was a chameleon, a shapeshifter, an actor playing roles to get the job done, and I found myself confused by myself. Like Zoolander mugging for the camera, I’d look into the mirror and ask “Who am I?”
There were certain parts of my life which seemed constant: love of music and acting, struggle with weight issues, a mushy heart which made me cry at the drop of a hat, whether for or about someone, something, or sometimes nothing at all. One of the things which affected me the most was the feeling I got when I accidentally or intentionally caused harm to anyone or anything.
I was not a hunter, never killed an animal except one possum I hit with my car on a dark, back road on my way home. I never enjoyed seeing anything suffer, unlike some of the kids who would burn ants with a magnifying glass or chase their cats and dogs causing them terror even just in fun while playing. I took to heart when I hurt someone with my speech or actions. And I was always shocked when someone would intentionally cause me or a loved one harm.
I remember one of the little girls who I played with in one of the apartment complexes we lived in in Memphis. She was a tough girl and would beat the shit out of me any chance she got, randomly and with great fervor. Needless to say, we were not close friends. I was no naive that I could not stop myself from talking to people openly and honestly. I found out that being open and honest without having any real skillfulness could be hurtful and cause trouble for myself and those around me.
One little girl who lived in the complex with us lost her father. He shot himself right there in his home one day when she was at school. I was only 6 or 7 years old and I overheard my parents discussing it…this tragedy right here in our own apartment complex. When we got home from school one day, I said to my friend as we were getting out of the car, “That little girl’s father committed suicide.” My friend did not believe me.
I walked right up to the little girl and asked her “Didn’t your father commit suicide?” Her mother or nanny grabbed my arm and hissed “How dare you! What a mean little girl you are!” I was dumbfounded. I did not understand death at all and really just wanted to know, but had no business asking that girl about it. I can see how someone would think I was being mean. But, really, I had no concept of that and cried all night at the thought that I was perceived as being mean to that sad, little girl who was my friend.
One year, when we lived in a house on a hill, I had a bunch of neighborhood friends who went to and from school with us on the school bus. Most of them were boys, but we played with them on weekends, riding bikes, playing tag, and generally behaving like kids. One day, two of the boys from my block switched jackets – the kind that had their names embroidered on the back in gold and purple letters which were popular at the time….they looked like baseball jackets.
In our school, many girls and boys would exchange jackets if they were ‘going together’ or going steady. I asked one of the boys on the bus if the two other boys were ‘going together’ and perhaps that is why they were sharing each other’s jackets? In that moment, I do not think I was being antagonistic, or accusatory. In fact, I did not think that there was anything wrong with homosexuality if they were boyfriends, but I was more curious to know than anything. My friend replied that he did not know why they were sharing the jackets, but that they might be boyfriends.
The next day, I went over to one of the boys’ houses to play. I knocked on the door. I could see and hear people inside, but they did not answer. I could hear laughter and running as I went from the back door to the front, the side and back to the back doors to peek in to see if my friends were playing a joke on me. After a few minutes, one of the boys who had switched jackets with his friend opened the door and said, “We don’t want to play with you. You told everyone on the bus that I was gay and that’s not true. We’re not going steady! We were pretending to be secret agents in disguise! Go away!”
I tried to mutter an apology saying that I did not care one way or another and that I did not mean to say anything hurtful at all, but the door was slammed in my face before I could explain. Those boys never played with me again and I was so sad that I had hurt them with my stupidity. I found out the hard way that ignorance was NOT bliss.