i remember the anxious feeling - the earnestness of wanting to belong at all cost. i heard the girls giggling before walking over to me and i gripped my hands with fear. please don't make fun of me, i thought. my heart that day was tender - heavy - needing comfort. i picked up a shoe and pretended to be fascinated with the laces. "hey elora." i looked up and queen bee stood before me, hair long and straight and perfect for tossing.
"hi," my voice was barely above a whisper. i waited for the punch line when she'd comment on my clothes or my glasses or my crimped hair that stuck to itself at odd angles.
she smiled and tilted her head, "have you ever heard of those jeans that come with puff paint?"
"puff paint. you know...." she rolled her eyes toward a friend and stifled a laugh.
before anyone else could say anything, i nodded my head. "oh...yeah. yeah! i know those. they seem cool."
her friends started giggling then, and she looked at me with disdain. a sneer slowly crawled up her lips and she twirled a strand of hair with her finger.
"whatever elora. you have no idea what i'm talking about because it doesn't exist. god. stop trying to be so cool. you'll never be one of us."
she turned away then, laughing with her friends. i didn't know what hurt more - them knowing i'd be duped or the way i felt completely tossed aside.
i remember feeling confused. i'd known these girls for most of my life. they knew me. they knew the tendency to cry, the softness of my heart, the fear of others that built the charade of shyness. all of those girls, at one point, had come to me with tears - knowing i'd understand and listen.
and now they'd tricked me.
my heart beat wildly against my chest, derailing me yet again for deceiving her.
this happened repeatedly growing up - aching to be known but running to fit in at all costs.
the first time i sat on her couch, she told me we'd be working on my identity in Christ. she told me it was normal for women like me to question who they really are and to pile mask on top of mask on top of mask in order to fit in with the world around them - in order to protect the true self from being seen.
i couldn't help but think of the moment in the shoe store - where i sacrificed what i truly knew in order to be accepted. i knew those girls didn't really care. i knew, even before they walked over, their goal was to belittle me. but my heart whispered perhaps not and i listened.
after that incident, i grew exceedingly inward. i was only in the third grade and already introspective, but from that point on, my heart settled in the corner with her arms crossed and her eyes closed.
i figured if i stayed hard, nothing would hurt me.
not the high school boys calling me garth from wayne's world because of my blue-plastic glasses and badly permed hair.
not the 13-year old boy screaming white dog!!! across the courtyard and pointing at me, laughing.
not the hostile notes from other girls.
not the snide comments about my weight.
not the verbal abuse from a boyfriend.
not the shock of biting words from a fellow church member.
for each of these, i'd stare at the wounds with mock severity until i found myself alone. only then would i let the hurt hang out. only then would my real self crawl out of her hiding place and weep at the festering scars building along the ridges of my heart.
eventually, my heart couldn't take it anymore. the masks stifled the creativity and freedom she longed for - so without me knowing, the masks simply didn't work anymore.
and now i'm left with my true self hanging out - raw and achy from years of denial.
i still don't know what to do with her.
but at least i know she's here.