I spend almost all my time trying to be a nice person. It’s always been like this; I kid you not. Like in fifth grade I was voted MOST COURTEOUS like that was some kind of damn honor or something, right?
Carrie is polite.
Carrie is courteous.
Carrie is word-of-the day worthy.
That’s not who I thought I was.
“Most Courteous” wasn’t what I wanted to be, you know, right? Like I wanted to be “Smartest” or “Prettiest” or “Class Clown” or “Most Athletic” even though “Most Athletic” is something I could never be since I have zero hand-eye coordination. This is because I don’t use my left eye to see. They thought I was blind when I was born. I had an operation. I had glasses when I was one year old and kept them all the way until fifth grade when I prayed to God every night to not have to have glasses in middle school.
There was this stupid Dorothy Parker quote that says, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” and that quote was like the word of God to me. I knew I would always be most courteous and not real superlative worthy unless I actually got rid of those damn glasses.
So I prayed.
At the doctor’s office, I sat in the chair and stared at the eye chart. It was all on my right eye, I knew. It had to perform at 100 % to get rid of those damn glasses.
The doctor was all, “Can you read this line?”
And I was all, “E.”
And he was all, “Can you read this line?”
And I was all, “T.O.Z.”
He made an interesting noise, like he was impressed. “Go down as low as you can. Just keep reading each line. Start at the top. How about that?”
“Okay.” I took a deep breath and started from the top. “E F P T P Z L P E D.”
I went on and on. I could see them all.
Sadly, the magical return of my eyesight didn’t make me magically popular as one boy reminded me at a sixth-grade dance at St Joseph’s the one Catholic church in our town. We had one Catholic church, which was where some of the Irish and French Canadian kids went. We had Protestant church, which was Presbyterian. That’s it.
I wanted to be one of those church kids so badly. But one of my dads was an atheist. Another dad was a lapsed Catholic who believed that hell was where we were living right now, on Earth. And my mom gave up her Methodist Church in Manchester because she caught the minister cheating at bowling and called him out on it.
“He lied to my face, that man,” Mom would self-righteously retell us for decades. “Right. To. My. Face. And this man was supposed to be in charge of my spiritual growth? I’ll show him spiritual growth. He was always looking at my cleavage, too. Creep.”
Bowling mattered a lot to my mom. But I was just annoyed because her cleavage and insistence that you aren’t supposed to cheat in bowling meant I couldn’t go to church.
And I wanted to.
I wanted to belong, you know?
So, when S. slow danced with me three times in a row at the CCD dance, I felt like I might actually belong.
But then he pulled away from me and said, “Carrie, let’s face it. Neither of us are lookers. So we might as well make do with each other.”
I stepped out of his arms and I said one word, “What?”
“I’m saying… I’m saying… We’re not tens so we might as well make do.”
I cried and I ran away and hid in the bathroom. I didn’t come out even when his mom, a freaking chaperone, came in to check on me. I didn’t come out until there wasn’t any music playing at all.
Only then did I run out to my mom’s old Chevy Monte Carlo, which was waiting in the parking lot. I wrenched open the door and slammed myself inside the car.
“What is it?” Her smile went into the anger place where her lips were just straight lines. This was how she looked when she talked about her little Methodist minister friend.
I blurted out what S. said. With my mother, there was no pretending something bad hadn’t happened. There were no secrets, unless they were hers.
“That bastard,” she said.
“I’m ugly.” I sobbed that out somehow.
“You aren’t ugly. That boy is ugly. His heart is ugly. He was working some line. He thinks he’s some actor. Some comedian. He’s a punk.”
But I knew in my heart that my mom was lying. I was ugly. I had to be.
I suddenly became someone I didn’t think I was.
And the thing is, no matter how many times I’ve heard people tell me I’m not, heard boys and girls call me cute or beautiful or lovely or pretty, I’ve never believed them. It’s S.S’s words that I hear in my head, over and over again.
Neither of us are lookers.
We’re not tens.
I have this other friend who photographs well. She is the opposite of me because I photograph like poop.
She says to me sometimes, “I don’t know how so many guys like you. You and me? We’re alright looking, but we’re not beautiful like OTHER GIRL.”
And I smiled at her.
OTHER GIRL is skinny and blonde and full of acne scars and holes of anxiety that threaten to eat her insides away. And I worry for her all the time.
And I am?
Alright looking, I guess. I became who she said I was.
Her words shouldn’t matter.
It freaking matters.
Other people’s words have echoed and echoed and shaped me until I don’t even want to be in a photograph anymore. I’m too afraid that the image of me that I see will be even worse than I imagine.
I had delusions of insignificance. Every time I felt badly about who I was it was because someone else had put me in a comparison situation.
You know how that is right?
Ah, I’m not as successful as Rick Riordan.
Ah, I’m not as beautiful as all these famous actresses and models or even that random police dispatcher in my town.
Ah, I’m not as smart as…
Ah, I’m not as good a runner as…
But the thing is? That’s crap. You are magical as you. You don’t need to be compared to anyone else or compare yourself to others. Superlatives are bull. We are all superlative at being ourselves.
Your life is your message to this world.
And what is that message? The truth of you? The truth of me? It sure isn’t how we look. It’s how we are on the inside. For me that’s word-of-the-day Carrie, Courteous Carrie, Writer Carrie, Photographer Carrie, Hug Your Dogs All the Time Carrie.
That’s the truth of you, too.
And looking into mirrors? It’s about more than seeing what’s on the outside, about more than being defined and labeled by what’s on that same outside. It’s about the inner you. The real you and seeing it – really seeing it – and knowing how freaking magic you are just by being you, authentically and truly you.
That’s not saying you don’t have flaws, that you won’t mess up. We all mess up. We mess up constantly.
Some people are afraid of the #metoo movement, of making their own mistakes when it comes to racial issues, religious issues, sexuality, identity, ability.
That fear? It’s good. It makes us better. We are all heading straight into truth; burning it out of ourselves, all the ugly things that we don’t want to see. We can’t let our fear slow us down. We can’t let other people’s visions of us control us. We can’t be afraid to look into the mirrors that see deep inside of us.
Social media brings out trolls. That’s so true, but it also gives us a voice, a hope. We have a new template for telling our stories, for making our lives and for sharing them in a world where our voices often didn’t matter. We can share our magic in so many ways.
And it’s intoxicating and terrifying. People are interested in other people. People are sharing with other people. People are even interested in us. In us.
And that’s power.
And that’s magic.
Use it wisely. I know I will try to. I know I make mistakes. I know that I am human. But the thing is? I love being human. I love growing and evolving and changing. I hope you do, too.
For a complete round-up of my 16-or-so books, check out my website. And if you like us, or our podcast, or just want to support a writer, please buy one of those books, or leave a review on a site like Amazon. Those reviews help. It’s all some weird marketing algorhthym from hell, basically.
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