Everyone either dreams of being a hero or wishes to have something heroic done for them in their time of need. Savior or Saved. But, what about those in-between people? The ones who never realize they need rescuing and then, after years of self-reflection, inadvertently fall into the role of becoming their own heroes. What are they called? Victims? Survivors? These “make-do in very bad situations” people? Are they the perpetual dirty, worn doormat or are they the loudly chiming doorbell proclaiming the arrival of a new player in life’s chess game? They know who to avoid, who never to tell secrets to and also how to self-soothe when the internal weather becomes choppy. And, trust me, it’s hard to accept this heroic status when everything feels like rainy depression and constant protective defense. Very hard.
Growing up, my siblings and I had many instances where heroic intervention was necessary but, the opposite occurred. The closer we came to the edge the quicker people, aware of our situation, backed away. The knowledge that our little voices had the right to ask for help was completely foreign, completely unimaginable. We had no one to throw that dysfunctional ball of confusion to. No one to share the burden. No one to strategize with. And, the one who should have been the hero became the villain instead, and then we, the prey, were left to fend for ourselves. Always left to go it alone because, you know…
BUCK UP! PULL YOURSELF UP BY YOUR BOOTSTRAPS! STOP BEING A BABY!
I heard it all, even at 5 years old the grand expectation for my success in life was one of merely accepting my fate. The fate of a rudderless ship sailing toward an inevitably rocky shore. People like us shouldn’t expect much! How dare we even ask! It was also the expectation that every abuse heaped upon my child self was somehow a lesson on how to toughen up my adult self in the future. This gave no hope, no anticipation, it only led me to believe that if I was being trained to look at life as a constant battle of wills then I would always be on the losing side.
I was being prepared to lose.
I did not want to lose.
Let’s go back to the bootstrap thing. The “pull yourself up” part is a quaint motivational poster slogan but, one that is not even remotely realistic for the vast majority it’s hurled at. How can it be when, at each attempt, someone else’s boot stomps on the clinging-for-dear-life fingers of the one desperate to improve themselves? Or, and this one is classic, how about those moments when improvement or success is acquired only to have it criticized or mocked by the very people demanding said improvement to begin with?
What the hell do you people really want from us? It’s a fair question. A question I know has no honest answer because to answer honestly it to uncover the true animosity or jealousy that resides within. You call us ugly, worthless, sinful, lazy or pathetic yet, and this is real rich, none of those descriptors are deserved because they are mere projection. Projection is not motivation. Learn that. To project inner loathing on others as a means to LEVEL them is not a positive life lesson, it’s a testament to life-long resentment. It is the act of engaging in a personal war where the only winner intended is the projector. We see you. We truly do understand what is happening and…
That’s not going to happen anymore.
I said it.
I mean it.
As a child, and on into young adulthood, the only “heroes” I could identify with were writers, musicians and artists. They spoke my language it seemed and I drank it up like the antidote to a poison I was being force-fed daily. I found no heroes in my own home. Zero. I found no heroes in my small community and I found no heroes in the church my parents demanded we attend. In those limiting areas I only found the requirement to accept fault, beg for forgiveness and then forever comply in order to, maybe, obtain a tiny sliver of acceptance. But, what was I complying with and who were these people I was told I needed acceptance from? Even asking the question earned punishment because, how dare I question the elders?
Elder, thou doth lie!
I know it’s frustrating when I use “fancy words” to weave a comforting blanket of protection from the shit I have been served most of my life. I hear this A LOT. I get that it angers certain people who accuse me of being “vague” or not courageous enough to name names or face my abusers. I have faced them all my life, that job is done. They know their names, I am not required to utter them anymore. I’m not required to prove anything to anyone. And, I’m allowed to sculpt, twist and bend my experiences into any kind of art I chose, whether that be through the lyrical play of words or the hard slash of a paintbrush on a canvas. The audience has no control over the actor’s performance, you are merely there to look, listen and learn.
Look around at the heroes in your life. See one in your mirror every morning. Listen when they speak and listen even harder when they don’t. Observe body language, the subtle yet very apparent signs of a life fraught with challenges but also gifted with limitless grace. And, in the end, learn that when others fail us miserably the win is still within reach because we can write our own rules. We always could.
© 2020 L.A. Askew
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