All posts by sofiability

Brain Spot After Dark

For a long time, the only dreams I had were nightmares.  In fact, I don’t remember having a full night of truly pleasant, uplifting dreams until about first grade.  Most of the time, going to bed was a terrifying prospect.  I couldn’t sleep, and when I did, my dreams were horrific.  Sometimes it seemed justified.  We lived in a house where it was very dark and very quiet at night.  Once, when I was very little, I awoke from a horrific nightmare about the witch from Disney’s Snow White and looked out the window just in time to see a lightning bolt strike and split a tree in the middle of our front yard.  A coincidence like that will give nightmares credibility in the mind of any reasonable child.

I’m thinking back to those times now, as recently I’ve been having nightmares every night.  More aptly, I’ve been having them every morning.  I assume that most of my sleep is fine, but the time right before I wake up is riddled with dreams so bad I wondering if it’s even true that your psyche is supposed to protect you from seeing the worst of the worst in your own dreams (dying, loved ones dying, etc.).

While the cause of my nightmares is probably dietary or organic in some other way, it makes me think of my love-hate relationship with sleep, a dynamic that has been present my whole life.  When I was a baby, I had to be completely worn out by my parents in order to sleep.  Something had to take my attention the entire day all the way until I finally collapsed from exhaustion.  When I got a bit older, I would stay awake long hours, wanting to sleep but being completely unable to.  Then later, I wished I could sleep more because I finally started to be aware of how exhausted I was, but found myself without time and feeling overtired by the time the opportunity for sleep finally presented itself.

I have never, ever, been able to just lie in bed and wait for sleep.  Lying somewhere in the dark, supposedly comfortable, thinking of nothing, listening to silence, is absolutely the most vulnerable situation my anxious mind can fathom and is entirely contrary to me lowering my guard enough to go to sleep.

Could I actually defend myself if any of the nondescript rustling I heard from my bed were something menacing?  Probably not.  Is it highly unlikely that it is or ever will be anything menacing?  Of course.  But none of those are my chief concern, really.  When your brain is a nightmare factory, in fact, when your brain doesn’t even have to be asleep to generate images and ideas that torment and frighten you, the worst part about falling asleep is being a sitting duck for the bad thoughts and nightmares to rise up from under the bed or emerge from inside the closet.  Every scary movie trailer (don’t need the whole movie, brain will fill in the gaps), every bad social interaction, and every dangerous situation I witnessed in recent memory is ripe to be plucked and played out in five acts and five stages of sleep.

They’re just dreams, is what everyone told me when I was little.  I had night terrors, too.  Night terrors are not just dreams.  Night terrors are dreams that did a line of coke and came home from the club to wreck your living room.  The vividness of my dreams, the clear and present threat they seemed to present to me just couldn’t be fiction, no matter what people said.  I think that’s the most I ever believed in anything illogical, actually.  I was a very reasonable child, not gullible when it came to ideas of Santa or the Tooth Fairy, but every villain I ever dreamt about seemed real.  I learned the hard way not to say I thought so, however, after mortifying my mom by regaling some playmates with tales of one of the movie villains I was sure lived in the house and was stalking me at all times.

As a result of my experiences with sleep, I came to hate the night.  All night long in my twin sleigh bed from Pottery Barn (nicest bed I’ve ever had, thanks, Grandpa Ralph) I just wished the sun would hurry up and come out so I could be safe in my classroom again with things going on to distract me and people around whom I felt safe.  I even missed the teachers I didn’t like, just because being at school with them during the day meant we were all safe from whatever was waiting to get us while we slept.

Now, I’m an adult.  I sleep by myself.  I go out at night by myself.  I do all the things adults do.  I visited my mom for two weeks recently.  My mom doesn’t sleep well either.  We stayed up late into the night, sitting on her porch, keeping watch, just in case.

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The Seven Habits of Highly Dysfunctional People

I do weird stuff. I do things that I know I shouldn’t do, in no small part because I know I shouldn’t do them. I spend a lot of time working on my mental health, yet sometimes I find myself poking and prodding at it the way that sometimes when I was a kid I’d dig my retainer into my gums just to have a say in how much it hurt. I motivate myself in weird, potentially slightly unhealthy ways because those ways appeal to my primal sense of competition and my lizard brain’s longings for dominance, sexual selection, and eating the flesh of my enemies (figuratively).

Perhaps to make you feel more normal, here is a list of some of the weird things that I do.

  1.  Reading Yelp and Google Reviews of Strip Clubs

This one is purely a source of entertainment. It’s actually the best source of entertainment in the world. I have nothing but the utmost respect for dancers and adult entertainers and their clients. Nonetheless, reading these reviews will keep my sheltered, Midwestern, Catholic-school-graduate-self laughing until the wee hours. If you’re the type to giggle at naughty words and graphic language, then this is a raucous rabbit hole you should explore. See a world so often hidden from us vanilla folk without ever leaving the comfort of your home.

  1. Theoretical Lifestyle-Ing

I know you readers of certain self help books might look at this next tip and say “why spend time browsing (I call it ‘hypothetically shopping’) for clothing/gold-plated adult toys/premium grocery delivery services you can’t yet afford when you could be out working for them?” Fair point, but every second of the day can’t be active, and when you’re taking a break from being a boss bitch, why not just do a little planning for when you finally make it? I like to research the items that come up in my Facebook newsfeed because I know that Facebook monitors everything I do and therefore knows me better than I know myself, and better than anyone buying me gifts ever could. Establishing a theoretical, glamorous lifestyle allows me to reconcile what I want with what I have, making me feel like I have more choices in my life than I actually do, an important addition when you live within modest means.

  1. Researching Cosmetic Procedures but Then Never Actually Having Them

A punch cushioned by what I once considered to be the excessive amount of soft cartilage on my nose in a martial arts class ended my lifelong wish for rhinoplasty, but I’ll still cruise the internet for before and after pictures of any procedure relevant to what I perceive to be my body’s flaws. It’s a bit like the theoretical lifestyle thing, it just gets to fall under the banner of “research,” because of its medical connotations.

  1. Looking at Upsetting People’s Social Media Profiles

Now, this one is important. Don’t pick someone from way far off in your memory in whom you aren’t really invested, or someone who actually did something felonious to you. Pick someone you generally dislike, whose behavior towards you ranges from “mildly insulting,” to “inappropriate and offensive yet non-actionable.” I find that it’s even better if my dislike for this person feels like something akin to worry or unease.  This way, I can often claim to do this just to “keep an eye on,” this person, but really this is a kind of emotional procrastination that allows me to pick something to be upset about rather than being upset about real, pertinent things that are in any way important in my life. Make sure to clear your search history afterward so you can lie to yourself about how “over it,” and mentally healthy you are. Bonus: if this person recently started a positive habit, like reading more, it can be great competitive motivation to do good things for yourself, as long as you do them more and better than whoever your upsetting muse may be.

  1. Interpretive Dance

Okay, only kind of. This is mostly just me, pretending I’m on the ice (retired figure skater here, no bless oblige), tube-socking it around my living room to whatever tear-jerker is currently on the radio.

  1. Frequent Self-Reflection

I’m a very big advocate of the benefits of becoming better acquainted with your physical body. I’ve been getting to know myself since I was sixteen and Ace Hood released the song “Body 2 Body,” and I will never stop. If you don’t know what I’m getting at here, the best hints that I can give you are that I am frequently late to things and that I often receive compliments on the luminescence of my skin.  Guess what I do right before I go anywhere.

  1. Candidly Writing All My Feelings in My Diary

I used to keep a diary in which I tried to be euphemistic. I pictured my future great-great-grandchildren reading it in the twilight of this century, and, not wanting them to be scandalized by tatara abuela’s real thoughts and feelings, I would be consummately diplomatic and thereby miss out on a majority of the benefits of journaling. Your diary is your place to let loose and tell the world what you really think of each and everyone of its inhabitants before you slam the cover shut, hide the book in a new place in your apartment each time, and never tell anyone what you wrote down ever ever ever.

Well, there you have it.  Seven strange habits of an off-kilter person.  The truth is, sometimes I think even the most self-destructive habits are an effort to make our lives better, however misguided that effort may be.   We’re all living for the day we finally shape up and stop getting in our own respective ways, but, maybe we can just sit back, scroll through Facebook, and enjoy the habits, good and bad, that make us ourselves.

The Worst Place to Which We All Can’t Wait to Return

I had a friend tell me recently that he has no positive memories of Christmas. I told my mom this as we rushed through the house getting ready for Thanksgiving, intermittently bickering and laughing together the way that only best friends do. My mom laughed, “well, who has good memories of the holidays?” She didn’t mean that our holidays are always filled with non-stop anguish, for we had lots of good memories of holidays together during my youth, but those holidays also had their tense moments as we attempted to cook and clean and organize and make ourselves presentable and make our bilingual hodge-podge of cultures and neuroses into a cohesive family unit by the time the football game ended and it was time for dinner. Not an easy task, and one that was bound to be remembered both positively and negatively, depending on the breadth of your focus, and, of course, perspective.

As an only child with a small extended family, my parents are my closest relatives, and I love them very much. My experiences with them have changed, slightly, as they’ve divorced and begun relationships with other people, but I still love my parents as individuals, as parts of my nuclear family. My parents may shave years off my life with their driving, wound me with their occasional expressions of disapproval, find unique ways to make me grind my teeth in frustration and anxiety, but really, it’s only because I care so much.

In reality, no one drives you crazy like people you love. I believe that even the most well-intentioned parents will, even as they make their best efforts to shape their children into wonderful citizens of the world, incidentally and repeatedly pass on little traumas and neuroses that those children will carry forward with them as the wonderful cycle of human kinks and quirks continues. I embrace this idea as the truth, and revel in it.

I like being my parents’ child and all the implications that come with my position. I don’t mind, for instance, having a crippling fear of cockroaches, that I’m pretty sure comes from seeing my parents get trapped in a doorway as they both attempted to flee a cockroach on a shower curtain. I don’t mind because I know that, in one way or another, the two people responsible for my existence would have left all manner of marks on me, no matter what they so happened to be afraid of. That’s why this season presents such an interesting exhibition in human behavior for me, both as spectator and subject, as I visit not only my own childhood home, but also those of my friends, witnessing the return of my friends to their families.

I guess you never know what normal is. Whatever you live with is normal, even if you question how great “normal,” really is if it makes your family run around the house yelling and starts a fire in your oven, but it’s only after you get a taste of the outside world that you find out that other people’s normal might not be yours.

Some families raise their voices easily and comfortably. Other families don’t. Some families have oyster stuffing. Other families don’t. However, I’ve noticed that, by and large, a lot of my friends find their families just a little infuriating. I smiled as I watched my friends’ Snap stories from Thanksgiving weekend. So many of them overjoyed to be home, but the background of each video was filled with relatives lovingly but crabbily snapping at each other, “Mom, Mom,” and “yes, for Christ’s sake, it’s cooked.” I could feel the collective blood pressure of my peer group rising as meals were prepared and trees were decorated.

I appreciate that nowadays the media has begun to celebrate the fact that many of us are at least a little incompetent when it comes to cooking large poultry, putting up Christmas trees, and maintaining our composure around relatives who know exactly how to push our buttons. I like this display of human imperfection. I like the gathering of distinct, strong personalities, even though they may clash. I feel endeared to people when I see them sweat a little bit as they introduce me to the family friends who are wont to make off-color jokes. I let my guard down when my friends’ parents bicker as they serve pie after Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe your family doesn’t do that. Maybe everyone in your family gets along and no one in your family has ever told the person they love the most to fuck off. And that’s fine, I like an episode of “Leave it to Beaver,” as much as the next kid with a foreign mom just trying to find out how America works. But, with all due respect, I reject the invitation to your holiday table. I’ll take each holiday meal with a healthy side of dysfunction.

That Time Two People Fell in Love With Me

I love the song “She’s Mine, Pt. 2,” by J. Cole.  The lyrics, at times humorous and tangential, paint a beautiful, moving, literal and metaphorical picture of J. Cole’s life-affirming love for his (at the time of the song’s writing and recording) newborn daughter.

One particular line, “on this bus I sit/thinkin’ ’bout you, thinkin’ ’bout you, thinkin’ ’bout you,” stuck with me, and I instantly knew why.  When I was little, my mom used to tell me that when she was pregnant, every day she would get on the city bus to go home from work, talking to me in her head the entire time.  Thinking of things to tell me and teach me, loving me before we’d even really met.

Child-parent relationships are impossibly all inimitable and all unique.  Research has shown that there’s a biological, chemical component to what most mothers feel for their newborn babies, as well as the abstract component that pictures seem to capture so well.

As the hologram-like woman tells Ryan Gosling’s character in Blade Runner 2049 when he discovers he might just be a real human being after all: “a child, of woman born, pushed into the world, wanted, loved.”  It’s funny how many of us are privileged enough to be born to one or two people who want us desperately and love us more than themselves, yet we take off to spend the rest of our lives looking for what we already had, spending plenty of time feeling unloved while we’re at it.

Not everyone feels that transcendent love from their parents, but I do believe that everyone will come across it at least once.  It’s out there, and it’s all you need to make everything else seem small and petty.

When I listen to She’s Mine Pt. 2, I recall that at one point, before I even really knew it, I was deeply, transcendently loved.  “There is a God,” J. Cole thinks, as he looks at his daughter.

Before, it never seemed very important to me that after I gracefully exited my mother that September morning, her and my father were beyond gaga for me, high on the natural brain chemicals humans have evolved to secrete so that they protect, nurture, and–most importantly–refrain from eating, their offspring.  After all, what kind of credit could I take for the way they felt?  I was an infant.  They didn’t yet know me well enough to perceive my character, which I had not yet developed because I was a potato, a potato who screamed and thrashed and was removed from the neonatal nursery for throwing off its swaddling and inciting a rebellion.

Yet, the older I get, and the more people I meet who seem to feel about me the same way the nurse who handed me back to my mother saying, “here, you take Miss Fusspot,” felt, the more it seems to matter to me that once upon a time, two people, whether high on neurotransmitters or not, looked at me, and said, to quote J. Cole, “damn it feels good to have you.”

The Life and Times of Carmen Can’t-Say-No-Pez

When I was a kid, I was fascinated with my friend Lizzie’s special talent. When you asked Lizzie if she wanted to do something, she would sometimes answer “no.” When you asked her why, she’d shrug her shoulders and say, “’don’t feel like it.”

I briefly was able to emulate Lizzie’s talent in that way that kids can absorb and perfectly mimic everything they see like the world’s tiniest method actors. However, after some time passed and my mom grew tired of me saying it, the talent faded away and I was right back where I started: ruining clothes on the playground because someone else told me to kneel in the mud to assist with mud pie making, and what other possible option did I have?

“Carmen Can’t-Say-No-Pez,” is the moniker that some mean, slut-shaming girls spray paint on Carmen Lopez’s locker on the episode of the George Lopez Show entitled “Girl Fight.” While sexually, “no,” doesn’t seem to be a problem for me, just as it actually wasn’t for Carmen, that name lodged itself in my memory from the day I first saw the re-run of that episode as a preteen.   It seemed to fit me perfectly in every other regard. Ever since I was a child, it broke my heart to refuse anything from food to silly requests or demands there was no way to fulfill.

The consequences of refusing what people wanted or requested seemed many and severe. “No,” makes people feel bad, “no,” can lead to missing out on a great experience, “no,” leaves room for someone else to say “yes,” and then everyone will like the “yes,” person more and the “yes,” person will replace you and everyone will dislike and forget about you. They’ll replace you because, now that you’ve refused them, what need reason would they possibly have to continue to include you. Serves you right, you fearful, negative, rigid Piece of Garbage.

Or so says my inner monologue.

To me, saying “no,” to someone after we’ve gotten to know one another feels like I’ve misrepresented myself. If I refuse to give a ride to the airport or to buy a ticket to a concert I don’t want to go to, then I’ll reveal that I’m not the likeable, agreeable, fun person I’d hoped they’d know I was when they became friends with me.

Of course, when the simple word “no,” evades you, your tactics to avoid things you simply don’t want to do have to become many and varied. Over the years, I have attributed my lack of desire to perform certain activities to past traumatic experiences (that I truly had, but that I am now over), illnesses that I may have but that are fully controlled, allergies that I truly have but are only secondary to my overall desire not to try X food item that looks hideous and disgusting, etc. Slightly dishonest, yes, but I often felt I had no other choice.

As I’ve gotten older, though, and perhaps less sure of myself, I usually end up saying “yes,” even to things I don’t want to do. Don’t want to go to that party where the person you don’t like is going to be?  Take half of a melatonin and sit there in a happy daze.  Don’t feel particularly interested by the movie all your friends want to see?  Too bad, you’re lucky to be invited, which means that now you are interested.  You love that genre you haven’t been able to stand since you first understood what a movie was.  You adore it.  You fall asleep to it every night.

This worked for me, for the most part.  I had so conflated my desire to be liked and say “yes,” with my desire to do what others asked that I didn’t even notice I was doing things I didn’t like until summer of 2016. I was invited to a theme park. Before my ever-so-tempted fingers launch into a tirade of excuses about my blood pressure and a bad experience I had as a child, let me stop myself. I like certain theme parks. I more-than-mildly dislike other theme parks. I think the rides can feel like a car accident. I think I’m in no position financially to give money to any business that puts me in an unpleasant situation.

However, in the summer of 2016, when I was invited to a theme park, I said, “jeez, okay, I’m gonna have to take a muscle relaxant.”

“So you don’t like it there,” my friend David cut in. “If you have to take medication to go somewhere, you don’t like it there.” I paused. He was right. He was right, and my desire to never turn anybody down for anything had gotten out of control, but I still knew that other people might come along and replace me if I didn’t buck up and go. Fortunately, the opportunity never arose to really execute this plan, so I never had to face unpleasant-hot-feels like a car accident-land. Until, this previous summer, another invitation to the same theme park came my way.

“Here we go,” I thought. Here we go. Here was another opportunity for everyone else to appear more fun than I was. For the friend who invited me to think it was selfish of me to not go. For her to look around at all her other friends’ smiling faces, and feel like her circle was complete without me, maybe superior to how it had been with me in it.

However, this time I just couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, agree to go. See, if you don’t like to do something, there are only so many ways for you to be convinced to do it anyway—most of them involve drugs, coercion, or a strong sense of certainty that your perceived worth as a person hinges on your acquiescence to others’ requests. If you take the “Can’t-say-no-pez,” family pledge, you’ll continue living this way. At first, you’re feeling like a champion, an Olympic-level people pleaser.

But then, perhaps, being Carmen Can’t-Say-No-pez becomes too taxing. It starts to wear on your soul to say, “yes,” to everyone and everything. While you know you need others to like you, your quality of life is degrading beyond a point of acceptability. Then, through your emotional exhaustion, you can wipe the affirmative, polite smile off your face, and grant yourself enough worth in your own eyes to realize there was nothing wrong with just being Carmen Lopez in the first place. You’re a valuable person worth getting to know, regardless of your preferences. On that day, you know that the next time someone wants you to try fried banana slug, you can confidently shrug your shoulders and say: “’don’t feel like it.”

I Celebrate Myself, and Sing Myself…Reluctantly

I did stand up comedy for the first time a little less than a year ago. I wasn’t expecting a positive result. I knew that crowds can be cruel, even at places like this that had a reputation as more welcoming than the usual comedy club where being heckled is considered a rite of passage.

I had planned out a comedy routine about an awkward guy situation I had been in: living super close to someone with whom friendship had almost turned into something more before he began dating someone else. I knew the idea of it was funny in that way that painful life situations—like having a window that faced into your coulda-been-boyfriend’s apartment—have an element of humor, but I didn’t know if people would like it.

Walking into that showroom, I felt the same insecurity that I feel in all new places. I felt like an outsider who didn’t blend in, even in the warm environment where the woman behind the bar kindly answered my question about how to put my name in the drawing for the open mic, even though it should have been pretty obvious to me.

When my name was drawn, the woman from behind the bar (also a comedian who was helping put on the show) gave me a victorious gesture, raising her fist. I gave a shy laugh and a nod, not sure what to do with her approval.

The woman introduced me with flourish, and I jogged onto the stage. I don’t get particularly nervous in front of crowds when I have something rehearsed to say, and my thirst for the unique pleasure of making people laugh was stronger than any concerns I had. I told the first part of the joke and got a laugh, which I acknowledged. I continued. People…were really liking it. Even in that small room with that small audience, I could tell people were enjoying what I had to say.

I got the signal light that meant I had thirty seconds to wrap it up, I acknowledged with a thumbs up. To one side of the stage, there was a little, glass-windowed booth where the man and woman who put the event together stood to watch the comedians. Sometimes they would look away while a routine was happening, presumably to get ready to present the next act or organize a later show. Other times they watched.

A few seconds after the signal light, as I was wrapping up, I looked over at the booth. The man and the woman were staring at me. Until recently, I never allowed myself to admit what their faces displayed.

Delight. Their faces showed delight. I acknowledge it with some pride, now. Their eyes and their smiles glowed through the booth’s window, their laughter echoed into the room outside. They were enjoying what I was saying and being really, truly reached by it in the way I had always hoped people would.

Other people had also delighted them, but I had never allowed myself to admit that I also could have. I could never say that I delighted anyone, or that I was “delightful,” because that seemed the height of narcissism.

“Delightful,” is my friend Mary’s favorite word. It means “giving great pleasure or delight; highly pleasing.” Wonderfully pleasing, perhaps? I have listened to the audiobook of Fr. Greg Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart maybe about a million times. I’m not a particularly churchgoing person, but the book touches my heart and makes me feel affirmed in a way that transcends religious ties. In the book, Fr. Boyle discusses the love of the divine for human beings, and how difficult for us to admit that we are both loved and lovable. Fr. Greg writes, to paraphrase, that we need only to see that we have been wonderfully pleasing our whole lives. It’s hard to act delightful until we know we are.

When we make people laugh, when we delight them, we please them, wonderfully. For me, however, it’s difficult to ever think that I could be wonderfully pleasing. When I looked into those two faces as I amused them, and made something out of the torture of the painful aspects of reality, I saw what I’ve never allowed myself to believe. I saw myself. I saw myself being good. I saw the good in my own human nature. And, for the first time, as I very recently relived the memory, I allowed myself to dip my toe in the idea that maybe, just maybe, Sofia = good? Not good like “proficient,” or “moral and ethical,” just good like, “a good thing.” Maybe I am a good thing?

No matter how many service hours or sorority officer positions or Variety magazine press releases, I’ve never thought I was good. Someone at work pulled me out of my cubicle to tell me that I should have printed out and framed a press release in which my name was mentioned because I was going to “have a lot of them in my office someday.” The idea that I could even have an office was new to me. The idea that I could have an office and a press-release-worthy career stopped me in my tracks.

Loving yourself is hard. It’s easy to love other people because, well, look at them. Many of them are smart and charitable and kind and funny and easy on the eyes, to boot. Not to mention, deep down most of us probably know there’s something lovable about every person just because they’re a person. Yet, it’s hard to extend that belief to ourselves until confirmation of it comes along and smacks us in the face.

Let me save you some time, in case you can’t fit a stand up open mic into your schedule. You, Reader, are a good thing: a wonderfully pleasing, room-illuminating delight. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that.

If Someone Were Blindfolded…

 

I don’t think he ever knew that I knew he said it. Perhaps the other person he was talking about doesn’t know either. The boy I considered my stepbrother, a young man whom I considered to be so special that I remembered every second of interaction with him since the moment we met when I was five years old, made a particularly memorable comment not directly to me, but, when it did make its way back to me, it changed my life, even though it could have been read as a major insult.

The facts were these. Russell, my stepbrother, apparently angry that someone close to him didn’t share his extroverted tendencies and didn’t always make friends as easily as he did, said, “If someone were blindfolded, they’d choose Sofia.” For those of you new to my blog, I’m Sofia (nice to meet you).

On the surface, this seems rude. It seems like an insult both to the person he said it to because it implies that that person’s sole positive trait is his or her looks, and to me because it implied that my looks stood in my way and would have to be fully excluded from any matter in order for someone to like me. It may not fully make sense, but, actually, hearing that Russell said this set me free.

See, at the time he made this comment, I was hanging around with a lot of girls who worked very tirelessly on their appearances, and whose hard work seemed to pay off in ways that it didn’t seem to for me. I wouldn’t learn until much later that if I didn’t like myself, I wouldn’t take care of myself in a way that appeared positive to other people, so I continued to struggle without ever having anything to show for my efforts.

While my female cohorts drowned in male attention, I remained ever the ugly duckling. Whenever any male did pay me attention, I needed to be accommodating and pursue him, because, it was implied, who knew when my next chance would come along.

The best thing to do, I reasoned, was to try to be what everyone seemed to prefer. Somehow, my pale, doughy body and dark hair would be thin, tan, and blonde or I would die trying. And I almost succeeded. Body glitter, softball practice, and more hair dye than is imaginable almost paid off. But not quite. I still wasn’t exactly as well…as good as all the girls that guys, in fact, particularly guys like Russell, seemed to like. But, I deduced, it would only be a matter of time. Just keep working, I told myself. Keep climbing. Keep working out through strained calf muscles and dehydration. Keep restricting your calories. Keep living on supplements. You’re gonna get there. One of these days you’ll arrive. You’ll be exactly what everybody wants and everything will fall into place.

The only problem is that I’m an easily tired person. I wouldn’t outright call myself a quitter; but I get massively emotionally and physically fatigued by tasks that show no end in sight. Around the time that Russell made this comment, I was tired. I’d been working very hard, and it didn’t seem like my efforts to be The Un-Rejectable Sofia were being appreciated. No matter how hard I tried to be a slender, lithe, fair-haired Midwestern girl, I just couldn’t. I was still the same old person, just newly bronzed and glitter-coated.

But then. Almost accidentally and most certainly in passing, someone mentioned this comment that Russell had made. “If someone were blindfolded, they’d choose Sofia.” If someone were blindfolded. That seems so harsh. Obviously, the surface meaning is that my looks were problematic in terms of being liked or chosen by others. But it also meant something else.  At the time, I also took it to mean that for all the effort I was putting into my looks, they weren’t what was special about me.

Who I was as a person, my humor, my likes, the stupid comments I made when I thought no one was listening, that was what made me, well, choose-able. If I wanted to be Un-Rejectable, it started with not allowing looks and concerns about looks to stand in the way of being what I liked. Looking back, I think the problem was that I was trying to force myself to look a certain way. I never forced myself to act a certain way or be a certain “kind” of person. I did what came naturally and, at least according to Russell, the results were positive.

Things have changed considerably since then. I look different and probably carry myself a little bit differently then back in my insecure high school days. Although my inner Midwesterner shudders at the thought of saying anything positive about myself, I guess I have to say people have given me some positive feedback about the way I look in these last few years.

It’s easy, when people start appreciating a new aspect of you, to forget about everything else you have to offer. You lose weight, get new teeth, and suddenly the compliments start flooding in. People like the way I look, you think, the way I look must be the best thing about me, or perhaps: people must like me because of the way I look. The more people affirmed my appearance, the more I started to care about it again, and the same old worries and comparisons seeped into my mind. I started to make my appearance my first priority, but in so doing only became cynical about what people liked about me.

“Funny thing,” I told one of my male friends as he pinned me to his couch in a platonic, harmlessly flirtatious gesture, “the thinner and sluttier I get, the more friends like you I’ve got.” He laughed and denied my sluttiness, a part of the comment that I wasn’t really serious about, especially considering that I think the concept of sluttiness is antiquated, but that’s a conversation for another time. At times like these, when I begin to place a little too much of my worth on my appearance, Russell’s comment is always my lifeline. Some people might like the way I look. But there are other things to like. It’s not about competition with other people, it’s just about being yourself. Russell made everyone he met feel like they were worth a lot, much more than some fake teeth.

Russell died in February. His loss broke my heart in a deep, excruciating way. His smile, his charm, his lovable demeanor all absent from my life in a blink. Russell always acted like he liked you, and, in doing so, made you like yourself. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing him an injustice by so often remembering one of his edgier comments when in all the years we knew each other he said many a kind thing to me.  But, if he hadn’t said it, I’d still be on the elliptical machine in our basement. I’d never have written another blog post, never have started a charity project, never have gone away to college. I’d still be trying and failing to be something I’m not.

It’s not just the death of a charming, wonderful, smart human being. It’s the death of the person who, when I needed it the most, saw me clearly, and, in doing so, saved my life.

I miss you dearly Russell.  I’d choose you over me a million times, even without a blindfold.

 

Your Obedient Servant,

Sofia

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The Great Philosopher Himself