My classmate Lissa was having a party, complete with Lisa Frank stickers of fuzzy animals, crafts, and root beer floats. The works to a twelve year old. I sat in the cafeteria, watching as she made the rounds of all the girls. Watching as they opened their invitations with glee, squealing over the pretty colors and talking about what they would wear. Watching as she went to every girl in my class. Waiting for my turn.
It didn’t come. I didn’t get an invite. I was the odd girl out.
It started around fourth grade, I can’t remember exactly. I had been fairly popular up until then. The turning point came when I got head lice. I had to leave school awkwardly one day. My social life was never the same after that. I got shunned by a lot of the people who had been my friends, and I never really came back from that. I didn’t know how to interact with people my age anymore.
From childhood, to adulthood, I became the odd girl out.
I learned a lot from being in a relationship, from being married. I learned that it was not okay to think for myself. I learned that my thoughts were not my own. I let my ideas whither away into nothing. I learned that I should not have my own opinions. I learned that I was supposed to go along with the crowd, that I couldn’t be my own person. I learned that it was never okay to have the wrong answer. I took these things and incorporated them deep into my soul, into a place where it’s been damn near impossible to dig them back out. I didn’t see anything wrong with these notions, because they were all I knew. I still struggle with them. I can never quite free myself.
I’ve written often about the moment when I knew that I would marry B. That moment when, exhausted after hours on my feet at work, I wanted to see him. I wanted to go to his house and be with him over hanging out with my cat in front of the television. I wanted it more than anything; I knew then that I would marry him some day. But when I write about that moment, there’s a detail that I usually leave out.
I married him because I didn’t believe that anyone else would ever want me. I married B because I thought it was the only chance I would have to experience marriage. I married him because I thought that I had no other choice.
And I stayed with him because I knew that I had no other choice.
“Abuse is less likely to occur when partners can make each other happy.”
I stared over the top of my laptop at my professor, completely aghast. And against my greater control, in tears.
It’s been a struggle for me to realize that the dissolution of my marriage was not my fault. That being torn apart was not my fault. That his lack of happiness was not my fault. That losing our son was not my fault. That none of what happened was my fault.
And here was this person with power over me telling me exactly the opposite. When my undergrad career has been spent struggling to escape this person, suddenly I was her again. Suddenly I was that girl letting someone else tell me who to be. Odd girl out.
I was sitting on my couch when B’s sister let him into the apartment we shared. I stood up slowly. “I told you, I don’t want you to come over anymore until after we’re married.”
“You said you didn’t want to be alone,” he retorted. “We aren’t alone.”
His sister had disappeared into the bedroom.
I sank back onto the couch, as far away from him as I could get.
It had happened a week ago, the last straw, the thing that pushed me over the edge. “You can’t come over anymore until we’re married,” I had whispered that night as he parked in my parking lot.
“What? Why?” he cried.
“I just…I can’t do this. It doesn’t feel right.”
His hand tightened on my thigh. “How can it not feel right? What does it even matter?” His nails were digging into my skin.
I was the odd girl out. The one who wasn’t normal. Always. The one who didn’t want to have sex before marriage. Not normal.
“You’re hurting me!” I pulled his hand off my leg and he slammed back against his seat, sulking. “Look,” I said, more quietly. “I just think that if we can’t keep…If we can’t keep from doing things, then we shouldn’t be alone.” I tried to be politically correct in my phrasing to keep him from getting angry, but really, it was him, not me. I wasn’t comfortable doing anything. I wasn’t sure I ever would be, especially now.
He shook his head slowly; he obviously didn’t understand. “Just get out. We can talk more about this tomorrow.”
I shook my head to clear away the memory. B had sank onto the couch beside me, despite my efforts to sit separately. “We should watch a movie,” he continued, as if nothing was wrong. But everything was wrong. He just didn’t see it.
I couldn’t tell if it was my imagination, or if he was eyeing the blanket draped over the back of the couch. I didn’t want to watch a movie with him. I realized then that I didn’t want to do anything with him. I didn’t want to marry him. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with him; why should I, when he didn’t listen or even respect me? “I think we should break up,” I whispered.
We fought. He told me that he would never let me go. It was pretty ugly. I left.
Eventually, he would apologize. I would come back. We would get married.
That moment was the beginning of my end.
We had a fight one day, when I came home from work and he expected dinner. I wasn’t making it fast enough for him, and he started to call me names. I threw the potholder in his direction and it clanged off of the guitar that rested in the papazon chair. “You. Are. An ass,” I said as it fell to the floor. It was the first time I had expressed myself in a long time. I wished I had better aim. I wished it had hit my husband in the head. Not that a potholder would do much damage, but it would get my point across.
“What?” he asked. “I just…”
“I worked all day, I’m tired, I come home, and this is how you treat me? Are you serious?”
“Well, it’s your job. To cook. It’s not my job.”
“Nothing is your job.” I spit. “Absolutely nothing.”
I turned around and stalked back to the kitchen, minus the potholder. I stood over the pot of spaghetti, stirring it with my wooden spoon. I thought about our marriage, about the unequal division of pretty much everything. I kept my mouth shut. My small explosion was the most I dared to express my feelings. He didn’t work; I worked fifty plus hours a week. He didn’t clean; cleaning was a woman’s job. He didn’t do anything. Except for what he did to me.
But, I consoled myself, at least he usually let me control the remote.
That was pretty much the highlight of our marriage. I couldn’t make him happy.
“You’re not wrong. The things that she said were wrong.”
I stared at my stack of papers to grade and my now empty bottle of apple juice before looking back up at T. “You think? Because I don’t know what to do.”
“You get someone to advocate for you. Because some people don’t have enough sense of self-worth to realize the power that they have, which is why there are people out there that will fight for you. And that’s okay.”
This was harder to hear somehow than the comment itself. To know that there are people who see that I’m not that girl anymore, that I’m not that her. That I’m weak sometimes and scared, but that I’m also strong. And right. Normal. Not odd.
When I was a kid, I dreamed of what I thought the perfect life would be. I pictured the ideal wedding with ice sculptures and flowers and a man that I loved. I imagined that we would have two children, a boy and a girl, and that they would be just a few years apart—enough that they could play happily together but still have distance when they needed it. In this fantasy, my family adopted a white German Shepard named Alfie who protected us and gave us fun and entertainment until the kids grew older and moved out. As empty nesters, my husband and I would retire to Florida, where we would live out the rest of our days in the sun and provide a vacation home for our children and their children. Happily ever after.
I believed in a fairy tale. Absolutely none of these things came to pass.
My life’s not perfect. But I try to live it the best I know how. I’m a words girl. I’m quiet, but I absorb everything. I notice everything; I take it all in. My downfall comes from tendency to more remember the bad things. I’m hypersensitive, and I know it. I hear some things and they call up a pain, or a memory.
A loud noise.
A touch from behind.
A word on a bulletin board.
Simple things, but things that can set every nerve cell in my body on fire. Things that can make me feel like I’m electrified a million times over. Things that make feel that which I don’t want to feel. Triggers. And it feels like I’m the only one who is bothered, the only one who is hurting. Rational me knows that isn’t true; rational me knows that we all have our own pain. But it doesn’t feel good to feel like the only one. It doesn’t feel good to be the odd girl out. It doesn’t feel good to feel like you’re in a cage, like you’re alone. Like you’re not normal because of your experiences, because of who you are.
For a moment today, I didn’t feel that way. For a moment today, somebody told me that it was okay. That I was okay; that my feelings were okay.
For a moment, I wasn’t the odd girl out.