Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why, because today, today at least you’re you, and that’s enough.
I don’t remember a time I didn’t construct my identity around something (or someone) else. When I was in high school, I decided food was an optional life choice. I met this teacher, Mrs. L, somehow. We shouldn’t have ever crossed paths; she taught in the special ed wing, and I was on the honors accelerated path. But we met, and I reminded her of her daughter, Amelia.
Fuck, Amelia was pretty. I went with Mrs. L to her house one time during lunch. She’d forgotten a book, a paper, a something that’s inconsequential now. But I stood in her hallway and I looked at her beautiful daughter in photographs, so skinny, her collarbone clearly visible. My collarbone was not THAT visible. She reminded me of that character in Girl, Interrupted, the one who hid the chickens under her bed and screamed that 88 pounds was the perfect weight. I remember thinking, “well, this is what pretty is. I want to be this.” I didn’t realize I’d said it out loud.
Mrs. L cried and told me she didn’t want me to be Amelia. Ever. And after that, she dedicated a lot of time to making sure I wasn’t. She was instrumental in getting me into residential treatment. She even visited me there.
The difference between Amelia and I was that I wanted the help. I don’t think Amelia ever did.
I met my ex when I was 19. He was the first man to ever tell me I was pretty, pretty as I was, without my collarbone bluntly protruding from my skin. I believed him, because I needed to. When the girls around me in high school dated, I sat on the sidelines, watched, never joined in. (Except one notable exception, a blind date doubling with another friend, a dude who owned a parrot that attacked my head). I watched these girls get boyfriends, many of them, dress up, wear makeup, and I didn’t go along. I wanted a guy to notice me. As everyone paired off I thought back to my ideal of pretty, that stick-thin girl, and I just wanted to be noticed not as a little girl grown men on a power trip could literally fuck with, but as a me who had every right to take her own power back and be normal and try dating and maybe make something of herself. I never did, until my ex.
He took me to the baseball diamond, in his car, and he stuck his hand down my pants, on date two. And I knew then–no one else was going to want me; I was too damaged; I was too much of a bruised peach. He was it. He was all I’d ever find.
I was 19 and I gave up trying to find anyone else. I married him. And he told me that I needed him, that I would be nothing without him. I believed him.
I stood in my bathroom at maybe 22, a curling iron in one hand and a makeup wand in the other. He leaned against the doorframe, watching me get ready.
“I kind of want to wear my hair straight today.” I put the curling iron down and went to unplug it.
His hand closed on mine, and not in a friendly loving way. “I like it curly. I like you pretty.” It wasn’t a request. And so I curled my hair while he supervised, so I slapped makeup on my face, so I went to church and I stood behind him and I smiled and I nodded and I played at being his pretty little toy because there was nothing else.
Only there was. I just didn’t see it. It was too hard.
Maybe a year or so after we divorced, I was standing in my new bathroom with my curling iron and a makeup wand and I looked in the mirror and I had the funniest thought–“I don’t think I like curling my hair.” Did I have to curl my hair? Who made it a law? He made it a law, and I followed along. For years, I let myself follow him because it was too hard to figure out who I was on my own. Who I was was complicated. I’d never known her because then I’d have had to admit how I felt towards her. How I hated her.
I’ve been divorced and on my own seven years this September. And I still get things wrong a lot. I’m not always sure how to do the friend thing, how to invite people over, how to present myself, how to interact. I don’t know a lot about going out; I struggle to discuss anything that doesn’t involve a dog. I’ve wasted so much time trying to force my square peg into round holes instead of fitting myself where I go naturally. I’ve tried to be normal, but there is no normal. So I’m out there now. And I screw it up regularly. I try too hard to do the “right” thing, but I’m working on it. I am trying. I am me. And that’s enough.