When you're young, you seek the praise that good girl provides. The warm space away from bad where after-dinner-cookies, and picking -out-a-new-doll, live. It strikes me, in hindsight, that a lot of people shed that addiction to gold-stars with childhood: for people who weren't me, adolescence brings pimples, bad hair, awkward metallic first kisses and the opportunity to shed good for something more exciting. I didn't have time to try personalities like 90s slap-bracelets--or at least I never felt like I did--so I picked the path of least-resistance. Good. But good, now that I'm older and still struggling to find my inner-way, wasn't good enough.
What I'm learning in therapy is how much our childhood informs who we are today---and who we are, at our most conflicted. I can point to the moments where I stood frozen, unsure what to say that would make everyone happy so I said nothing at all. Or when I would share my notes during a debate and wait for someone else to make the points that were most controversial. Just last night, I couldn't fall asleep; too busy revisiting a friendship lost eight years ago. The good girl who can't forgive herself for her trauma response. The girl who ruminates on every moment she didn't speak her mind (and every moment she did). I find myself wondering what I could have been, if I hadn't chosen good.
Because, let's face it: being good has taken more than it has given. Being good has been living under a magnifying glass of my own design; one eye darting above me like a raincloud. Being good is synonymous with exhausted and defensive and afraid.
Just the same, the pressure of being good destroys whatever foundation you thought you were building. A home cannot be built on gold stars; when you spend all your time trying to be good you miss the opportunities to try funny, afraid you might offend someone. You miss dangerous, for fear of making a mistake. You miss angry because it's much easier to blame yourself. You miss selfish, for obvious reasons. You miss human for fear of being a burden or because you just want everyone else to be happy or so no one will judge you.
You believe if you are small, unassuming, and good enough, you won't be a problem. As if good is a means for control. I think you hope good makes you invisible. But you are still carbon-based, still breathing and invisible doesn't last (the desire or the superpower). If good is the absence of bad, you are only as successful as the bad you keep at bay. And so you don't make problems for others but you surely build problems for yourself.
Being good bottles up and turns into emotional-delay, resentment, disappointment, regret. It turns into self-sabotage and hurting the wrong people. And, mostly, hurting yourself.
My husband tells me nice is boring. He's not wrong. But it's what I was taught to value. Nice was safe. I sought out nice people and aimed to be one. And, when I failed (when I was wrong, as we sometimes are), I wouldn't know how to get back on track. I would flounder: confused yet determined, expecting that the issue was me. I had failed at being good enough. I hadn't learned how to aggressively advocate for myself. I hadn't learned that giving up your seat didn't always make you noble. I didn't understand the value in putting my own oxygen-mask first.
Good is the fairytale ending. It's a fairytale principle: Princesses of yore would sit around aimlessly, slaves to their circumstances, until a godmother or dwarves with baser instincts (angry, sleepy, dopey) would advocate for them. And they would be given permission to follow their bliss, an endless stream of luck, and a Prince Charming who would love them (all of them, somehow, all Princes' named Charming). The obvious conclusion is that good is supposed to earn you points. Good is supposed to make for good outcomes. But no one else is keeping score.
And so, if I have a daughter, I won't use good as praise. I will hope I have created a safe enough space for her to be all of the other things you get to be, when you let go of the score card, and all the gold stars, and slip on an adjective that fits better.
Fall feels different, this year. An impenetrable orange. A Saturday in Boston and a Sunday building a pantry from scratch, with my love. Nights walking through the Old Rez, hand-in-hand, in sweaters and picking out pumpkins at Wilson Farm.
Our home is starting to have that perfect lived-in quality, where the wood molds to the shape of your feet and the lights see you coming. Where the staircases start singing and the kitchen starts to riddle off your grocery list. As if to say we belong here. As if to say the walls have been here since the Revolution and we can start our own revolution in the living room.
We sign contracts, each line of our pen another root we choose to lay. We build routines and get our butts on the Peloton. We drive on the expressway and paint-by-numbers; the trees flirting in yellows and burnt reds. It is too beautiful. Baked goods to neighbors and feeling community brewing, beautiful. Filling the squares on the calendar with dates and friends and forever, beautiful.
And so it begins, as the other chapter ends. But as the beginning and the always blur against autumn-eyes, we will continue to shape all that comes next. Oh, October, you are such a chameleon. Last year, you gave and you took away. This year, you give with both hands and, I know, I clutch them too fervently. Grateful as ever for the kind of sunset where stars peek from behind their bedtime stories and the cresent of the moon flips into a smile.
This October, a year after our wedding, has come with more changes than I can hold in my hands. I remember our wedding in flashes; light and dark in an unending wind spiral. For all intents and purposes, last October saw the whole world fall. And, as the life we had tried so hard to build crumbled around us, just as it was beginning, I desperately grasped onto this invisible hope. Hope that we would survive the vulnerability of barren trees. Hope that there would be a time beyond the deepest sadness I have ever known.
And now, a year later, I write about the year that's past with a little more clarity--albeit a forever heartache.
We talk about how lucky we are, with a hindsight that shackles our legs to the ground, as if--after the year that tried, in vain, to break us--our mere survival is a victory. We know, now, how to do the hardest things. A team. A pair. A partnership. But we never got that newly-wed phase. We never got to rest our heads, relax our shoulders, and lean into one another. Instead, the year that followed our wedding was full of landmines.
So much so that the breaking heart I was a year ago would never believe where we are today. In a little yellow house. The happiest house in all the land.
The magic of the little yellow house is domestic bliss as husband calls it. It's that feeling of being newly-wedded as we unpack unopened wedding gifts, hang photos, and create new routines. It's a second chance at the beginning we always imagined. The little yellow house is my heart living out loud: giving my husband the office where he will do amazing things, building a music room, filling the kitchen with an island and The Weepies. The little yellow house has two staircases and a laundry machine--a deck wide enough for a grill and a little shed large enough to hold a million dreams. This feels like the place it all begins. Where the office can become a nursery, the deck can host parties; where we can dance in the kitchen without fear of bumping into walls.
And so, these changes, an embarrassment of riches, fall through my fingers like the rainbow that greeted us at the Massachusetts border; gift upon gift upon gift. The little yellow house does, in its own way, return to us a beautiful October full of orange-turning trees, giant stars, and the smell of petrichor so sweet it could bring a city girl to tears. And we begin again. Though we never ended. Again. A full rotation on its axis. Spinning madly on. Right back to October. And onward, now.
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal. Married to my best friend and planning a lifetime of adventure!