“I won’t light myself on fire for you anymore”. I heard this line on the radio one Friday afternoon driving home alone from the grocery store. My impulse was to stop the car in the middle of the street to write this line down because I probably would not remember it exactly otherwise. It spoke to me. Somewhere inside me this emotion exists but had never been verbalized before. Maybe I am not the only one. Maybe this phrase speaks to everyone because of what it is- a manifesto. A declaration of a boundary in a relationship. The relationship is undefined in these simple nine words but the relationship is deep. Obviously the writer has been pushed too far, too many times but will not be destroyed or sacrificed “anymore” for the greater or lesser good. How much power in the imaginary! Who hasn’t wanted to scream these words to someone (or more than one person) who demands too much of them? The people who do not see or feel or perhaps care the enormous capital they require of others disregarding the collateral damage the demand requires. Fire destroys and creates. Perhaps the author of this phrase just wants to be who they really are without editing and conforming. Isn’t this freedom what we all seek?
The gulf of an uncertain world both macro and micro realms has created a knot in the pit of my stomach that is causing paralyzing anxiety that I can not deal with or process. Intellectually, I know better because time goes on, but my brain is not communicating with the primal instincts that have over taken me so fully that do not hear logic or reason. Carefully compartmentalized self doubt and fear seems to break out of its prison and terrorizes me. This state has given me new eyes and compassion for those who are left without options.
If I could only find a quarter. Only find a dime. Two dimes would almost get me there. But a quarter would catch me up enough to eat lunch at school today instead of the saltines crackers and apple I hastily packed so no one at home would see and accuse me of being wasteful or careless. So many days I walked through the parking lot going into school praying that someone dropped a coin that would allow me to not lie to myself and everyone around me. If I had found a quarter I would not have been berated by my mother for asking to have enough money to eat lunch or provoking a fight between my parents by asking my father for the elusive quarter. It was just a quarter that never came no matter how much I prayed, or cried or hoped. I just had to miss lunch until something happened.
Being hungry as a child affects one even decades later. It is not only not having access to food but calls into question why others are able to eat or even discard food right in front of you oblivious to those around them. My basic physical needs were not being met but more than that the ability to speak truth be heard and validated. I still lie to myself and others to avoid being that eight-year-old with old, leaking shoes and broken laces that wants to be like everyone else; a person who will go to any length not to be broken in front of anyone- even my husband. That quarter and what asking for help resulted in shaped me into a person who has been conditioned to believe that no one really will help me no matter how noble the quest or how desperate I am because I am not worthy enough of anyone’s consideration. In many ways, I feel my worth to those around me hinges on what I can do for them- quid pro quo.
So I panic when asked why there is not more money in the checking account even though I haven’t wasted any. I get physically ill when purchasing clothes for my child (even though she doesn’t know) because I am so fearful of what spending that money means to our household. I would rather suffer that burden alone than let anyone feel that grief. I have failed in so many ways.
If I could go back at any point in my life and correct any injustice, it would not be when our house burned down while my sisters and I were trapped (which we did escape). It would not be when I was date raped as a 16-year-old virgin and endured that horror alone. It would not be any of the gut wrenching tragedies that some how I survived, but it would be to go to that girl who so desperately needed just a quarter to be able to catch up her lunch account. A roll of quarters would have changed my life.
Why have I wasted so much time on unimportant tasks and obligations that sucked up so many hours and days of my life- a life that will only have a certain number of hours and days. Why would I give away my time for things I am not passionate about? Of course, I have to do laundry and cook dinner. We all have to work (unless one is independently wealthy or a trust fund baby or lottery winner) to survive and have some degree of security like a home, medical insurance, food, etc. but why on earth have I wasted my time outside these things when I only have so much?
After many years of taking care of everything, I have clarity to see that some I have not done the best job. I forgot to take care of me.
Perhaps you are reading this thinking what a selfish person must have written these words. Maybe I am.
The fact is I have eaten fast food because I would not take time to fuel my body rather than consume whatever was available no matter how bad it was for me. I would handle every task I could and then complain I was too tired to workout. I would go days without breaking a sweat from exercising. My life was so busy that 5 hours sleep per night was acceptable. Being exhausted, cranky, emotionally distant and drained, was how it was.
So. I am going to save me by finally not accepting the world’s view of acceptable.