I just sent an email to my advisor asking for the code I need to register for a January class. Most students take the month off, but the school is still officially open, and you can elect go back early to make up some credits or work on an individual project. I want to go back early to avoid being home, even if it means I have to take a random course and read Ayn Rand or some other torture.
Being here has been nice in a lot of ways. I got to hang out with my brother and our baby cousin (the only acceptable baby in the world). I’ve gone to the movies, driven my car around, taken advantage of having food around 24/7, and watched a lot of TV. But I need to leave. Here’s why.
1. My mom is treating me like a child/idiot. I went out to dinner with her one of the first nights I was here, and when we were done eating and I started to ask the waitress for a box for the rest of my food, my mom cut me off and asked for one on my behalf. Then she smiled at me and said, super condescendingly, “I know that’s hard for you.” O. M. G. Like, I know she’s trying to be sensitive to the fact that I hate being in public, but I haven’t had significant difficulty talking to restaurant staff since like 2008. Yes, sometimes I panic and want help doing stuff like that, but I usually ask for it when I need it. Plus, if she truly cared about my fear of interacting with strangers, she would have ordered for me at the beginning of the meal, right? There’s an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie brings Miranda bagels to be “a good friend,” but she forgets the cream cheese. Miranda calls her out on this, because it’s evident that Carrie just wanted to come over to talk about her own recent breakup, or else she would have remembered the cream cheese. My mom wanted to be helpful, but it seems like she really just wanted to demonstrate that she “understands” me, without actually doing the work of understanding me.
2. The way my mom is treating me reminds me of how angry she’d get whenever I wanted to stay home from Sunday school or social gatherings. She used to talk about how sin and doubt were signs of the devil’s influence.
I remember all of the things my family and friends took it upon themselves to diagnose me with: anxiety, depression, Asperger’s, ADD. It made me feel defective, like I was born spoiled the way food can be spoiled in the making. I imagined a black tumor rapidly growing inside me, representing whatever made me feel afraid of and distant from others.
I used to picture myself at the bottom of a series of dark, labyrinthine subterranean tunnels that glowed red and emitted red flames. I imagined that God had left me there, and that the only ways out were to be morally pure and to socialize, or to reject God and his “plan” for me outright, whereupon I could find happiness in this life but would be condemned to spend my afterlife in hell, which terrified me. I thought that I might one day write about all of this, and that the second option would make for better writing.
I think I came up with the labyrinth in fourth grade. My friend and I got into a series of books called Daughters of the Moon. It was about teenage girls who had magic powers because they were secretly goddesses. We copied the moon-shaped necklaces they wore with yarn and tinfoil, called each other Serena and Vanessa after two of the main characters, and pretended to be them at recess. When we wrote down the names of these books for a class reading competition, our teacher was alarmed. When she learned that they included witchcraft and—worse—sex, she contacted our parents.
I remember crying as my mom yelled at me that night. I remember not knowing what about those books she was so afraid of but figuring it out later. At the end of our talk, she held up the second book, Into Cold Fire, and asked me what color it was. The cover was red. “Do you know what that is?” she asked. I didn’t answer. “It’s the color of the devil. This girl”—she pointed to the girl on the cover, who happened to be Serena, the character I pretended to be—“is the devil.”
This incident is really, really, really funny to me now because it’s really, really, realllllyyy funny, but it was horrifying to me then because it confirmed all of my fears about myself: that I was unfit for society and also morally bad, condemned to hell. It also set the template for how I would think about sex once I found out what it was: as a dark ritual that your soul would be punished for engaging in. It’s taken years for me to release my self-image from the grip of these ideas. They made me so miserable for so long.
I know that I have some social anxiety and a disposition that favors observation over participation, but I also have the ability to work through my anxieties and confidence so that it’s possible for me to be with other people, because there is no tumorous mass of evil within me. Being home makes me remember how I used to feel. Being at school means I can continue progressing.
3. The mundane here is worse than the mundane there. Saturday night at dinner my mom recounted a hilarious story that a woman from my grandmother’s nursing home had told her at the home’s Christmas party. The woman listed everything she’d made for Christmas breakfast the year before. She’d made a bunch of really good food, but when she sat down to eat, she realized she’d forgotten to make eggs. My mom repeated the “zinger” (SHE FORGOT TO MAKE THE EGGS) and laughed, and my dad laughed his fake laugh.
At school, there is much that is mundane and plenty of false laughter, but I would rather listen to an infinite number of people talking about studying than hear this kind of story again. If I’m going to be frustrated and bored in any capacity, I would rather do it there, where there are people I like and where even the boring things at least have a point. ♦