I left the sandwich outside her door. It was a grilled cheese sandwich, my favorite: the kind with cheddar and slices of salted tomatoes, all crispy and blackened on the outside and gooey on the inside. Perfect to go with soup or chips, though we had neither. I put the sandwich on a blue plastic plate and left it there, right outside her door where she couldn’t miss it. I ate my own sandwich, alone. I must have been 11 or so.
My mom worked from home. She’d start the day in her home office, drinking a mug of coffee and a tall glass of water. I sniffed that glass of water one morning, and it smelled terrible. Like the kid in class who didn’t shower and no one wanted to sit next to. I later realized it was water mixed with vodka. Every day around 11am, she’d go into her room and close the door. She called it “taking a nap”. After I found the box of wine in her closet, I knew what was really happening when she took a nap.
I have few memories from growing up, especially from those long summers that seemed to stretch on forever.
Those summers where I ceased to exist because there was no one around to talk to, no one to play with– I had no friends. There were strict rules about going out and I was embarrassed to bring anyone home. We didn’t have a computer with internet or a TV that plugged into anything besides the outlet in the wall. There wasn’t much to do besides read and play with the old sewing machine in the basement.
So the morning of the sandwiches, when my mom asked if I wanted to have lunch together, just us girls, I was excited. We never spent time together! She wanted to hang out with me! But when 11:30 rolled around, she hadn’t emerged from her nap. My stomach began to sink. How would we eat at 12 if she didn’t get up now? As the clock ticked, the sinking feeling in my stomach turned into a tight knot.
She wasn’t coming. I kept waiting anyway. Hoping.
By the time it was 1pm, I gave up. I was hungry. So I made two sandwiches, two perfect grilled cheese sandwiches, and left hers by the door and ate mine alone. Later that day, sometime around 5pm, she stumbled out. She went into the kitchen and slammed pots and cabinets, making dinner before going back to her room. I crept into the kitchen to put something in the trash, and I saw it.
The sandwich I had made. It was in the trash.
In that moment, with the infinite wisdom of an 11-year old, I decided who I was going to be for the next 18 years of my life.
Stupid, for trying to get noticed by the people I respect.
Not worth anyone’s time.
My therapist, my wonderful therapist, pulled this memory from deep within my childhood memory banks last night.We unravelled the pieces and found the areas where 11-year old Me was still making decisions for 29-year old Me. The moment last Thursday when an off-hand comment from a co-worker dismissed my efforts to help him succeed with a project. The time I reached out to help someone I admire and respect, and she didn’t get back to me. The day someone told me they were disappointed that I wasn’t more of a social butterfly when we met in person, after I had spent hours remotely helping her with her business.
All those times where I felt disappointment, sadness, and: proof. Proof that I was worthless. Stupid for trying. Dumb to think I could be useful. Ridiculous in my hopes, my desires to be recognized and acknowledged.
As we unpacked memories and peeled away layers, I began to feel lighter. My body, tense and tight before, relaxed. We created a clearing. A clearing that I could fill with new ways of thinking and being.
I chose to fill that clearing, now, as a 29 year old woman. I chose to recognize and cherish the moments where people acknowledge me, instead of dismissing them as outliers. I chose to give myself the space to feel appreciated. To notice when I feel those old ways of thinking, and to remember who I am now.
Loved and appreciated.
A force to be reckoned with.
That is who I am.