in eleventh grade, i tried out to be in our school's extra special singing group, the madrigals. as it turns out, i get high marks in stage presence but am really not that good of a singer. i was not cut out to be a madrigal.
i think even more than an innate love of singing-- which i did have, but more in a scream-singing along with the sounds of jewel in the car kind of way and less in memorizing the alto line on a seven part classical italian song kind of way-- i just wanted to belong to something. i wanted the daily practices and the truly horrible outfits and the designation of being something, anything. i wanted to be part of a group.
because in quintessential high school fashion, my sense of self was floundering. if i had a self at all, it was only a self that existed in comparison to other people, always in flux, just a little better or worse than the next guy.
i remember these beautiful girls i'd always see in the bathroom between classes. i, always high anxiety, was peeing for the thousandth time, and they were reapplying concealer and eyeliner for the thousandth time. and despite remembering so few specific things about my life that i'm borderline sure i actually didn't exist, i do remember, crystalline, this specific moment of one of the makeup girls-- a statuesque girl in a slightly too short for the dress code tank top, standing in the mirror and audibly counting out three pimples on her immaculate skin-- a disgusting offense, she was sure. i had the kind of skin that made you wince to behold. i was covered in acne that looked more like open wounds, painful and raw, from my forehead to my chest. i matted all the clinique i could layer on top of it and then tried to distract from it with seafoam green eyeshadow and glitter. i felt uncomfortable existing, let alone being seen, and watching her stand there, critiquing her obvious perfection, i felt sure that i, so laughably far past three pimples, was actually nothing.
being part of an extra special singing group and being tasked with the all important alto line seemed like a way out of this mentality, but, alas, it was not my fate. several of my small group of friends made it into the group. it reinforced my feeling of being an outsider, but i was also happy for them. the people close to me knew i struggled, but i wasn't a wholly miserable person. i had a happy face. i was silly and weird. my turmoil was mostly internal and/ or saved for my parents.
the madrigals apparently had some sort of team building sleepover. they played games and ate food and sang. in my imagination, it was the 2003 version of pitch perfect. my friend, madrigal insider, reported back about it, specifically to tell me that in one of the events of the evening, they went around the circle and each said, if they could be someone else for a day, anyone, who they would be and why.
and one girl said, i would be beth loster. i knew her only casually.
my heart is pounding now, eighteen years later, just thinking about it. i can't identify it. i don't know if it's exhilaration or terror, but the idea that someone would ever want to be me is still now totally insane.
to that 16 year old self, it is even more incomprehensible.
what did she see? what on earth would anyone want with me for a single moment, let alone an entire day?
i can't quite remember now. i remember the report being something about how happy and energetic i was. that happiness and energy was real, sort of. it was a forced version of something inherently real. it was real and the effects of anxiety and desperation swirling together.
but that story stopped me in my tracks.
today i am almost 34. my skin doesn't hurt to look at. i have accepted my singing status as kitchen/ car appropriate only. i live in kentucky with my amazing baby girl. nicholas kaniasty is my partner.
he makes me literally insane a good portion of the time, but i also have an abiding belief that we are meant to balance each other out. where i am overly grounded and mired with routine, nic is floating and dreaming and spontaneous. where i am sensitive and cautious, nic is direct and pragmatic. where i fixate on the minutiae, nic stands back and looks at the big picture. where i get swept away in emotion, nic is practical and factual. neither of us is right or wrong; we both just need a little more of the other. we are a balancing act, and when we listen to each other, we exist in this really lovely harmony both as individuals and a unit.
recently i decided i wanted to chop off my hair. i had spent my entire pregnancy growing it out. somehow it made me feel safe. i wanted this blanket of protection around my face.
i don’t know if it looked good. i still don’t. but eventually it started feeling good. i stopped blow drying and straightening and adjusting it constantly. i stopped trying so hard. it felt easy.
when i said i wanted to cut it, nic immediately said, NO. not because he cherished some need for women to have long hair, but because he knew i liked myself best that way. the desire to cut it initially came from seeing some semi-instagram-famous yoga girl’s NEW haircut. and then he said the thing that’s been echoing through me for weeks now, to someone else, you’re that girl.
this isn’t about people wanting my haircut. my hair is pretty uninteresting. but it IS about both perception and the reality that being yourself is the most attractive thing possible.
i thought about the girl in high school. she didn't want my hair, but she saw something in me that she felt was worth emulating, or at least experiencing. she saw it even though i didn't see it at all, because i was too busy feeling affronted by someone else's perfect skin.
there is something valuable in me. more importantly, there is something unique in me. it has taken me 34 years to even notice an iota of it, instead of wishing i were something else, but ever so slowly, i'm recognizing it. i'm realizing what i am and how i am most comfortable. i'm realizing what's true for me.
i am already a person worth being-- someone a 15 year old girl might stand back and say, 'i'd like to know what it feels like to be her for a minute." i feel grateful to that girl for seeing it so long before i did.
i am combatting my 16 year old critic as i write this. she thinks i am ridiculous for being a theoretically grown woman wrestling with a teenager's issues. but these things don't just go away. they get buried or bandaided or brushed aside, but unless you work to literally rewire your brain-- to build new neuropathways and intentionally experience the world a different way-- on some level, those old habits are rage on.
and my sixteen year old, incredulous, insecure, anxious, desperate-for-acceptance self keeps trying to rage on.
my 33 year old self says, i release you.
i will not pretend that girl didn't exist. she is a big part of how i got to be 33 year old mama/ woman/ uncut-hair adult beth. but i don't have to be her anymore. the past few weeks i've felt like things are simmering, bubbling over. i feel intermittently clear and present. i feel assured that i am exactly who and where i'm supposed to be, that i am unfolding.
i started going through all our cupboards and drawers-- spring cleaning, a tangible mirror of what feels like is also happening deep in my guts, a rending. i came across my piles of journals. i have written since i was 11. i have journals from when i was ELEVEN YEARS OLD. in high school, i started writing furiously, binders thick with poems and excruciating details of my misery. i piled them all in a box and unceremoniously took them to the huge recycling bin in joe creason park.
i've carried those journals, some of them now, for 22 years. i know they are my memories, my life, my making, but i realized i only ever used them to feel bad about myself. most of the time they just sit on a shelf, taking up space, but occasionally, i would use them to spiral. i'd bury myself in memory, looking back and not just witnessing that girl, but becoming her again. i carried those journals as a penance, a log of all the things i've done and been wrong.
it was time to let them go. they made me so heavy.
we took the short drive to the park. i dumped them and slid the door closed.
truthfully, i didn't breathe some huge sigh of relief. i didn't twirl in the spring breeze and radiate a lighter, more free sense of self.
instead i just thought, i'm glad i did that.
i unbuckled melby from her carseat and put her in a yellow baby swing. i pushed her recklessly high and caught her chubby toes each time she returned to me. she laughed on and on. just me and my girl, soaking up a sunny moment of our so far, unsure spring.
we stayed a long time. i didn't worry about dinner, my skin, the empty shelves.
one thought hummed through my mind, almost matching the rhythm of her movement, her laughter. this is exactly where i'm supposed to be.