When I was 12 years old, I had an existential crisis. Distressing events kept hitting me like tidal waves: my beloved grandmother died; my mom went deeply into the throes of her depression; my dad was never around; I went through puberty and was dropped by the small talent agency I’d been with since I was 9 (“frankly, if she’d only been dieting as we repeatedly advised … tsk tsk”); migraines plagued me and I suddenly needed glasses, further cementing my “unpopular geek” status. But of everything, the tipping point came when two of my friends – really, two of my only friends – were each having parties on the same day, and I couldn’t figure out which one to attend.
My favorite teacher at the time was a loud, passionate, intense Italian gentleman from NYC in his sixties, who had a jolly “Santa Claus on vacation” look with his bright white mustache and merry, laughing eyes. He took a shine to me and nicknamed me Stella, saying that my red hair reminded him of his granddaughter. Often times I’d peek into his classroom when he had a free period, and he’d lean back and his chair and say “Stella! What’s happenin’?” Usually I’d just wave and smile, with a hearty “Hi, Mr. G!” But the day of the Double Party Conundrum, I broke down in tears.
I sobbed out the whole story – everything that had been going wrong that year – as I sat at a desk and Mr. G leaned on his, saying nothing but passing me tissues, his bushy white eyebrows furrowed intently. To his immense credit, there was none of the typical teasing or cajoling in his demeanor; he took my distress as seriously as I did, and when my voice finally trailed off into silence punctuated by hiccup-breaths, he cleared his throat and said: “Stella baby, you can’t bring back your grandmama, you can’t fix your parents, and you can’t be in two places at once.” (He graciously refrained from commenting upon the puberty quandary.) “But put yuh’self first? That you can do. Make you happy, everyone who loves you will be happy for you. They don’t like it, fuggedaboutem!” He made a sudden, sweeping gesture with his giant paw, like he was back-handing a line of imaginary people across the face. “Vaffanculo!” (A sensational Italian word that I learned, much later, means “fuck off”. Something about the fact that he used this in my defense just makes the memory even more charming to me.)
In the end, I turned down both of my friends’ invitations and stayed home that Saturday reading, which made me happy and angered them both, teaching me that while the logic was sound, sometimes even people who love you may take it personally when they feel that they’re being slighted. And this is something I experienced in both SL and RL very recently, which distressed me greatly and found me once more tearing up at a desk, face buried in tissues, trying to divine a way to let myself be happy while also never allowing those whom I care about to get lost in the shuffle. And I’m blessed to have wonderful people in my life who understand and appreciate this people-pleasing nature of mine. “You have a big, soft heart,” they say, though it feels pretty ordinary to me. I just need to remind myself, gently but intently, that self-fulfillment is paramount. Sometimes “no” is the kindest thing you can say to someone, or in response to a request, for the benefit of your own well-being. Still, for those whom I’ve inadvertently hurt by not being as available, or by putting my attention elsewhere for an overlong period of time, I am genuinely sorry, and I appreciate your patience tremendously. One day time will be on my side again; I have faith that I’m moving in that direction. But until then, when you have my love, that’s something you can always trust. ♡
“what I’ve got is just an ordinary heart
I’ll give it more than anybody
you can always trust this ordinary heart …”
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