I find it ironic that my first word was not "Mommy," "Daddy," or "Cookies," but rather, "No."
As a matter of fact, this could be the Greatest irony of my life because, "No" is something I say far too little.
I'm a people please-r. I think it stems from the fact that in my youth, I was crippled by unmanageable curly, frizzy hair, and also, some might argue, swarthy. My family spent a lot of time moving around because my dad was in the Army and when we finally plunked ourselves down, it was in a very white-bread, baptist part of Texas. So white-bread Baptist, in fact, that one of my classmates had a bulletin board in our elementary school main hall dedicated to all her baby Texas pageant wins. No one on our elementary school staff thought it was backwards that this poor 7 year old kid had her hair died passion red and wore makeup to school.
One time, my PE teacher came into my second grade class and drew a pig on the back of my neck in pink magic marker, "to see if I took baths." Note: she did this IN FRONT of my teacher, during CLASS TIME, in front of ALL my classmates. My teacher did nothing to stop her but did excuse me to the bathroom so I could scrub off the shame.
This is also the same school that put me in ESL for 2 days before realizing I didn't know a single word of Spanish.
OH, THE UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS COMMITTED AGAINST ME BY THE PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM!
I'm digressing to the point of absurdity but what am I trying to say is: I've been fucked up for a long time.
& now I can't tell people no.
For a recent case in point, I refer you to a glimpse of my trip to Puerto Rico where a man who had slithered his way into my circle of family at a local bar by buying everyone drinks asked me for a good bye kiss. I said I had a boyfriend, he said I could just kiss his cheek & because I felt like I owed him, I went for it. Only as I leaned toward his cheek, he stuck out his tongue and made a mad-dash for my mouth. I was able to maneuver out of this mouth rapist's grasp, but at the expense of having my cheek licked by a stranger with facial piercings.
But an even more recent example, one that led me to almost name this post, "This is how I know I'm a bad person" is that last week, I bought a lamp at goodwill. It was four dollars, large, see-through, and filled with vintage wine corks. Like this:
During a typical conversation with this man, he will tell you why he is outside. Generally, he reveals that he has a bit of cabin fever and, most heart-breakingly, that he is lonely ALL OF THE TIME. & so you'll stay and talk for 20 minutes, sometimes 45, because it is the right thing to do. At least, that's what I've done. Some of my less patient neighbors have taken to ignoring him. I don't know why I'm often around when this happens, but the end result is that he tells me that etiquette classes should be mandatory and that people are so rude. He may be right.
Recently, this man has become mobile again. When I first moved here, he was in a wheel chair and had been for over a decade. He has, within the last 6 or 7 months, began walking again, and moreover, using this as an opportunity to catch people outside and engage them in conversation. Sometimes, he'll take his laptop outside and lay across the stairs of his side of the building (keep in mind, he lives on the first floor) so that anyone trying to go upstairs or get to their first floor apartment must walk past him (and talk).
Getting back to what I was saying: I was coming home from goodwill with my new favorite purchase and I see my lonesome neighbor pacing the parking lot looking for someone to entertain him. I get out of my car and do not try to fight conversing with him. As we talk, he keeps returning the conversation to how much he likes my lamp. I say thank you and return the conversation to where it left off but he keeps complementing the lamp. "It was four dollars at goodwill!" I boast of my self-proclaimed ability to find amazing things at goodwill. "I really like it," my neighbor reminds me for the fourth time.
"Do you want it?"
^That is something I'm terrible about. If someone compliments me on something enough, I always ask if they'd like to have it. Sometimes, if I like the person in question enough, all it takes is the one time. I've taken off necklaces, blazers, rings, and given away so many things on my person because I can't fight the urge to make someone like me, even if it's just for 3 seconds.
I'm pretty sure I'd shave my head on the spot if a kid with Leukemia told me she liked my hair. I could probably even be persuaded to pull out each of my eyelashes individually for such a kid.
But anyway, so my neighbor says yes and takes my lamp into his apartment & instead of feeling great--I just did something kind of nice for someone who probably doesn't have nice things done for him often, who's lonely, and the lamp was only 4 bucks and didn't necessarily go with anything in my apartment--I feel shitty.
I spend days, literally days thinking about my almost-lamp: where it could have gone, how great of a steal it was. For a couple of days, every night when I would get done reading, I'd kick myself (on the inside) as I had to get out of bed and walk to the nearest lamp in my room to turn it off (rather than just leaning over to turn off my super cool wine cork lamp that would have gone on the back left corner of my bed-side table).
& then I feel shitty for feeling shitty. Giving is supposed to be the greatest gift.
The Picture of Dorian Gray even suggested that sometimes people are only good for the purpose of feeling as though a couple of good acts can make them a good person or for vanity. (I, too, have experienced this sensation: people bragging about their good deeds to the point that it makes me wonder whether we'd all be such upstanding citizens if we didn't have social media as a plat-form to broadcast all our do-gooding) But the feeling that accompanied me giving away this lamp was just regret and anger at myself for my inability to do things that might make someone dislike me for a brief moment.
I posed this dilemma to my coworker who said that maybe I act this way to avoid the feeling that would come with not being a people please-r and in this specific instance, the feeling that I'd done something selfish that could have made a difference in someone's day. That I reacted that way because what I'm experiencing is the lesser evil compared against what I would have felt if I kept the lamp.
All I know for sure is that I bought a garage in the building to my building's left so I don't have to encounter my lamp-stealing neighbor anymore.
(& THAT's how I know that I'm no good).