When I was a child and would misbehave, my mother would send me to my room, out of her line of sight, with the words, "I love you, but I don't like you very much right now."
I love you, but I don't like you.
I don't like you.
I love you, but....
I love you, because I have to.
I love you, because I am required to.
The more trouble I was in, the more of my name I would hear. Just "Stephanie!" was a warning. "Stephanie Karen!" meant I was treading on some pretty thin ice. "Stephanie Karen Quinn!" meant there was likely a spanking in my immediate future.
But when I was a good girl, when I was sweet and obedient and well-behaved, I was Cissie.
To this day, I'm not terribly clear on the origin of the nickname. I know it was given to me by a close family friend. It was not diminutive of my given name, nor was it reference to my being a sister; there was no sibling calling me Sissy, as is so common in the South. (I was raised an only child, and my (step/instant/in-my-heart) brother came to live with my mom and stepdad when I was in college.)
I remember being called Cissie until junior high school, when I demanded that both family and classmates call me only Stephanie. While it may have been sweet inside the family, it was hard to explain this other name that made no logical sense to anyone else. Eventually I rebelled against this thing I didn't understand and established myself fully as Stephanie Quinn. When I went to the alternative magnet high school, no one knew Cissie had ever existed.
Cissie was blond and blue-eyed. (Stephanie has green eyes.) She was smart and shy, though she could flourish as a chatterbox when she was comfortable. For Cissie, it was important to be what Mama and Daddy and everyone else expected her to be. If she wasn't, she was punished.
But sometimes, no matter what Cissie did, she was just not enough. She was tall but uninterested in basketball or sports of any kind. She was smart but sometimes didn't want to do the tedious, necessary classwork. Sometimes she tried to do it her own way, to challenge and entertain herself, but she would be chastised for doing it wrong, for not doing it how others wanted or expected it to be done.
Cissie was also scared a lot. Daddy had a sharp temper and would yell loudly at the least provocation. Sometimes he would rear his hand back in anger, and sometimes it made contact. Mama would nod and "Uh-huh" while Cissie talked, but she didn't always seem to hear those little girl words, especially if they weren't the words Mama wanted to hear. And sometimes Mama would lash out in momentary anger and pop her little arm with the hard plastic hairbrush. The oval red spot on the back of her arm might sting for hours, but it never felt as harsh as the pressing lump in her throat, the one she refused to talk or cry over.
Cissie learned to spend time on her own, to entertain herself with imaginary friends and wishes for things that just never seemed to come true. Cissie learned to bite the inside of her cheeks in just the right way that both kept her quiet and betrayed none of the anger she was harboring inside her little sweetheart mouth. She had repetitious nightmares of witches and of vampires who lived in the back of her closet.
Cissie was also the little girl who was molested by a man who said he loved her, by a man who told her that if she didn't go along with it or if she spoke about it that she would be in trouble.
It's no wonder that I didn't want to be Cissie.
But lately that little girl has been trying to tell me something.
I'm tired of the hurt, you know? I'm tired of hiding in plain sight. I don't want to be afraid of the shadows, scared of what seems to be there but isn't. I feel again like my heart if wasting away. I can't take another one who stays for days or weeks, with all of his fine words and implications. I'm better with the balance, and I can't put these lessons into play without another person on the other side of that equation. I want that safe place. It's what I miss most, and I'm afraid.
And for all of my crazy, for all of my batshit and intensity, I'm a really good girl. A guy could do a hell of a lot worse than me.
Very true statement dear...
I feel like being me will never be good enough. I can either be myself or be what someone else expects.
And that little girl in me started to cry.
It didn't matter what I did sometimes. It didn't seem to matter that I was smart or clever or funny, loving or imaginative or curious, as long as I was doing what was expected of me. As soon as I defied expectations, "I love you, but...."
There is no caveat for love.
There should be no conditions on love. No one should ever have to negotiate the basics of their personality or their soul to feel that they are loved. If a man tells me now that he loves me but he wishes I were quieter, less impulsive, less brash, more submissive, daintier, more deferential, I shouldn't accept those things. I wouldn't accept those things, except I have accepted those things because it is what I learned as a child.
Be different for me to love you, because what you are now is too much, is not enough, is wrong, and I cannot care for this defiant creature that you are.
All Cissie wanted was to be told that she was good enough, that it didn't matter that she wasn't perfect, that she defied Mama and Daddy's ideals in ways that still made her special and beautiful and acceptable and likable and lovable. She wanted to know that she was good enough, that she didn't have to keep fighting and trying, that it was okay to be less than perfect. And she wanted to know that she was good enough, that they would be proud of her for who she was, not for the accomplishments and the grades and the good choices she made that were really never choices at all.
So for that little girl, to that little girl, I say, "Cissie, it's okay. You are a good girl. You were always a good girl. It's wonderful that you weren't perfect, and it's good that you made mistakes. You watched and learned, and you helped get me to here and now. I'm sorry you didn't feel safe and protected and loved like you should've. You deserved that, not just because you were a little girl but because you brilliantly, spectacularly special, and you were you."
Tonight, I will let her cry all she wants, to let out what is hurting her heart still, and I will tell her as often as she needs to hear it that she was worthy of all of that love, even when she wasn't always shown that.
Going forward, I will do my best to honor that, to remind her and remind myself that Stephanie is resilient and sensitive because of the bullets Cissie took, that I learned to rebel because of the deference she endured and the secrets she kept, that I deserve healthy love now just as much as she did then.
We are both worth it.