Rainy night. I picked up a bottle of wine. ICB cooked supper. In all these years since that ancient breakup in 2010, I’ve only had supper made for me twice. The first time was part of Beaut’s grand seduction. The second time, I figured out much later, was because Beaut felt guilty for neglecting me for Main Girl. All these years. All those dating stories. Not one guy felt like sharing a slice of his life with me, without an ulterior goal. Until now.
As usual, the conversation was all over the place: Cardi B, the Pope, feminism, boundaries/invasion of privacy, and then,
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
What is this, an interview? I dunno, I don’t really have goals. I have a dream so big I’ve stopped believing it will happen: moving to Paris. It keeps getting delayed because of my fear and because every time I start to get my shit together, another depression comes along and robs me of 1-2 years of my life.
Ok, fair enough, but if you aren’t sure that it will happen, why don’t you buy yourself a condo? That way you are investing in yourself, and if you leave, rent it out, and if you don’t leave, nothing lost.
I hate these questions. Because. I can’t adult.
What do you mean, you can’t adult?
I don’t have it together to take care of something of value. There is a reason why I don’t have plants or pets: I kill them through neglect and then feel awful. I know myself, I will NEVER take care of any form of real estate, big or small, enough to prevent a loss of value. It took me SEVEN YEARS to go to a dentist. Extrapolate that degree of neglect over the surface area of a small condo vs a few teeth, and you can see why I don’t wanna spend any money on what is gonna turn out to be a self-made bad investment. I live like a college student with a roommate, not because I can’t afford to live alone, but because if I don’t share my space with someone, I will live in a pigsty. Living with someone forces me to do the dishes, to occasionally remember that brooms exist, and most importantly, limit my un-tidyness, out of respect for the other person. But there is no interior decoration, you’d think I moved in 2 weeks ago instead of 3 years ago.
It’s just a matter of discipline. You can do this. Start small, it’s no big deal.
It is tho. I am 34, and this is the best I can do. It isn’t sexy. It isn’t admirable. That is what my shadow does, even when I am doing ok. It takes all my energy. All I have left is funneled into my job which I love, it gives me purpose and identity.The bit of energy I do have left, I use to try show up to my friends and family. I can’t do better.
Can we change topics now? I don’t like showing you the underbelly of my despair, boy. I am ashamed of it, and it is not attractive. I like you enough to want you to think well of me. Please. Let’s talk about the weather.
Helping ICB on a project of his, because I can, and because I love discovering the odd quirks and personality traits that come from watching him do something.
He disappears into his bedroom and reappears with a laptop bag. He takes out the few items stored in it. Checks that it is in pristine condition. Fidgets, nervously.
Vanilla, I’d like for you to have this. You lug around that big bag, it’s falling apart. See how light and lean this bag is? Look at the reinforced shoulder strap for when you walk home after one of your long days at the office, it won’t cut into your skin the way your bag does. All these compartments that don’t make it bulky, you’ll be able to store your books and notes neatly. I know you are very worried about an eventual theft of the confidential info on your laptop, so see how you can add one of those mini locks to the zipper? Your bag’s zipper is broken, you are walking around with a ginormous open purse. It’s not suitable for someone in your role. This bag is lighter and slicker. Yes? It will be good for you.
He waits. I look at my old computer bag, discarded in the entry. I bought it in 2012, a couple of months after my mother’s death, in anticipation of my first professional trip to Paris, the first of many trips to that city that always helps me see the colors. It is a tired bag, misshapen, with peeling pleather. I should have retired it 2-3 years ago, but I never noticed. It was still doing its job. I look at ICB. In that moment he reminds me of my Baba, who never let anyone she cared about leave her house without giving them something she thought could be useful to them, be it new or used. She was always on the lookout for ways to practically increase their well-being, in small ways. Humbly.
8 years. Not one gift from a boy. Flowers on a first date, once. No Christmas presents, no birthday presents, and never, not ever, an unbirthday present.
Sometimes “Thank you” is inadequate.
Time for me to leave. Kiss goodbye. ICB references the earlier convo.
Vanilla, if you think of your home as an extension of yourself, it becomes easier to care for it. Just like you enjoy taking of yourself, nice clothes, good style, jewelry, and making yourself pretty every morning, you’ll feel better if your home is beautiful.
Bro, you have it all wrong. I don’t enjoy making myself pretty every day, haven’t for over a year bc of the Great Depression of 2017-2018. I shower because I workout and sweat too much. All my clothes date from 2-10 years ago, bc shopping gives me panic attacks and anxiety. Yes, it’s true, I usually look well put together, but that is because I only buy very easy to maintain, well cut, flattering clothes – it’s worth spending a bit more effort/money when I do shop to make sure the clothes are solid, so that I don’t have to think in the mornings when getting dressed. I also can get away with minimal effort because I have a good silhouette – I’m in pretty good shape because I try (but have been failing lately) to workout 2-4 times a week for my mental health. So clothes look good on me. I’ve let my hair grow out, because it is much easier to do simple updos that look classy and neat but don’t require me to dry my hair or style it. Most days I remember to put on mascara, at the office, after 1-2 morning coffees. That isn’t me taking pleasure in my appearance – that is me doing the bare minimum to avoid looking too unprofessional or sloppy, and taking advantage of the fluke of my genetics to look better than I deserve. I’m way too tired to invest in my appearance, and it shows, and I know how it impacts people’s impression of me, but I just can’t find the energy to try harder.
Seriously, Vanilla, you are so hard on yourself. Believe in yourself a bit more. You know, from time to time, it helps to say “I am beautiful, I am smart, I am capable.”
His tone was light, slightly teasing. I stayed silent. How to explain that I get that it looks easy, but honestly, I am trying as hard as I can, and I. just. can’t.
Go on. Say it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.”
Hoping ICB would let it drop, I laughed and said, “Bro, I am fucking smart”.
No, Vanilla. 3 words. Say it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.” Say it. I want to hear you say it.
I couldn’t. I lost my words. I couldn’t say anything. And as I watched the smile in his eyes fade to concern, I started to cry.
No, Vanilla. Please don’t cry. Please believe it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.” Go on. Say it. Please say it. Come with me – look at yourself in this mirror, don’t you see what I see? You are so beautiful, your smile is contagious. You are smart, your company invests in you despite your legendary lack of punctuality, your team loves you and looks up to you. You are competent, people are always coming to you for help. Look at yourself. Can’t you see it? Say it. “Je suis belle. Je suis intelligente. Je suis capable.” Say it with me. Please, say it with me.
My tears turned into sobs. ICB stood beside me, holding my hands, waiting patiently, comfortingly, repeating the mantra every few minutes. I don’t know how much time passed until, embarrassed that ICB witnessed my ugly cry, and really needing to blow my nose, I whispered “I am beautiful, I am smart, I am capable.”
Good girl. Say it again. Loudly. I want to hear it.
FFS. This is cheesy and awful, and dammit, as far as vulnerability goes, this SUCKS. I never reveal my bottomless pit of pain and shame to anyone, much less myself. I wasn’t even aware that it had such a grip over me. Fine. FINE. “I am beautiful, I am smart, I am capable.”
Like it was no big deal, ICB smiled as he watched me blow my nose thoroughly, gave me a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a slap on the ass and accompanied me out the door.
I feel hungover. Mildly concussed.
But as I enjoy some emergency recovery cuddles with Mimi, we both agree: ICB is good people.
Empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.
I am still ashamed. But somehow, my shame feels less crippling than before.