I used to be tough. A long time ago — before therapy and marriage(s) and children. Back in high school, every move I made, everyone I befriended or didn’t, everything I wore was part of an attempt to be tough. And I succeeded. I was pretty tough in high school. So was my crowd.
But I grew up – my whole crowd did. And as we did, we shed those protective layers. As we surrounded ourselves with safe people, we shed the need for the protection that was once so vital.
That’s why I was so surprised at what happened this week. My BFF – my sister, really — is going through a nasty divorce and she had to meet with her soon-to-be-ex-husband about the sale of their house. She told me she was anxious about seeing him because she worried she’d feel vulnerable in his presence. She didn’t want to look weak, and she certainly didn’t want to break down in front of him.
We were discussing what she’d do and we agreed she’d be all business at the meeting, plus she’d look fabulous because that’s supposed to be the best revenge. It wasn’t helping, though, and I told her she had to be tough. I couldn’t think of anything else to tell her until it hit me: we may not feel tough now, but we used to be very tough and we could still tap into that.
“Remember who we were in high school?” I asked her. Leather jackets, giant hair, tons of makeup. We had to steel ourselves against our families and the other kids. We smoked cigarettes at school, tore around town in the afternoons, stole liquor and bought drugs. She worked in the mall so she could get the slutty outfits her mom hated and subsequently “lost.” I worked in a shoe store and sported their “f-me” pumps in the halls of my high school. We were nothing like the teenage gangs of today but back then, nobody messed with us.
Then came college – a much more forgiving environment. By the time I graduated, I wore no makeup and only flats. As a psych major, I dedicated myself to helping people. (Wanting to help people may sound incongruous to who I was, but all psych majors are there to figure themselves out, and then what do they do with their education? ) Then came life, where we had to reconcile all the things that had led us to that point. I did it in therapy. Beth did it as part of growing up. We had to let ourselves get vulnerable enough to fall in love and get married, and here we are. But when something happens and we need that tough kid, Beth and I discovered, she’s still there, waiting to protect us.
I don’t use her very much, though. These days I let things get to me. The other day I cried over finances. Sometimes I cry because I can’t take the kids anymore that day. Sometimes it’s just because I’m burned out. But I get through those times. That inner hoodlum does influence me, though. I never cry in public. Not even in front of my husband. When I have to face the world, I make sure I pull it together to seem composed. That teenager is still there, waiting in the wings when I need her, and so was Beth’s.
Beth went to her meeting and performed brilliantly, her inner badass carrying her through. She was really grateful for my advice but all I did was suggest it. She did the rest herself.