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But for the Chickens (The Faces We Live)

Brownie me5aLGrOOnh7lYG_89dErAQSo now, with all of my ten-year-old imagination and savvy, I pondered ways to remake myself. One day I watched with envy as a group of Blue Birds and Girl Scouts loaded onto a bus for a field trip. I felt that familiar pain way deep inside that seemed to say, “Only clean girls can wear uniforms.” But seeing those girls also gave me a great idea. I recalled that Girl Scouts of America had a motto about doing good deeds and that Blue Birds touted something about “being a helper  at home, school, and neighborhood.”

“That’s it, that’s it!” I exclaimed to myself. I would become a good, kind, and helpful girl to my neighbors.  The street name of our new home was Silvery Lane.  All of the homes on our long, curved street nestled up to the hill behind us, had lawns and flowers, and truly seemed silvery in reflected sunlight. I thought that the houses themselves stood proud and showed no signs of obvious neglect or shame.

My remake plan seemed to be working; when I walked around the neighborhood people smiled and actually stopped and talked with me. I made friends with a girl named Mary who lived down the street. Her family liked me a lot because they found me to be polite and helpful. They also thought I could possibly become a positive influence on their contrary daughter. They began taking me on all kinds of wonderful family outings. I had great adventures, despite the fact that Mary’s father was a late-stage alcoholic. It is truly a miracle that we all survived his driving and the way he flew his private plane. He literally went from bar to bar, by plane, boat, or car, with his wife and us four kids in tow.

Two years after we moved to Silvery Lane, I had accomplished my goal of reinventing  myself. Neighbors’ faces lit up when they saw me. I was welcomed into their homes, and had come a long way out of the shell of shyness hell. By age twelve, I was standing tall and full of hope.

And then came the chickens. There were hundreds of them placed right  in our backyard. Without a coop. Dirty, smelly, noisy, bloody chickens. My mother and Don decided that chickens would be a great way to supplement our food supply. We children were required to catch them, kill them, cut off their heads, clean, and eat them. I never participated. The chickens scared me, embarrassed me, and their very presence tormented me. However, even  though I despised their filthy presence, I could not stand to see them killed. For my disobedience, I was constantly sent to bed without supper, which was just fine with me.

I learned that the tenuousness of relationships, connections, and reputations could be turned upside down in a single day by any number of outside possibilities. Overnight, neighbors’ smiles disappeared, doors closed on me, and my bare feet were no longer welcomed under the tables of my formerly hospitable neighbors. I was now met with the old, familiar, pinched-like-a-prune expression that broke my heart; all the neighbors wanted to talk about were “the goddamn chickens.”

Disheartened by the rejection, I determined to learn about people’s wants, needs, and desires. I devoted myself to the study of people’s faces, body language, and tone of voice with the tenacity of a marathon runner. I studied expressed and unexpressed desires. I thought I could learn the secret to making people accept me by fulfilling their  “missings.” For example, years later I had a neighbor whose son always failed to remember her on mother’s day. This was especially painful because she had lost her only other child, a daughter. Hearing  this “missing,” I started sending her mother’s day cards, and I have not missed one in twenty years.

Though it may sound thoughtful, it is an arduous task to center one’s personal maturation around observing and attending to others with such intensity. The hypervigilance involved left me feeling outside of myself, always scanning the atmosphere for what it was that I thought I needed to fill in or complete for people. Not that I could do such a thing in actuality, but, by God, I tried. All that, just to be accepted.

I could never have imagined that I would create a facet of my character that would become phony, placating, and accommodating just to be accepted. Just to fit in. Just to see a smile on someone’s face when they saw me coming.

I believe now that that long-ago, deliberate decision was the basis for the recent comment of a good friend and colleague, Dean, who said, “Dawn, somewhere along the way, you learned to be an exquisite mirror of people’s feelings or internal reality, but you are deceitful in that this way of relating comes from a part or aspect of yourself versus your true self.” He  was referring to what a 1970s human potential course, EST, would have called my “winning formula.” I believe his observation is accurate.

The profound aspiration  of my ten-year-old self became a pivotal conversion to the fundamental makeup of my projected persona. The positive aspect of this trait has been an ability to draw people to myself, which has been tremendously rewarding. The negative aspect is that I often appear more emotionally available than I am actually capable of being. This discordant aspect of my character can cause great distress in my close relationships, hence Dean’s comment about deceitfulness.

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Fast-forward seven years from my physical relocation and recreation of self on Silvery Lane to the arrival of my shining prince. Within one week, he fell in love with the face that  I presented to the world; however, he had his own agenda. He wanted to turn my guise into the appearance that he had idealized. Joey had long had a crush on Marilyn, who also created a magnificent persona—one  formed out of a part of her original, Norma Jeane self. He worked hard to recreate my appearance to match her groomed presentation. I wish that he and I could have been forewarned of the impending danger. Perhaps then our two-year marriage would not have ended in such mutual devastation.

“My work is the only ground I’ve ever had to stand on. I seem to have a whole superstructure with no foundation but I’m working on the foundation.” —Marilyn.

When you merely gold-plate something, it only gives it a thin covering, which eventually wears away; the underlying structure always surfaces. Without substance, it is only a façade.

 

Picture borrowed from eBay

 

51NVdAmazon pic of RD

 

 

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