The mentally challenged daughter in the film ‘The Other Sister’ says, I’m not special, and I’m not an artist or an athlete or anything else important. But I can love.
I was the other daughter. The other sister. The fucked-up one. The one who went away to college and came back with a great big story about how everything my parents told the world about our family was a great big lie. The one who was broken in ways she is only now coming to terms with. The one who is officially disabled, in more than one way, from things other people have done to her and shitty decisions she has made, both. The one who has learned to forestall pity with a numb shoulder-to-the-wheel intensity that drives people away from her. The one who has inherited a toughness that has turned to callousness after too many encounters with oppression spoken in the tones of someone who believes they know better.
We learn things about ourselves. About what it means to be lovable. My sister, shorter and cuter and dumber and blonder and gigglier and crueller, taught she will always be the important daughter no matter how much I achieve. My parents, who believe her, because she is the child obedient to the lie of our family.
I learned what it meant to be lovable.
I have waited my whole life for someone else who will see the world the way I do. Someone who will not look at me as someone whose ptsd or CTE or CVS (lots of Cs) or useless degree from a nothing university or unnecessary graduate degree from a less than nothing university….someone who will not look at me as someone whose problems disqualify me from being worthy of love, or worse, worthy of respect. Someone who will ask me what I want and what I need, rather than tell me what I ought to want or ought to need.
I struggled my way out of hell and I lost parts of myself along the way. So many people would tell me that the fact I lost these parts of myself is evidence I am incompetent at being human, or crazy, or too flawed to be loved.
Once upon a time, all I wanted was to find the boy who was mine. Someone who would teach me the constellations and watch Star Trek with me and make me laugh and pick wildflowers on a hillside and lay down under a tree and make me feel safe and make me feel better than safe.
I never learned the words to that song. I still don’t know the words, not exactly, how could I? My mother is my father’s doll. He jerks her strings like she is a marionette and their life is a performance for an invisible audience. My parents are all alone, with just each other. He is the family golden boy but no one wants to be anywhere near him. Everyone wants to be near me, to cuddle me and lick the honey from my arms, until that is I raise my voice.
We all learn what it means to be loved from our families, I suppose. Boys learn that status and competition and winning and coming out ahead will bring validation, and emotions will bring disgust or rejection. Girls learn that opening our mouths is always the wrong move, our sexuality is a weapon god holds like a dagger to our throat, and truly wanting something means we will never get it and will be laughed at besides.
I want to be seen for all my brokenness. I do not want to be looked at as though I were thinner and blonder and powerful and more successful in ways my identities prevent. I am not a goddess among men, in this society we are in. I am a girl writing missives to a boy who stopped listening the moment I knew what to say.
I fell in love with the part of him he hated most. The part that will never be masculine enough to meet his own standards. We are all I suppose shaped by the conditions we are born into.
Those of us who have been effectively silenced are those of us who everyone else is told ought not speak, or have nothing real to say, or do not deserve to participate in the spiritual component of the body politic.
I have been trying to prove I am smart enough like I have been trying to prove I am sane enough, to be heard. It has not happened yet.
I suppose the world is afraid of my rage. I was never afraid of his grief.
I ran, I suppose. Not from him, but from the ghosts inside my own head.
I have stopped running now. I am not sure that it matters to anyone but myself. But it matters very much to me.
I am not so very many things. I am not a published author. I am not a college professor. I do not have a particularly fancy degree. I do not have a particularly fancy job. My status in this society built on status is a joke.
But I am still here. In spite of it all. Trying to speak. In spite of it all.
And I suspect the people this society has broken the most, have the most important things to say about how to heal it.
I may be crazy, I suppose. But I am also clear-eyed about who I am, about who he is. This boy. And I wish I had met him before he learned what it means to love a girl like a man. I wish I had met him before I learned what it means to be a girl who can be loved, and Jewish, and American, in this country, today.
I know what it means to be a man who is lovable or desirable or worthy. I simply happen to disagree.
I think I know what it means to be a person who is lovable. And I think perhaps that is the one thing I can do. Better than anyone.
But not if I also am someone who is not beautiful or healthy or able-bodied or perfect enough to be listened to. If those are the terms of what it means to deserve a voice in this world.
I want to wake up in a world that is different from this one. Where I can want him for the reasons I want him, and he will listen to me when I tell him.
I have been trying to build that world but I have been building along for so long. But what can I do, but keep trying?