My mother once said I was a doormat. It was about five years ago, during an especially difficult year at college, and I was incensed. My mother, the woman who should be building me up and encouraging me as my friendships were falling apart, stood across the counter from me, looked me in the face, and said I was a doormat. I let people walk all over me. I didn’t do anything for myself. I wasn’t the girl she had raised, the woman she knew I had become. I wasn’t me anymore. (She’s pretty no nonsense, my mother.)
I wouldn’t hear it. I refused. She didn’t know me. I spent most of my time down in Portland for college. I only saw my family about one weekend a month, and I talked to them on the phone even less. I’m not usually the sort to wallow in self pity, but what my mom said kept going through my mind. I heard it in my sleep, while I was reading, as I watched a movie. The words kept pestering me, insisting I hear them and remember them. They demanded my attention.
My mother, as mothers usually are, was quite right in her rather determined diagnosis. After some reflection and a healthy dose of brutal honesty, I agreed. I was a doormat. No, I had become a doormat, which wasn’t the same at all. Because that means at one point, I wasn’t a doormat. I wasn’t someone who lost her sense of purpose, her goals, her own personality. I wasn’t what everyone made me into. I was solely and completely myself. I was my own driving force. But at some point, between high school and college, I receded. I dimmed. I faded into what my friends wanted me to be, what I thought guys wanted me to be, what I thought society wanted me to be. I forgot myself.
When I remember my first year of college, I remember myself as a blank slate; tabula rasa. I walked onto campus and was ready to become. I could shed everything I was and start fresh. I didn’t have to worry about pleasing my parents, my church, my friends, or if I’m completely honest, God. I could make myself into the best version of Cassi. It was all up to me.
But it wasn’t. I gave it up and handed it over to everyone else. I let other people determine me, create me. I passed them the pen and let them write on me, on my blank slate. I let them cover me in what they wanted, in what they needed. I let them leave their mark on me.
I’ve let men write on me, on my body, on my mind, on my heart. I’ve let them write their taste in music on me, their taste in “film.” I’ve let them write their opinions and beliefs on me. I’ve let them write their sexual type on me, their idea of pretty, hot, or beautiful. I’ve let them write their dominance on me, convincing me of my inferiority. I’ve let them write their fantasies on me, setting me up to fall short. I’ve let them write their expectations and needs on me. I’ve let them write their insecurities and physical desires on me. I’ve let men write their “ideal” on me, tattooing it on my heart and soul.
I’ve let women write on me. I’ve let them write their personality on me. I’ve them write their taste in clothes on me. I’ve let them write their paranoia on me. I’ve let them write their gossip on me. I’ve let them write their self esteem issues on me. I’ve let them write their negativity on me. I’ve let them write their flare for the dramatic on me, their addiction to the spotlight. I’ve let them write their pettiness on me. I’ve let them write their need for attention on me. I’ve let them write their idea of femininity and sexuality on me. I’ve let them write their history with men on me. I’ve let them write their depression, ignorance, and immaturity on me.
Everyone I met left their own tattoo on my skin, marking me whether I allowed it or not. I couldn’t erase them. They overwhelmed me, swallowed me whole. I tried to write over them, using word after word to cover up the ones I didn’t like. The words on my skin clashed, becoming run-on sentences and incomplete thoughts. I became a mess of everything, and the sum of nothing. I would stand in front of the mirror, look at myself, and see only a stranger. I would see what everyone else wanted or demanded of me. I saw what they needed, but not what I needed. As I tried to cover the words, they only dug deeper, leaving scars on my soul. And then, I stopped caring. I let the words be, letting them define me. I became them.
It is difficult to un-become something. It shouldn’t be, not when you didn’t want it to begin with. But you become used to it, comfortable with it. You look in the mirror and you start to recognize it. Even when you don’t want it, you cling to it, because somewhere along the way it started to make sense. You began to understand each other.
But we never, I believe, completely fade away. We never give up everything, because there is always a little part of us we strive to protect; that one thing we treasure, the one part of ourselves we are proud of. Perhaps it lies dormant, waiting until we are ready to accept it, to unleash it as we shed the words others have given us.
All the men I’ve met can’t erase their marks from my skin. Neither can the women undo their scarring tattoos. They can’t fix me or renew me. Some of the wounds go too deep. Some of them hurt worse than others. I can’t erase the marks from my skin. I don’t have the strength, it seems, to look in the mirror and say, “I need to start over. I need a new blank slate.” I don’t have the patience or the will. But truthfully, I don’t have the heart. It was too much responsibility that first time, having a blank slate. And I ruined it; I let others ruin it. And I don’t think I can put myself through that again.
I’ve stopped trying to cover myself in the words I want. Humans are nothing if not fickle creatures, and I have the tendency to change my mind between one breath and the next. So I don’t write on myself, but rather on paper. I write for myself, for the God who made it so, for the God who protected that part of me. Every so often I catch the glimpse of my fading tattoos, and ask God to take them from me. I give them to Him, one at a time, and He erases them from my heart and soul. He is patient with me, not demanding I give everything up at once, not hating when I stubbornly cling to some of them. He loves me through my healing, gives me grace when I may not deserve it.
He writes on me now. He wrote a new purpose on me, a new goal. He gave me permission to be something I never thought I could be. He wrote hope and love on me. He wrote potential on me. He wrote imagination on me, and a bit of creativity. He wrote forgiveness on me. He wrote desire and dreams on me. He wrote all the words I didn’t think I could have, didn’t think I deserved. But He gave them to me, one by one, when He knew I was ready for them. Some mornings I wake up and look in the mirror and see that God left a new mark on me, a new word He meant only for me. And I smile at them and work to become them.
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