The other day I was walking somewhere when all of a sudden I realized I was thirteen blocks further away from where I thought I was because “math” and so I hailed a cab that was stopped at a light and I was like ‘can you just drop me at 40th because I’m lazy’ and he was like “sure it’s OK” (when run-on sentences are a technique of your prose it’s OK).
So there I am in this cab just riding thirteen blocks because I’m a POS, and I’m just sitting there and I thought to myself “My God, Jesse…you are so cool. I love you.” And it was a very, very genuine moment where I really did think I was very very cool in my lil cab being all New York, just like little 12-year old Jesse would have wanted.
And then, of course, immediately I’m like “whoa whoa whoa you are NOT allowed to think you’re cool that is SELFISH.” And so then I pondered briefly if I should ask the cabby if HE thought I was cool but then I was like “no…not only are you carrying a giant purse AND wearing a tiny backpack…you are weilding one of those opens-inside-out fancy pants umbrellas with f****n’ Starry Night Van Gogh on it. This cabby thinks you’re a priss and NOTTTTT cool for making him drive you thirteen blocks!”
And then I thought…ya know? What even IS cool anyway? And when did I first start questioning my coolness? (This really happened. I really do ponder cliches in cars quite often).
And I thought all the way back to Matilda Who Told Such Dreadful Lies by Hilaire Belloc, which was my favorite book as a kid until I realized that other children didn’t also love this hilarious tale of a girl who told so many lies that no one listened when her house was on fire and she was calling out “FIRE FIRE FIRE HELP ME PLEASE” and so she burned alive. My favorite part of the book went a little something like this:
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street —
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence) — but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’
They only answered ‘Little Liar!’
BOMB DOT COM and I couldn’t wait to bring it in to school when it was my turn to share my favorite book…but the teacher was all
“ummm where did you get this book.”
And I said
“ummm my AUNT who works for the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!!!”
She didn’t care about my aunt who worked for the Library of Congress. She said the book was too disturbing. And I said
“Uhh, I think everybody already knows this story…”
And she said…
”No Jesse. I really don’t think they do.”
As a matter of fact, everyone DID know this story…as the boy who cried wolf. But as I soon learned in the cafeteria when I told my friends my book had been rejected, NONE of them had heard the cute story about Matilda who burns alive in her house while her family is at the theatre.
And it was at this moment that I took pause and said WAIT A MINUTE WAIT A MINUTE WAIT A MINUTE…am I strange? Cause it kinda sounds like I might be strange.
So in case I lost you somewhere in that anecdote, the story about ‘Matilda who told such dreadful lies it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes’ did NOT mess me up.
Learning I was the ONLY ONE who loved this story messed me up.
If it wasn’t made abundantly clear by the fact that I liked such a f***ed up book that was given to me by my aunt who worked for the Library of Congress (JEAN), I was, and am strange.
And I don’t say this in a “Zooey Deschanel quirky girl, ironic shrug” kind of way. No offense to that. That’s it’s own thing. She’s great. It’s great.
But I am just plain old strange. And I fought it for a long time, especially in my twenties.
In fact I think I spent most of my twenties in denial about it. I tried for years to curb the things about me that are strange:
-I tried to post on Instagram what I thought you were supposed to post on Instagram, but it all felt so forced and dumb that I ultimately deleted it for six months and want to delete it again.
-I tried to do the things in NYC that people think are fun like brunch, and drinking til you puke and black out, but I always end up back in my room in a kimono watching Serial Killer documentaries, drinking Diet Coke and diffusing peppermint oil.
-I tried to overcome my irrational fear of brushing my teeth in the same bathroom I poop in, but some days I’m just not strong enough and I have to brush my teeth when I get to work.
-I tried to keep that toothbrush/pooping thing a secret and succeeded until now.
-I stayed two years too long in a relationship with someone I knew was not my person because it seemed easier to just follow the “engaged by 25 married by 27” route the majority of friends were on.
-I stifled and ignored my OCD so badly it burst, and I lost two friends in the process.
-I tried to talk less about cancer because I didn’t want to make people feel sad.
-I tried to hate a friend who actually faked cancer for years–tried hard to feel the hatred that everyone else involved was feeling toward her for doing such a terrible thing…but just couldn’t muster a hatred I didn’t feel. And she remains my close friend to this day.
-I tried to talk less about cancer because I didn’t want to make people feel sad.
-I TRIED TO TALK LESS ABOUT CANCER BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL SAD.
I MADE APOLOGIES FOR MY HAVING CANCER BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE YOU SAD.
Tsk tsk tsk. Jesse, Jesse, Jesse.
But all those things…I tried and failed. I’m just strange, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the strangest things that ever happened to me.
The day I found out about my tumor I had an incredible moment of clarity that I’ve never been able to forget. I only ever shared it once, doing EMDR therapy for PTSD. Because before now, I thought it was crazy. Way too strange to be shared.
But that day back in ‘08, we were waiting–had been waiting for hours, to see somebody. Outside the office building in the middle of a friggin Nor’easter, my dad had taken me to get some air. He was trying to keep me calm, telling me we didn’t know anything for sure yet. Maybe whatever they saw on the MRI would be benign, maybe it was not what we were all hoping it wasn’t.
He pulled me into a big hug and I buried my face in his chest…and in that moment, seemingly out of nowhere, this warmth came over me and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did, indeed, have cancer. It wasn’t just “a gut feeling” or “something I really felt in my heart.” It was like the universe was gifting me this knowledge, whether I wanted it or not.
And it made me smile. I smiled there, in my dad’s arms in the snowstorm. He couldn’t see me, but he’ll know now. I was smiling. Because for that very brief moment it all made sense: This was strange. I was strange. Everything, everything in my life so far had lead me to this moment: this was supposed to happen to me, and like it or not, this was part of the path.
And I smiled. This strange phenomenon was powerful enough to make me smile in the middle of a f*****g tragedy.
And I say that with no sarcasm or dark humor or irony. I guess I would say I consider it the closest I’ve ever been to feeling a psychic phenomenon.
And just as quickly as it came…it passed. Because we all know the story from there…I turn into an adolescent cancer monster. But I thought of that day all the time–that feeling I had. I just could never quite harness it, and use it to help me gain perspective.
Today I can harness it.
You hear people say all the time that you have to love yourself if you’re ever going to love somebody else. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of somebody else. I’ve pondered that cliche many times, in cars, as I’ve been known to do. It never rang true for me. Up until this year, I rejected it because I was SURE I’d never love myself but I definitey didn’t plan on being alone for the rest of my life.
But this year I’ve been changing…mat-oo-ring, if you will. Because now I have a different take. Now I have two issues with it, the main one being that you can’t view part one as a MEANS to part two. Self love should be about loving yourself, period. NOT as a stepping stone to loving someone else…even if it DOES end up being that stepping stone.
I took a class a few weeks ago downtown at The Open Center and the teacher said something like ‘if everyone could really truly love themselves, they wouldn’t need love from others. Any love we got from others would be a bonus.’ I’m paraphrasing. But you get the gist.
That’s what I want. To love myself with the idea that if friends and family come and go…if I never get married…if I never have children…that I have enough love and respect for myself to still have a happy life.
My other problem with that cliche is that as much as we throw around “self-love’ and post memes about self-confidence and being yourself and yada yada yada…we still live in a world where EXPRESSING confidence in yourself puts you at risk of being labeled “self-centered” or “selfish.” And I know it’s a very very fine line between the two…but still…I know I should be able to think I’m cool in a cab without stopping myself and feeling guilty…RIGHT!?
Regardless, I have way more appreciation and love for my strangeness now. And when I have my days of doubt…of which I still have many (don’t think this one little sermon means I’m traipsing around like Mary Sunshine in a crown of daisies all the time) I actually find comfort in thinking back to that one small moment on what was probably the worst day of my life…where some strange force in the universe told me I was precisely where I was supposed to be and it made me smile. I remember that if this universe has enough humor in it’s ether to make me smile on the worst day of life, I can get through today.
I think maybe I’m not strange. I’m just mad cool.
And so is Matilda…may she rest in peace.