My wickedly brilliant friend Maxine told me I have Imposter Complex.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, you know…the thing that makes you say, “I’m not a REAL writer [landscape designer/artist/musician/adult/Mother/fill-in-the-blank] because I lack the proper credentials [education/formal training/degree/piece of paper/recognition/circumstances] to tell me I am, to tell everyone I am, and when people find out, I will be found out, cast out.” And how dare I presume to say I am [a real artist/fill-in-the-blank].
Imposter Complex. It had a name!
And she was correct.
My whole adult life has been so.
I have been called an artist.
I have been called talented.
I have been told I am smart, all of my life.
I have been encouraged, prodded, and pushed by many to develop my skills in several areas. Almost as though there were personal investments at stake.
I have never really understood this, and have often been confused by this as well.
I am often asked, sometimes by strangers, how to do something because I have the appearance of knowing, have done something that looks good, or because of my reputation. These people see something in me I wonder at. Why do they think I know?
My best work has been a series of happy accidents and “do-overs”.
When asked such a thing, or when complimented on how well I have done something, I often think there must be a mistake of perception involved.
Like receiving a compliment on a dress, knowing that the backside is torn, or badly stained. Or perhaps it is like a trick of the light where a person appears ominous or innocent but is neither, still addressed as such. Perhaps in this light a person is beautiful, but is she? The beholders eye sees a picture I may not have painted.
I have no idea why others perceive me as they do, only that they do. They tell me.
I do often wonder why they do not see the tears in my dress, the stains. Why they do not see my lack of innocence, my failure to be ominous. That my beauty is only a trick of light.
Why they miss the fact that I am lost, and just doing the only things that make sense to me.
They think I am called, studied, ambitious. Inspired and aspiring. I am none of these, most of the time. I am just surviving. Doing what keeps me from going crazy.
I learned everything I know late; how to drive, how to make small talk, how to move through society. I have learned to dress like someone from a higher station than I come from. I am well spoken, attractive and engaging, qualities that make moving through the world infinitely easier, let’s face it. But they are not qualities that guarantee talent, a work ethic, or being a good or trustworthy person.
The surface qualities that make a good impression, and open doors, are things I learned as necessary to survive.
Those are what people see, in addition to some creative abilities and different-seeing I seem to have. Yet they want to see me “succeed”, they want to see me do well. Because they “believe” in me, because they think I deserve it, because they like what I do, because they think I am a good person, because they think I have talent..
Hell, I don’t know exactly why, but they do. They say so.
I will see and hear this, and wonder what they see in me, and wonder why they are blind to the truth of my brokenness. My never-been life of normalcy they imagine. They never seem to see me as less than normal, but as somehow more than normal. In truth, I never achieved normal at all, and have accepted that I never will be normal regardless of what my life gets to looking like.
My heart, broken so long ago, healed, but healed crookedly.
My soul, crushed from fitting into shapes so unnatural, is whole, but bent.
My flesh, a body that looks so good for its years, is tired beyond belief and aches relentlessly.
My life, fits and starts of direction, always again frustrated, always starting over.
I am the girl on the street with no shoes, cracked heels, and a face full of rain.
I am the drunk one, the one with bruises inside her elbows, powder in her pockets.
I am the hunted, the hiding, the hovering one in the donut shop with blood in her hair.
I am the one you see from your car, hitchhiking to nowhere because there’s nowhere left to go.
I am the wild-eyed girl that asked you for a cigarette this morning.
I am trying to take up less space, while staying alive.
I am the ones you see with so many faces, running away from something, and we all look the same.
I am looking for some place to rest, just rest, and be left alone. Just for one night.
I am the one who stood behind you at the 7-11 and stole cheese last week.
I am 14, 15, 16 years old and can’t go home. I live with a man and am glad the nightly harassment of stranger men has stopped. But I still don’t sleep.
They say the Devil you know is better than the one you don’t know.
Formal education ended for me a long time ago. Everything I know I have figured out for myself, or from asking questions.
As unprepared as I was for street life, I was even more ill equipped for “real life” when street life ended for me.
I did not know how to deal with money, bills, people, neighbors, work. I didn’t know I was smart, and I felt stupid. I didn’t know I was pretty and wholesome looking, and felt visibly soiled by life as I’d known it. I knew others could see the damage, the pretend person I had no right to be, working side by side with them, hiding the smear of the street, and I knew they knew I had no right. I knew they knew I belonged back where I came from, that I was merely borrowing the costume of normalcy they alone owned.
It was many years before I realized they didn’t know at all, could not see the hurt and stain inside of me. When later I ventured to confess the truth, some did not believe me. I just did not look the part.
It was all so long ago. So far away.
Still, sometimes when I feel scared, insecure, or ill equipped, I realize I again am that girl, the one you saw out there, or maybe tried not to see. And I learn that it never leaves me completely. I cannot un-see what I have seen, un-know what I have known. The truth of what humanity can be, all too familiar to any who have lived any kind of street life, still a bitter pill for me to swallow, yet I can never spit it out. The truth of living exposed, fair game for opportunists or frostbite, has left me self-protective. I cannot ever feel warm enough, safe enough, legitimate enough. I can never have too many shoes and socks, gloves, scarves. I never get over the haunted feeling upon entering a public restroom, and am always a little scared until I leave them. I am still hyper vigilant and do not sit well with my back to a room or door. I walk far away from parked cars, even in daylight. I walk with the knowledge of that senseless assault [as if there were an assault that made sense] rape or murder being a thing that happens to you and I, everyday. This knowledge is not abstract, theory, but fact. I have pictures still vivid in my head to remind me lest I should relax and forget.
Phantom characters that hiss and taunt, keeping sharp their impressions on me. Ugliness witnessed, unspeakable and unbelievable. Freeze frame memory, should I begin to believe I can always spot a predator. I’m pretty good, but I can’t, and either can you.
I know cold and wet, enough to remember I once had the ability to numb myself to it. [I no longer do.] I remember fear, hunger, and anger so fierce I could not predict where it would take me. Anger born of knowing I could and would need to fight for my life. One does not acquire that daily knowing without paying a price, and gaining some baggage. Anger of this strain is survival, and doesn’t leave easily.
Random drugs to heal the pain and anything I could drink, layered over and under Pneumonia, abscess, PID, severe concussion and abrasions to the feet gone to infection. I never received proper health care and don’t know why I survived.
None of this am I proud of, nor am I ashamed of it anymore. It is simply what was. But it makes me feel different, like one raised by wolves talking to those who wore disposable diapers. I can’t relate, I never knew them; I grew up in a cave.
Sure, not literally, but I know in a room full of people, exposed, I can be the oddity and people tend to stare at oddities, uncomfortable but morbidly fascinated.
They also often want to create an equation for the sense of it, the “how” I had come to the life I spent time in. Blame in some form is common, all though often innocently assigned. They simply want to protect themselves from the thin line of possibility that it could have been them, could have been their daughters. Could have been where they found themselves before they knew how they had gotten there.
I try to forgive this, knowing I could never explain, and don’t need to, don’t need to convince.
It’s like trying to convince some people that under the right [or wrong] circumstances, anyone could be brainwashed. Some will never believe this because they cannot envision themselves ever vulnerable enough in their own life to be a mark. But we are all, in select moments of life, lucky the cards did not fall a little bit differently, finding ourselves with a window left unbuttoned to let in a force stronger than ourselves in a broken moment.
I know these things, accept them, make peace with them as best I can, make peace with myself. It is what it is, there’s no changing the past.
Even so, occasions I am unprepared for arise, and I feel transparent. A see-through woman, exposed again as the thin and broken girl I was once. Belonging nowhere, believing nothing.
I am the girl you scorned and pitied.
I am the lost one you were sure wandered into her own way.
I am the survivor, who hides her scars.
I am the woman who works, shops, and lives next door to you. The one you sometimes envy for my blessings, my looks, my life.
I am the one who would trade everything, to feel some innocence, to un-know.
I listen to another friend; “You need to write something”, she says. I have nothing. I’m tapped, drained, distracted. I can’t string together more than a line or two. I am embarrassed by what I come up with and there is no inspiration. My attempts feel forced, and have no focus or flow.
“Write what you know”, she says. “Write what’s inside you.”
I am the girl with no shoes.