Growing up Christian, in a large poor family, and being Italian, the worst possible thing you could call me growing up was “selfish”. This word was the ultimate profanity, the worst epithet, the lowest characteristic a person can possess. I strove my whole life not to have this word associated with me, completing tasks beyond my capacity just to avoid it. And now as I knock on 40, I wear that once disgusting, reprehensible word like a jeweled robe. Yes, I’m selfish and it’s been the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
My husband knows this word, this idea, this characterization maligns me deeply so he likes to unsheathe it in the middle of a fight and pierce my skin with it right in between my ribs so it sticks directly in my heart (hey, I don’t fight fair either). He knows it will get me back in line because I don’t want to be a selfish wife or mother. Somehow, it has been ingrained in us that as we go from “she” to “we” that we relinquish ourselves as being a viable entity. I don’t exist, I’m here for the needs of my children, my husband, my home. I don’t have thoughts beyond what I’m making for dinner. I can’t hold anything significant in my mind except where every item that my children or husband is looking for exists in this well organized inventory I hold in my head. I only have conversations about my children’s progress in school, complaints about how I’m not getting enough sex, and engrossing discussions about where the best place to buy chicken this week is. My days can only be filled the mind-bending monotony of schlepping my kids to their litany of activities. About 2 years ago, I decided to replant the flag, to reclaim this woman in the name of a girl who once existed but has long been forgotten.
Being selfish started small for me. Time I would have spent doing laundry or helping with homework, now became my gym time. The gym, the haven for the selfish, became my refuge in the rigorous pedestrian existence that had enveloped my life. At first, I felt bad when the kids would ask me where their favorite sweatshirt was and I knew full well it was at the bottom of the mountain of laundry I’d abandoned in place of an hour sweating, listening to rap at the gym. It bothered me when I was working out and I imagined them crying over a difficult homework problem, lamenting their mother who had abandoned them. And then, while in the throws of a self-inflicted guilt wound, I realized they would survive without my presence for that hour but if I didn’t claim that time for myself and my selfishness, I might not fare as well. To be honest, 2 years ago was my make or break. I knew I would have to make some changes or I couldn’t go on. Being selfish seemed like the more viable option to a total mid-life crisis.
My husband always likes to remind me that I sugar coat things in these posts…that I don’t give the reader a sense of how deplorable my behavior is, how pervasive its effects on the ones who love me is, how my selfish tendencies have caused irreparable harm to those I love the most. While I’ll admit, this change I’ve undergone hasn’t been pretty, has shown me to be vile, and selfish, and vain, has resulted in me hurting people who mean the world to me; I still CAN”T and WON”T go back in time and undo it. Being selfish, reclaiming who I am and my place on this planet as a woman, as a person with big ideas, as a sexual being was a critical part in my survival. I couldn’t have survived for even another second as the person I was before because the reflection wasn’t mine anymore and staring at her in the mirror made me hate her. Yes, sometimes when you try to cage the lion thinking it’s just a cat, you get scratched when she tries to escape…I’ll apologize but please understand that it was a part of the survival mechanism.
So call me selfish. I could be worse things. I could be soul-less, fake, locked away in a life that didn’t suit me, feigning happiness when depression was eating me from the inside. If you really loved me, you’d forgive my selfishness and know that those things were far worse. That despite the scarlet “S” of selfishness that I wear in red, bloody scars on my skin, there are still redeemable qualities to compensate for this selfishness. Don’t be afraid to draw the line in the sand, reclaim things for the girl you once were…because she was many wonderful things despite being a little selfish.