Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chapter 2, part 2: Fix-It Mom

I groaned at the sound of the alarm the next morning. A mind swirling with guilt and worry had made sleep elusive. Sore from the accident, I hesitated to get out of bed.

Mom knocked on my door and came in. “Gigi, honey, how are you feeling this morning?”

“Not that great.”

“You look exhausted. How about you stay home from school today? We can talk about what happened, and then I’ll drive you over to Blessed Redeemer. I set up an appointment for us to meet with Pastor Jim.”

“The youth pastor? Why? Do we have to?” I looked up to Pastor Jim and his wife. They were always telling me what a great girl I was, that they hoped their toddler would turn out as well as me one day. It was flattering, but it made me uncomfortable too, like any second they would find out how wrong they were about me. If we went to his office with a real problem, he’d see me as just another one of the troublemakers. He’d start asking questions and then he’d find out my most shameful secrets.

“I’m worried about you, sweetie. Taking the car like that was so unlike you. You’re smarter than that. I’m concerned it was a cry for help.”

Mom went to help Kirsten and Ruth finish getting ready for school.

After they left, I drew a hot bath to soak my aching muscles and think. I slid down, letting my hair swirl around me in the water. The water covered my ears, blocking out all noise. I closed my eyes, imagining that I were floating in space.

Why had I taken Daddy’s car? Maybe it was a cry for help after all. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been truly happy. There was so much pressure to conform, to measure up, to excel but not stand out too much. No matter what I did it, it was never enough. I wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t pretty enough. I’d never be a model. My breasts were too small. My hair too frizzy, my glasses too nerdy, my zits too disgusting.

I wasn’t friendly enough. I’d never be popular. I was too quiet, too serious. Too much of a goody good. The popular girls intimidated me and fascinated me at the same time. I stammered and froze up whenever I tried to interact with them. Except for Alicia and my lab partner Quan, I didn’t have any real friends. I’d never been to any of the school dances. I wanted to at least go to senior prom, but no one had asked yet.

Academics were my strong suit, but lately even that had been a disappointment. Mom said as smart as I was that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be the valedictorian or at least salutatorian. I studied as hard as I could, but graduation was closer every day and I was still only 7th in my class.

And then there was church. The word grace was preached from the pulpit and taught in the classrooms of the Lutheran elementary school I’d attended, but in real life it seemed meaningless. If we were saved by grace and not by works, why did youth group feel like a competition to show who was the most “on fire” for God? Faith seemed measured by how regular your quiet time was, how much you prayed, how much you witnessed, or how many mission trips you had been on. Part of me wanted to do those things, but I never could keep up with it, and every time I missed a day, I felt like a huge failure. What kind of Christian was I to break one of the ten commandments and disobey my parents?

The water drained out of the tub, leaving me cold. I lay there shivering, feeling like I deserved some sort of punishment. What was wrong with me? Was I depressed or something? How pathetic would that be. It’s not like I had any real problems. What did I have to be depressed about?

I threw on jeans and a plain black tee shirt and headed downstairs, hair still dripping. Mom walked into the kitchen from the garage just as I sat down at the table with a bowl of cereal.

“Black again? Never mind. Ready for our talk?”

I nodded. I’d rather skip this part, but there was no getting out of it.

“First of all, I need you to apologize to me for lying to your father last night.”

“It was all a big misunderstanding, Mom. You’re probably not going to believe me, but I didn’t lie to Daddy. At least not intentionally. I was trying to explain that you were gone, that’s all.”

“I see. He assumed you were trying to say I gave you permission. I’ll clear that up with him when he gets home. Now, the real issue: why did you do it, honey?”

“I don’t know.” The pity party I had in the bathtub didn’t seem relevant anymore. Besides, Mom would never understand.

“What is really going on with you, Gigi? Is this about a boy? Are you having sex?”

“What? Where did that come from? Don’t be ridiculous!”

“I didn’t think so, but I just had to ask. Of course, girls just don’t have the sex drive that boys do at your age. I used to hope my first child would be a boy, because I had so much fun having an older brother growing up. But these days I’m glad not to have a son. Did you hear about the Jacobs’ oldest boy? Got a 15 year old girl pregnant.”

Failed again, on two counts. Not only not the boy she’d hoped for, I was one of the freakish girls who did have a sex drive. I may not have had any opportunities, but I sure thought about it a lot.

I listened to her lecture and gave the responses I knew she wanted to hear, something I’d been doing all my life.

“I’m glad we had this talk,” she said at last. “It’s time to head over to the church office. Is there anything else you need to talk about?”

All my bathtub reflections came rushing back, but I couldn’t find a way to put them into words. All I could manage was, “Mom, what if I’m not the good girl you think I am?”

“Oh, honey. It’s not about labels. I’m sorry that you think in those terms. I wish I had learned all this positive parenting stuff when you were small—I would have done things so differently. I used to say ‘good girl’ to you all the time, didn’t I? But you need to know right now, there’s no such thing as a ‘good girl.’ You can make good or bad decisions, or really I guess I should say healthy or unhealthy choices, but it doesn’t change who you are. You’re my daughter and I love you. Always.”

“Aw, mom. You have to say that.”

Mom stood. “I don’t have to. In fact, I should say it more often.” She glanced at her watch, stood and put a hand on my shoulder. “C’mon. We really do have to go now. Let’s not keep Pastor Jim waiting.”