After spending sixteen years in an abusive marriage, and seven years before that in another abusive marriage, and eighteen years before that growing up with a father who was abusive, suffice it to say I acquired a knack for figuring out other people, if only because when you spend that much time in silence and suffering, you become an expert on not just watching people, but seeing them for who they are.
The problem — which I discovered upon escaping the abuse and entering the healing process — was that I had no clue when it came to figuring out anything about myself, the real me. Who was I if not the woman I’d been told by husband #1, husband #2, and my father? I’d become so accustomed to their version of me, a narrative that included far more negative adjectives than positive ones, I was at a loss to answer the pressing question: Who was I really?
Thus, I set out on a quest. At the same time I was sheltering in place in my cocoon of recovery, I decided to focus on all those qualities about me that I thought were good, qualities that hadn’t been appreciated before by anyone I loved, and that superseded any and all previous descriptions of me that had been stuck on my being like sticky notes from men whose motive was to keep me under their control.
I was no longer going to be defined as too emotional, too sensitive, high-maintenance, naïve, and irrational. I would no longer be known as the girl who needed to grow a thicker skin, who was gullible, ignorant, and unsophisticated. The girl who needed to pipe down and grow up. These were never my words to begin with. These adjectives had nothing to do with me and everything to do with who claimed them for me. Thus, a new Suzanna was created, reborn, and redefined by the simple act of asking: What am I if not what they say I am?
After extensive research, much of which was done while listening to 80s on XM, here’s what I learned about myself:
I am gifted.
Try and beat me at Scrabble. Or Pinball. Or swimming the length of the pool underwater. I can also parallel park a large SUV on a dime. And I make ruler-straight tape lines when I paint a wall. Can Jennifer Lopez do that? I don’t think so.
I have a fantastic memory.
526–4625. That was my phone number in high school when my parents gave me my own separate bedroom line so I wouldn’t tie up theirs. Speaking of the 80s, when a song from the decade comes on the radio, I am 98% successful in telling you the year it came out. Sometimes I can even pinpoint the season (such as “Summer of ’69” came out in the summer of ’85). Also, Jenny’s number is 867–5309. I think this makes up plenty for the fact that I can’t remember a person’s name if my life depended on it.
Before giving my car over to be washed or repaired, I always tune the radio to a Salsa station at medium volume. Because everyone should be happy at least some of the time.
I am an excellent cook.
Don’t be fooled by my gringa skin. I’ll fry you up plantains that will make you think you’re in Cuba, shrimp tacos like you’re on a Mexican beach, and pasta like you’re on a Roman holiday. If you close your eyes, you’ll be fooled into thinking I’m Nicaraguan when you get a taste of my authentic Gallo Pinto (red beans and rice). There’s always room at my table, so feel free to prove me right.
When seeing who can calculate the tip the fastest, I always win. I can calculate finance charges in my head faster than the AC repairman does on his calculator. Oh, and I always win at the game of Bullshit.
I’m naïve but in the best way.
I was 48 years old when I finally realized what Frankie Goes to Hollywood meant with their song, “Relax.” This year when I turned 51, it hit me what Foreigner was singing about in their song, “Urgent.” What did I think I was singing along to for all these years? That people needed to just chill out and relax. And fires, which are always an emergency.
I’m not judgmental.
I do not live in a glass house nor do I ever throw stones. There is only one group of people whom I judge, and that is those who drive Challengers. I judge them to be awesome, and I’m pretty closeminded about that.
I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo or the “way things are.”
Blood is not thicker than water when it comes to abusive relationships, therefore I do not flock with the birds of my same feather (on my paternal side). I don’t believe there is “the one” we should be looking for in our love life, but more likely three or four (not at the same time, of course). Also, I watch pots and dare them to boil.
I see narcissists. I see through bullshitters. I can always sense the energy of a room. If I need to make a split-second decision and jump on one of two trains in D.C., I pick the right one. I finish my oldest son’s sentences and know when any of my kids are hiding something from me. When I say “Goodbye, I’ll be back soon. I love you!” to my dogs, I know they’re listening.
I have high standards for myself and others.
I do not expect someone else to do what I am either unwilling or unable to do. I do expect Kellogg’s to provide frosted mini wheats, however, not lightly dusted. I mean, there are lines, people.
I’m endlessly curious.
I keep National Geographic magazines in the bathroom, which is where I learned about the rare golden catfish (it’s blind and swims in a cave deep under one of the aridest regions in Africa, a cruel irony to those above ground in need of water) — I could also add this to my “I’m smart” category. Another example of my endless curiosity: I like to test theories, such as what would happen if I’m on my period and did a handstand…thus far I haven’t been able to stay upside down long enough to acquire any scientific data.
I know how to make the best of a bad situation.
At a football game in high school, I looked in the mirror and painted “Class of 86” on my cheek. We still won the game despite my reversed school spirit.
In third grade, I wrote the lyrics down for Top of the World by the Carpenters onto 35 separate pieces of paper and shared them with my classmates so we could all sing together. In fourth grade I attempted to steal 17 packs of Bubble Yum from 7–11 in order to give them out at the Boys & Girls Club after school (I was caught and punished, but it’s the thought that counts). In high school, I always chipped in more than my share for beer.
While driving, if ever there is a need to slam on the brakes, my right arm saves any passenger from flying out the front windshield.
So this is who I am. I have taken the pen out of the hands of the men in my past who have tried to write my story for me. I’m sure there are other fantastic qualities that I have yet to discover or recognize about myself, which is as it should be. The point being, the empowerment is in the process, along with the ability to redefine any characteristic that previously saddled me with wrongdoing or badness. This isn’t to say I’m not still emotional or sensitive (like I used to be called) or any other label that was put on me with a “too” attached, but now I own these adjectives and am the only one to claim them as I see fit on any given day.
And when in doubt, I just look in the mirror so she can remind me…
Girl, you know it’s true.