Remnants of Shamings Past

Posted: 27th October 2013 by admin in Blog
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I drove around the block three times, each time getting a little more nervous. I wasn’t nervous that I’d be late. I was nervous that I was there at all. “Out of my element” didn’t begin to describe it. Put me in front of a couple hundred people for a presentation. That was more comfortable. I found a parking place about a block from my destination and sat in the car for a few extra minutes, breathing deep and wrestling with an urge just to put the car back in drive and get out of there. Before it was too late.

Too late for what?

Before I embarrassed myself. Before I was visible.

I locked the car and walked the block back toward the storefront, now on speaking terms with the butterflies in my stomach. They had big feet, those butterflies.

Not too late to turn around and get back in the car!

But it was. I had reached the store and someone else was meeting me here. I couldn’t leave now. She was probably parking her own car somewhere nearby and would expect to see me when she arrived. I opened the door and stepped inside, ears burning, eyes roving, waiting for the initial blow. Not sure how it would fall. The first employee who approached me smiled and asked if I needed any help.

“Uuuuuhhhh…no, thanks, not yet. Waiting for someone else.”

A few moments later, a second employee approached. This was going to be it. This guy was going to be the one who asked why I was here. I braced for the laugh. What I got was a friendly smile and a nod, accompanied by, “Is there anything I can help you with?”

I repeated that I was just waiting for a friend…a friend who belonged here. I was the invader. Maybe if I put it out there right away, I would just be forgiven for the invasion in the tone of the old commercial, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.” I pulled out my phone and texted her. I’m here. So far, so good. No one has asked yet why the fat boi is here.

I glanced around the store again, noting the thin, athletic people trying on their new running sneakers. A combination of culinary school and normal aging piled on top of my inherent lack of interest in most sports and I had never felt more out of place. What was I doing? I couldn’t pull this off!

Before I could decide to leave, the door opened and the friend I’d been waiting for—the one who loved running and belonged in this store–came in. I was instantly relieved to see M. and overwhelmed with that sense that I would be shortly be identified as a hopeless case.

(“You fat, stupid fuck!”)

And there it was, unbidden. And unforgettable. It cut to the core. I wanted to hide behind M. and I fought that off.

The young sales guy circled back around and smiled at me again. “Ready now? What can I help you with?”

When we got seated and he measured my feet, he asked what I was training for.

I was tempted to tell him, “For the roundest executive director in the world competition.”

M. offered, “She’s training for her first 5K.”

My head snapped around. “I am?”

She laughed. “You are.”

The sales guy grinned again. “You’re gonna love this.”

(“You dumb, useless fuck!”)


I sized him up again. He clearly was not making fun of me. There was no hint of judgment in his voice or his expression. On the contrary, he looked…what was that??? Enthusiasm?

(“You fat, stupid bitch!”)

I cringed and looked down at the new sneakers he had tied to my feet, getting up to walk around and test them out on his suggestion. When I paid for them, I made it a point to thank him for being so patient with me and told him I’d been a little nervous. I think he understood, even if he didn’t know why.

Those verbal attacks (and the physical assaults that accompanied them) are more than 30 years behind me. The source of them has been gone since 1997, dying, I was told, alone and probably terrified in puddle of his own blood.  And still those words touch my life, even today, in the oddest places and at the most unexpected times. Still, they interfere. I point out in Urban Tidepool in one dark scene where this same brother who did his level best to dismantle my sense of self turned his attention on our father that my athleticism was at best questionable. In my effort to help the father that day, I threw a small figurine at this brother—the first thing I could get my hand on. I was not the world’s most athletic child. I missed my target and then I grew up to be not the world’s most athletic adult.

My lack of athletic ability is less the issue here, though. I wasn’t nervous going into that running store because I’m not a jock. It took me a minute or so to place it, but I was nervous because, as I pointed out in an earlier post, sometimes the words take a long time to heal.

For many years, I knew those things that were said to me were right. I knew I was the fattest, dumbest, and probably the ugliest person on the planet. We believe what our families tell us, and when they tell it to us over and over again, over the course of years, those words etch themselves into our view our own bodies. It’s kind of the opposite of the Harry Potter effect. (“It lives in your very skin, Harry….Love.”) How many times can you call a little kid a fat, stupid fuck before he or she begins to believe that he or she really just is a fat, stupid fuck? And when it’s over, when those words are done or that person is gone, how long does it take to reverse that impression and rub away those etched words from our view in the mirror?

Apparently now, 30 years after the last beating, after the last humiliating verbal attack, those words can reappear in a heartbeat and I wait for total strangers to join in, all while I am attempting to do something good for myself by starting to exercise more. Because we believe what our families tell us. And words take a long time to heal.

Thank you, M. I couldn’t have—I wouldn’t have—done it without you.



  1. susan francis says:

    Dear Dear Dear Nancy~

    As Susan Jeffers wrote , FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY–and you did. Bravo! Now put those new life enhancing shoes on your healthy ass feet…and walk/jog/run to another personal goal.

    By the way, I sooooooo get it!

    Love, S

  2. I did! I am! And I’m setting that goal now! Thank you, Susan!

  3. ann says:

    You are so brave. The things you write about are not easy to share. But every time you do, you are reaching people. People who have maybe felt alone in their thoughts and feelings. People who thought they were the only ones still beating themselves up over the words of a few. When I read this today, I felt a little less alone. Thank you.

  4. The isolation is an illusion. Sometimes, being disillusioned turns out to be a good thing. Cheers to connectedness!

  5. Georgia says:

    Whew, Nancy. I need to take a moment to get the heavy weight off my chest. It’s painful to know that those words remain somewhere where they can still show up. What’s so beautiful is that you have moved forward to a place where, although those words return, they are not stopping you from living in your truth. They were never true anyway and only came from the brother’s anger. I can’t wait to see how awesome those new shoes look on your ‘moving forward’ feet!! Congrats on seizing and claiming your beliefs. You are an inspiration… G.

  6. Thanks, Georgia. We all wrestle in our own ways with old ghosts. It is my hope that Urban Tidepool, both the book and the blog, allow for some dialogue about how we carry those ghosts and what we can accomplish in spite of, and sometimes even because of, them.

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