My former coworker Cliff (now sadly deceased) used to call me Xtina. I always sort of liked it, mostly because I liked him so much. It wasn’t intended to make me sound edgy, rather it was Cliff thinking he was being clever by using “X” to abbreviate the “Christ” in my name, much like people write “Xmas”. Of course, the problem is that if “X” stands for “Christ”, then the second “t” is redundant and the name should be spelled “Xina”, but then it gets pronounced like a certain TV warrior princess when said out loud and doesn’t quite have Cliff’s ring to it.
I miss him.
The “X” fits me, in many ways. X marks the spot. X is generic. X is an unknown quantity. X is a crossroads. X is straight-edge. X is a warning.
There is a warrior princess in me, but she’s a bit of an impostor. There’s an edgy girl in here too, and she’s also a bit of a fake. In fact, there’s a smart girl, a stupid girl, a kind girl, a working professional, a snowboarder, a BMX racer, a runner, an animal lover, a creative girl, an empath, an introvert, and an extrovert in here, and they’ve all got one thing in common: they’re doing the best they can to make sure no one finds out they’re not good at any of it.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve struggled to figure out the “right way” to do things. It’s the reason I’m so good at school, which is, in fact, the only thing I’m genuinely fabulous at (no faking). In school, someone perceived to be an authority on a subject tells you how something in the world is, and you are praised for internalizing that information and spewing it back at them. I am exceptional at this, and I’m absolutely brilliant at following instructions. I love it when people tell me how something should be done, because then I know I’m doing it right.
My parents are critical and domineering people. Growing up, I learned from them what they perceived to be “wrong”, and “wrong” happened when their version of “right” wasn’t reflected in me immediately and without question. In retrospect, and this is a whole other blog post about finding out that your parents are deeply flawed, I can see that they didn’t know how to live, either. They were just doing the best they could, and in my parents’ minds that looks like giving your children exact instructions for every single thing they do and expecting those instructions to be followed to the letter. Praise the kids to the heavens if instructions are followed, punishment if not. Easy peasy.
So if I was given even a tiny bit of freedom to act under my own power and agency as a kid, I was lost. I remember going to friends’ houses for visits and sleepovers and being utterly fascinated by how differently their families functioned from mine. I remember always feeling like the odd one out. If I woke up before everyone else, I was doing it wrong and pretended to be asleep until someone else woke up. If I had to serve myself at the dinner table I worried endlessly about how much to take (as a side note, I had a complex about eating in front of people, especially boys, for decades, worrying that they would think I was a pig). If I was given something to do during these visits to friends’ homes, I would be absolutely paralyzed with fear that I would do it the wrong way, to the point where I often found a way to escape the task. It’s still an issue for me, to this day.
Here’s an example: I go to a party at someone’s house, I dutifully ask if I can help out, and someone hands me a bell pepper and says “chop this”. As an adult, I’m obviously much better at handling such a mundane task, but the child in me still screams inside my head: “HOW? How do you want this done right? Should I just know? Do you want strips? Cubes? What size? What is the traditional way to chop peppers in your family, which is so incredibly different from mine? What if I throw away a part you think I can use and you think I’m wasteful? What if I make a triangle out of one piece? WHAT IF YOU EVER FIND OUT THAT I’M HAVING THESE DEBILITATING THOUGHTS ABOUT CHOPPING A FUCKING VEGETABLE AND THINK I’M A TOTALLY IMBALANCED AND INCOMPETENT INDIVIDUAL?”
I’m aware that peppers are fruits. Shut up.
So what this upbringing set me up for in life is to be submissive, to always follow the rules, and to please people at any cost. What my parents absolutely and utterly (and probably somewhat unconsciously) ended up suffocating in my brother and me is any tendency toward creativity and independent thought. I had to practice my violin to a metronome and play what the music said to play, no exceptions. My brother painted and was told his paintings were too grotesque and he should paint nice landscapes instead while under my parents’ roof. School assignments that were deemed “too difficult” by my parents were taken away and controlled by them (think science experiments, papier-mâché, dioramas) so we would do them “right”. This kind of upbringing instills a deep aversion to trying new things and squelches the urge to strive for excellence due to an abject fear of failure.
I know it sounds like I’m blaming my parents, and I am, but maybe not in the way you think. They are absolutely responsible for teaching me this way of being. What I DON’T blame them for is not knowing a better way. My parents grew up in post-WWII Germany, which was a horrifying and very unstable place, in low-income families with parents who were less than kind. My dad achieved his moderate success by emigrating to America and scratching and clawing his way to an acceptable level. He wanted his children to have success as well, and in his head that means not bucking the system and following all the rules by climbing the ladder to a comfortable existence. Stability, predictability. Those are his watchwords.
The results of such rearing should be a child-human that is a good student and becomes a good employee, someone who absolutely excels at mediocrity and blends into the taupe fabric of bland, middle-class America. I definitely do have some of that in my life now. But what happened before I became a relatively upstanding citizen was a rainbow disaster. A total burning and bloody dumpster fire train wreck plane crash. Maybe it was the nature vs. nurture coming out in me. My father would say it was my adopted-ness, my inferior bloodline and poor stock presenting themselves in all their glory for my parents to see in shock and horror.
Stay tuned for more fraud.