It was a dark and stormy night in late December in a small cow town with big-city dreams called Sacramento that brought Michelle Marie Me into this world. The doctor was leaving for a golf/Christmas holiday in Florida and I wasn’t quite ready to join the world just yet, so he induced labor and I was born on the Winter Solstice in the year that San Francisco experienced the phenomenon known as The Summer of Love, (see link below for more groovy, far-out facts) 1967.
Growing up in Sacramento was pretty cool, looking back. We lived behind one of the largest shopping malls, which at the time was the social gathering spot in the winter and all summer for those who didn’t have a pool or parents to keep them inside and out of trouble. This is where I found the very first friends who would become my Family of Choice as the years went by. We were a ragtag group of misfits, fleeing from parental figures, familial secrets and shame, abuse of all manner one human being can inflict upon another and most importantly, we were all desperately seeking acceptance, understanding and empathy and a Safe Place to feel, to rage, to cry; to be seen and validated. Most importantly, for me, it was to not be left alone with some very adult, very dark and self-destructive thoughts.
My parents were simply outnumbered by us kids so I was able to get away with a ton of stuff. An exhausted mother is a good one who still cares, but is too depleted to act upon it and must (if one is a good Catholic) offer her suffering up for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory (see below) and her worries to God’s Hands. Literally billions of prayers for the salvation of my sweet (for now) soul and her efforts to keep my soul and mind clean and untarnished by the dark soot of sin. These prayers went up not only for me, but for my siblings, our friends, family near and far and they continued non-stop until her dying day.
When thinking of Pergatory, try to think of it as a waiting room for the souls who weren’t outright awful enough to be sent to toil in the ever-burning pits of Hell, but not good enough to get the Golden Ticket to the trumpets of angels and ever-lasting love, peace and pure joy that is Heaven. Gotta get some points or you don’t go and the points are the prayers of the people left here on Earth. You just got to love some Catholic rites and rituals, don’cha?
(in Roman Catholic doctrine) a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven.
As always, I digress.
Growing up was difficult for me at certain spots, as it is with most human beings trying to find their purpose, their place and most importantly, their way through the jungles and wastelands that we must traverse if we are to arrive at our final destination, whatever and wherever that may be. This is what we plan, with no regard for what God, the Universe or Fate have to say about it. I was no exception to that rule and it led me into some very interesting places with the most unique people; these interactions helped break through some of the false narrative that I had adopted by way of both nurture and nature, not to mention dogma of the afore-mentioned Roman Catholic Church.
I struggled for a long time with my faith, God, the Church and all those things that we must sort out as we grow. Not only as a toddler, then a young lady and finally the Rebellious Teenager; these are all archetypes of the same person, simply in different stages of being/becoming. The caterpillar does not live life as a caterpillar forever; the butterfly emerges when the time is right and the transformation is guided by intuition, an unnamed voice that tells the caterpillar to get ready to be reborn. The tadpole does not stay a tadpole but in time will become the frog/toad. Each is becoming what they are meant to be, the version that is the truest and nearest to being fully realized as a life form can get.
Well I guess I decided to just go the other way and try to see how much I could push the boundaries, skirt the security and get into something I was not supposed to get into. It didn’t matter if it was simply shoplifting the day after Christmas on a dare or stealing my brother’s car and taking it out joyriding (sorry Greg/Brad!) in the early morning hours when no one was awake. It was about getting high and getting drunk and getting GONE from my environment. I didn’t like, much less love myself and so I just did a swan dive into all those people, places and things my mother prayed so feverishly for me to avoid.
If there is something you wish for me to do, simply tell me I can’t do it and viola! I will find a way to do it.
SPOILER ALERT! (This is where the self-loathing comes into play)
I remember the exact point at which I knew I had to change; some will say it was when I found out I was pregnant with my son, but it was actually much earlier than that. I was about 19, not too far from being a mom and I still had no idea who I was as a person, as an individual. I knew I was a sister, a child and a friend to the majority of people in my world, but I didn’t know who I was when I was all by myself. I had become a chameleon of sorts, anticipating who this person needed me to be, how they needed me to respond or not respond; how I dressed, how I spoke, how I presented myself to the world was decided upon by a series of lightning-fast, split-second thoughts, micro-expressions and not a small amount of intuitive deductions. I literally became a character in my mind before I spoke because I couldn’t be myself, who in the Sweet Song of the Sirens is Michelle Marie to me?
You don’t have to know someone to dislike them and in my case, it didn’t matter it was me I disliked so strongly. I disliked the weakness, the humanity that made me cry like a leaking faucet, sometimes for days at a time. I disliked my curly hair, my super-nova, ultra bright, could-possibly-blind-you white legs, I hated my dimples, my freckles, my chubby cheeks, my deep voice, my crooked teeth. If it was attached to me or a part of me, I hated it with the passion of a sugar-fueled, sleep-deprived 2 year old denied a toy at Toys R Us, which is to say excessively and unreasonably.
Now, when you drink a steady diet of self-loathing you start to believe that is the only offering on the menu, which is wholly and completely untrue, as you good souls already know. Once I found out that I was pregnant, a little light pierced the darkness and I started to change my mindset, the way I talked to myself, the way I avoided mirrors or didn’t wear shorts when it was well over 100 degrees outside. I started changing the way I responded to people and reached out, tried to make amends with others as well as to begin to forgive myself a little, just for fun.
Once Devon was born, it was like I was reborn, too. The self-loathing was replaced with self-love and a greater love grew from there. The worries of other people’s opinions was a rucksack full of bricks that I was able to finally put down and walk away from. The need to look like a beach bunny, tanned and toned, was replaced by the desire to be healthy, happy and just know that Summer (the Season) is not my friend; they are not bad, they are just not my friend and I should plan accordingly. For those who worship and adore Summer, go you baby! I just won’t be able to go with you. In time, I hope this will also change, but for now I’m staying where it’s cool and dark and quiet.
I believe that oftentimes the most difficult person to love is oneself; this is why my social circle, however small it may be, helps me to see the Michelle Marie that they see.
She sounds pretty cool and more than a little weird, but I think I may just end up being BFF with her, if she’ll let me.