There was a time when my world was simple.
Lazy summer days were long and Daniel and I would chase butterflies. My net was purple. His was green.
And then when we caught them, we would stomp them to death.
No, I am not kidding.
Come to think of it, we perverted most of those magical childhood experiences. Instead of catching fireflies in jars like normal children, we went around hitting them with baseball bats.
Okay, so we were actually deranged little monsters.
Despite my ability to ruthlessly murder small creatures, I was a tenderhearted little soul. There was not a single time that my dad read this story about an elephant who was left out in the cold that I did not dissolve into a puddle of tears.
Apparently my compassion did not extend to the insect world.
For a long time, my world was made up of Daniel and I. My two oldest siblings didn’t live at home, and were therefore strangers that I adored and was vaguely aware were related to me. The next set of older siblings were only slighted more involved. They existed on the fringes of my world, and, because of that, were ten times more idolized. Unfortunately for them, they were too familiar to inspire the awe that my other siblings did, and so I pestered them mercilessly.
Timothy was, as yet, too young to be of any importance in my world. Not for long.
The night he entered the world, I was busily watching The Jungle Book.
When my mother walked through the door, carrying the bundle of calm indifference that was my baby brother, my parents had the audacity to insist that we quit the movie.
That was when I knew.
To this day, I have never completed The Jungle Book. I need to do that, someday. For closure’s sake.
He’s been stealing things from me ever since.
First it was only little things. Like the highly acclaimed title of “Baby of the family.” Attention. Spoiling.
But when he stole my beloved baby doll, he took things too far. He crossed a line.
Spencer was my best friend.
Looking back on it now, I believe that Spencer was intended to be female. He was a dark-skinned little fellow – even under all layers of dirt – who wore pink overalls.
The overalls should have been my first clue. However, it was I who was giving the naming of the doll. And I named him Spencer. I firmly believed that he hailed from Ethiopia.
Timothy developed a deep affection for Spencer. I do not believe Spencer returned the sentiment. And though my parents bought me a lovely, brand-new baby doll who could sing, laugh, burp and say “Mama,” no other baby could fill Spencer’s place in my heart.
No, I have never forgiven Timothy.
Years went by. And we became a threesome, the boys and I.
And in my oblivion, I thought nothing changed. Nothing could change. Not in my perfect little world.
But things were changing. Slowly. Beneath the surface.
And when I was eight, all those changes suddenly became visible.
Black and white blurred to gray. The world was a scary place full of pain and brokenness. And I had questions. Questions no one could answer.
Not that I asked them. I clung to them fiercely, never letting them out of my white-knuckled grasp.
When I finally did ask them, years later, it was too late. The damage was done.
One night stands out in my memory with startling clarity.
We were making the long trip home from Philly. I was staring at my reflection in the car window. The girl staring back had tears coursing down her cheeks.
In the years following, I began the long, slow journey of finding out who I was.
I often wondered whether it was a matter of finding yourself, or creating yourself.
There are elements of truth to both, I suppose.
It is a continuing process, like creating a masterpiece. But when you do begin to see who you are, you realize that that was who you were all along – you just didn’t know it.
For a long time, I struggled. I tried hard to be something I was not. I tried to avoid making decisions about myself entirely.
As a child, I was shy and timid, a quivering doe with big, shining eyes.
And while Daniel was always the laidback firstborn of our small family, and Timothy the spoiled, carefree baby, I had to grow into my role of swaggering, fiercely competitive middle child trying to earn her spot, trying to prove herself.
Now I know that this is what I was supposed to be all along.
I’m still no masterpiece.
The little girl is gone forever, and in her wake is the confused, complicated girl I am today.
There’s a long road ahead. And I know it won’t be easy.
But for the first time, in a long time, I’m okay with who I am.