A Key to Me

(This post is part of a series chronicling my Women on the Verge journey. Read all updates in the series.)

When my ex (before we were officially split) moved out of state to take a job (at long last, he would be employed!), I remained in our home where I operated a successful child daycare facility. It was to be a time of figuring a lot of things out for us both.

One of the most telling documentations of his attitude toward my overall capability was a particularly condescending note he left for me upon his departure. I actually came across it recently in a box of memorabilia. I know exactly why I saved it all these years – to remind myself exactly how he thought of me: as a helpless twit. I was 29 years old and had run a bustling daycare for eight years. Yet he was convinced that paying a few bills, scooping out the litter box and feeding the fish was going to put me over the edge in his absence. In it, he suggests that I wear my keys around my neck so I didn’t lock myself out. The phrase “no excuses, now” infuriates me to this day. How dare he assume that I needed a “list of the things to do” to keep the household running! He genuinely thought this list was a helpful, not dickish, thing for him to provide to me. I was incensed because of the whole “paternal” tone of it – an attitude he held in our relationship from Day One. I was quickly outgrowing it.

Ramblings of an insecure jerk

How did my time living, working and running the household alone pan out? Every bill got paid on time. The cats were regularly fed. And most importantly, I never once locked myself out of the house (or felt the need to wear my keys around my neck). I had my shit together far more than he gave me credit for. I got stuff done without him, despite his complete lack of confidence.

That note was written in 1991 – half my life ago. In the intervening years between then and now, in fact, I have made it my mission to NEVER do ANY of the things he was so concerned I’d do. I’ve made a point of defying his image of me; to become a person who doesn’t lose things, forget things, lock my keys in the car…

Well, until today when I did lock my keys in the car. Yep, for the first time in my life.

(In my defense, under normal circumstances, I’d have had my everyday purse with me and I’d have a spare key in there. Since COVID-19, however, I’ve been carrying an abbreviated purse with the bare essentials, and the spare didn’t make the cut.)

I feel like I’ve joined a club. I mean, everyone’s locked their keys in the car except me, right? So now I’m like everybody else. I don’t need to try to be any better than that to be worthy of acceptance and unconditional love.

So now I find myself looking at a different image in the mirror: The Gina who does lock her keys in the car. And I don’t think of her the way I’ve worried I’d think of her for almost 30 years. I’ve been terrified I’d think “Gina who locks her keys in the car” was exactly who he thought I was (stupid, careless, shiftless…) and prove him right. That’s a big ol’ chip I’ve been shouldering for a long, long, long time. In a way, I’ve allowed his skewed outlook to remain in my psyche for decades, continuing to exercise a measure of control over how I’ve lived my life. 

But no more; that fear of becoming that version of me is officially shattered. I feel like part of me has finally allowed herself to join the human race. I don’t have to be perfect to be a responsible, worthwhile, good person. I’m fallible and that’s okay. I’m unburdened with his bullshit at long last. Those were his conditions for loving me; not mine.

I am, and always have been, more and better than he could see. And now I can see that too.

It can take such a long time to recognize that which keeps us small and in fear but when we challenge those misconceptions (even by accident) they can fade away in an instant.

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