There are times when the girl I was is almost unrecognizable to the woman I am now.
Did I really stay with and plan to marry a man who asked me why I defied him when I cut my hair, or when I bought a pink pea coat? Did it really take until he threw me up against a wall as hard as he could until I saw what was happening? How did I not see how he had isolated me from everyone who cared about me, and everything I cared about?
Was I really a person who only thought what my parents told me to think? Did I really not have any independent beliefs of my own? Was I really such a parrot for all their beliefs, both religious and political? Did I really repeat all those unkind things they taught me? And if I did—and I did—can those people I hurt by saying all that ever forgive me?
I can’t help but believe—no, I know—that these two sets of questions are incredibly intertwined. I was taught that certain types of people—women, gay people, for example—were less than others. Even when that applied to me, I acted accordingly.
Ironically, my parents, being educators, were very intent on giving me an education, despite everything else. True it was an isolated education—I went to Catholic grade school, and Catholic high school, and then a Catholic college—but it was an education. You can’t help but be exposed to different people and ideas, no matter how controlled the environment. High school was the first time I had ever even met anyone who had different skin color than me, and it was certainly the fist time I ever made such friends. It was certainly the first time I ever made friends with an out gay person. Then came college, where I learned about social issues, injustice, and real history, not whitewashed history; where I had professors who asked questions with no good answer, no get to answer, but get us to think for ourselves.
It meant I started to consider becoming something other than a woman who would marry the first man who would ask, so that I could have lots of children and stay home with them. If that’s the life you want, then that’s the life you should pursue, with all your heart; but if it isn’t, then don’t. I began to realize I was in the “don’t” category. God forbid, I took on a women’s studies minor, and wrote a thesis on the evolution of creation myths to eliminate women, or at least, rewrite their roles. My parents shook their heads. I went to law school, which was fine, since I wasn’t married. I got married and became a lawyer, which was fine, since I didn’t have children. Then I had a child, and nothing was fine—why wasn’t I at home with me child, in my God-given role?
Education taught me that I could be more than what I was told I would be. If you think, for a moment, that your children don’t hear your voice ringing in their ears even years later, you are kidding yourself. I can still hear my parents telling me that women had to stay home and run the house and take care of the children, because that was the way God wanted it, and that was what worked best for everyone. But education showed me otherwise; that it was not true for all.
Education taught me that perhaps it wasn’t God that wanted women to be submissive, even in the face of physical abuse; maybe it was a male centric system. Education showed me that hating people for a skin color or a sexual orientation wasn’t what God wanted, but rather, what a particular subset of society wanted.
I told me parents recently that my political beliefs, my career, my life—it was all a logical consequence of how they raised me. I think it says a lot on how they’ve mellowed that it didn’t immediately make them sad or angry, but rather, reflective. Sure, they wish I was still Catholic, and they wish I stayed home with Lis. But they’ve also seen the good I do, both with my family, and in the community, and they are proud of that. I don’t think they would change anything, even the education they gave to me.
But, oh. Looking back at the girl I was is so painful. I want to tell her that she is worth more. I want to tell her not to hate blindly. I want to go back and apologize; I’ve been able to do that for some, but for others, I can’t. I can only try to pay it forward.
I would never go back, and I would never change a thing, even the parts that cause me pain now. I seek to grow outward, to encompass and learn, while still knowing myself. Through pain, struggle, joy and education we grow, and I would be afraid of making myself smaller. Never again.