Pow. I hit the side of the three steps in this flight of stairs. I gasp, unable to refill my lungs. After a few gulps of dusty air, I recover my ability to cry and see Theresa and Alexandra two flights up, racing to the playroom in the attic.
Besides the swing attached to the roof beam and a cardboard playhouse, the attic playroom has almost no toys in it. It has a huge wooden chair, covered in blue velvet that looks like a throne. Next to it are two small bookshelves where Mommy and Daddy keep their yearbooks. Mommy is beautiful in hers. Her hair was longer than she wears it now and her smile makes her look like she has a secret. Daddy looks goofy in his. His ears are really big with his crew cut – like mine. I have huge ears. Mommy says I’ll grow into them, but I’m not sure.
This part of the staircase is dark, even in the middle of the afternoon. Most of the time I run through it. I’ll never catch the older girls now, and I don’t think they want me to. They don’t want me to play with them. They don’t want me. Now, I am crying the kind of tears that sound like I’m a dog about to throw up. We don’t have a dog, but my Aunt does and hers threw up after eating chocolate mousse on Thanksgiving.
Daddy comes running up the stairs. He watches me, looking for a broken leg, or arm, or some blood. “Are you hurt?”
I gulp some more dust mites and say, “They…they…left me behind. They won’t play with me.” Another gulp and, “Tell them they have to play with me.”
“No, Kate. I won’t do that. They don’t have to play with you.”
“But, Mrs. Petersen says we have to let everyone play at school.”
“This isn’t school and they don’t have to play with you. They are older than you and you can’t keep up yet. Maybe they can play with you later.”
“Kate, no one in the world has to like you, to play with you, or even be your friend. Mommy and me, we love and like you no matter what, but that’s not the way it is with everyone else. No one else HAS to love you. You have to make people like and love you. And, crying like this is no way to do that.”
I am silent. No one has to love me. It’s hard to think about that. I wonder if no one will.
“Now, be braver. You scared me, I thought you were hurt. You can’t cry when people hurt your feelings. Cry when you’re hurt, when you’re bleeding.”We walk into the tv room on the second floor and pick out a story. Daddy reads to me.
That’s the first thing I ever remember about talking to my father. He believed we should be strong and brave, bringing the best of ourselves to the world, or so it seemed to me. It feels like a harsh lesson to teach a three-year-old, but it is a valuable one. “Act like a creep or a cry baby and you won’t have too many friends.” On the other hand, this memory grew into my believing that the onus was always on me to be liked. It never occurred to me that I could decide that there were people I didn’t like and it didn’t matter at all if they didn’t like me. That came later.
I had a huge crush on a boy who didn't take much notice of me at all. To my mother, I said, "You don't seem too impressed with him." She replied, "I just can't like someone who can't see all the wonderful things I see in you, so it's hard for me to think he's a good person who is worthy of your time." I hope I have the chance to let my daughter know how I feel exactly the same way about her. Anyone who doesn't see or appreciate all the wonderful things I see in her is obviously a blind moron.