I saw pictures of a childhood friend's engagement party first thing this morning, and they poked an already tender place. That place where I am so very aware of how I'm different. They're slightly younger than me, these beautiful shining desi girls who are lawyers and doctors and married and having children. The women from our community who "did it right." And then there's me. Single in my mid-40s. Loudmouthed and profane. Recently diagnosed with ADHD and Autism. A fraught history of CSA, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and problem drinking. Queer as hell and only just now saying it publicly. I never really fit in with the other kids in our community, not for lacking of trying on both sides. It's just that back then, I didn't know why I didn't "fit." I was just awkward and talked too much and made no sense to anybody but myself. I didn't shine. Because all I felt was tarnished.
Sometimes I still feel tarnished. Even though I know I am brave. God, even saying that makes me feel like a fraud. But it's true. I'm brave. I'm still here. And I got here all by myself and by the sheer force of a will that was fighting against me every step of the way. I got therapy. I got on medication. I became an entertainment writer and then a published romance author. I constantly battle those demons that come in a bottle. We have cease-fires that go for months until a skirmish breaks out. I may be single, but I am safe and content otherwise. I am no less for being different, for not fitting in.
But that place inside me still aches. Looking at those women in their red dresses, their heads tipped back with laughter, their cameraderie and joy captured for posterity. I will never be them. Alternately, I am so glad for them that they will never have to be me. I wouldn't wish what I've been through on anyone, especially when I still haven't come out the other side completely. I'm still lonely, though. And sad. Thinking of sharis I will never wear, gaye holuds I won't have, and the mashis and uncles who shake their heads and wonder why I have no wedding reception for them to dance at. Not that I've had any intention to invite mashis and uncles to wedding receptions—-not since my father died and I crossed into my 40s. But it's tender, that little plot of memory-laced real estate in my heart.
And obviously I know that photographs don't capture reality. I have no doubt that the estranged little sisters of my heart, and all the other people in my other life who I wish I could emulate, have had their own struggles. Pains they share only with each other or keep in their own internal vaults. For all the outward accomplishments, nobody is immune to loss, to heartbreak, to failure.
I know all of these things. I just need to keep reminding myself. That we are all flawed. That you don't necessarily keep everyone from your past in your life. That I am a survivor and a fighter even when I lose professional and personal wars. That the happiness of others does not lessen my value.
Maybe I'm not shining. But sometimes I catch the sun just right and gleam.