I’ve eaten so much damn chocolate in the last five days I’m surprised I’m still alive.
Or maybe I’m not. Alive that is.
I joked last year, and this year it is even more true, that as long as I remain a elementary school teacher at a girls school, I won’t need a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day, because my students will drown me in sugar and cards.
I feel vaguely embarrassed by holidays. Very short people walk up to me with super ernest expressions and give me gifts with misspelled cards. I never know what to do. I’m a pretty demanding teacher. I have high standards and I don’t hide it so well when I’m disappointed. (It’s a running joke among the staff at my school that I’m way too mean to teach 8 year olds.) My students consider it a Herculean triumph if one of them makes me laugh. So holidays, like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, are one of the few times that my students have the opportunity to show any affection for me. And it’s because I can’t stop them.
Their sincerity just kills me.
It’s not surprising, since any sincerity kills me. Emotions should all be cloaked in a protective layer of sarcasm with a lining of mockery. And anyone attempting to show that they care for me in any way makes my skin itch. I was listening to the atrocious sermon last night (7PM Mass at St. Michael’s is the punishment for putting sitting on my couch knitting and watching Dr. Who as a higher priority than God) about “love.” It was a rambling mess of cliches and song lyrics (not joking!) so I started thinking about other stuff. (Don’t judge, you do it too when sermons suck.) The gospel was about Christ explaining how there is a seeming infinite regression of responsibilities within each commandment (do not kill also means don’t hold anger against others). This makes sense to me: there is always more you can do. No matter what, there is room for improvement.
I easily turn this on myself. I fixate on the times that I have failed in love for others. The times I’ve been unkind, gossip-y, vengeful, or dismissive. Without any effort I can rattle off a list of (recent) times where I’ve failed to be charitable or understanding, when I’ve blamed others for things that couldn’t possible be their responsibility, when I have assumed that others have a person vendetta against me. I have a disaster taking out the trash last week, complained about it on Facebook, my roommate saw my complaint, and I felt horrid, because I shouldn’t have made her feel like I was unwilling to take out the trash.
But this so easily becomes its own kind of selfishness. I’m not God. My love is not a bountiful outpouring of my infinite being for which there can be no equal return. And focusing only on how I love others is trying to pretend I am God. I leave very little room for others to show that they love me and therefore I close the world in on myself. I’m not good at making gestures of affection, so I don’t want other people to try to make them to me. A student gives me a Valentine’s Day card and all I can think about is when I made her sad by correcting her posture (a million times), instead of recognizing that it’s important for her to give me the card (if only so that maybe I’ll ease up on the posture correction).
A couple weeks after I stopped drinking (or maybe a couple of days, that whole time was kind of a mess) I was talking with a friend. He and I have always had a rather “honest” relationship, meaning that he wasn’t so concerned about bruising my delicate little feelings.
“Seriously Andrea, how did this happen?”
“Really? Well, really, I just didn’t want anyone to miss me when I died.”
“You fucking idiot. You’re so fucking dumb. You don’t get to decide if we miss you or not. It’s not up to you if we love you or not, you asshole.”
“And we missed you.”
This conversation stays with me, kind of living in the back of my mind, because it’s still not something I’m comfortable with. Not what he said, but what it means. I still want it to be all about me. I want to be in control. Because if I control how other people feel about me, I won’t disappoint them. If my student hate me then they won’t notice how much I fail them everyday.
But for the last five days I’ve worked my way through an immense chocolate reminder that I don’t dictate what others feel.
(2 Years, 4 Months, and 27 Days Sober)