When I turned 13, I decided that I would be the architect of my own life, no longer defined by what was -- the absent and abusive father, the overwhelmed and sometimes drunken mother, the autistic brother, the poor girl living in a basement apartment surrounded by perfect families in all their perfect castles.
I decided that even though I felt microscopically insignificant because of all that, I could change it, overcome it all by sheer will. I couldn't change my family or my home, but I could change myself. My mantra became "Perfection Is Perfection" (with capital letters), and I will, I will, I will be perfect.
I vowed that very day to focus all my energy on how I looked, what I did and how my life appeared. What I was feeling? Who cares! Nothing could matter less.
Fortunately -- or was it? -- I was pretty and smart and generally fun to be around. That made my job that much easier. Had I been a boring dumb troll, things would never have gone as well.
And things got great. I made new friends, I had a flock of boyfriends, I won a scholarship to a college thousands of miles away. When I got there, I acted as if my life up till then had simply not happened. No problem family, no problems. It was easy to pretend.
Things were going my way, and that was good. When they didn't or when I just felt rotten, I convinced myself that none of that mattered. Though my hair was shining and my jeans were size 2, the insides of Lemmon's Daphne matched his outsides better than mine did.
In my junior year, my mother invited herself to visit. The man I would later marry (yes, I felt that he was perfect enough and that I'd snap his imperfections into shape -- ask me later how that went!) came with me to pick her up at the airport.
We sat, watching the takeoffs and landings, while I worked up the courage to say what I'd never said in my new life, and probably never would have said, except that my mother was sure to let the cat out of the bag. The cat being my brother.
"There's something I have to tell you," I said to him, my tone undoubtedly that of a Sunday morning confessor.
He looked at me expectantly. What? I couldn't imagine what he thought, and I never asked him. Asking him would have made it worse, more real.
"My brother is autistic," I said.
And my boyfriend said the equivalent of, "Yeah, so?"