I was thinking the other day about what a real jerk I was in my twenties. Oblivious, insouciant, I was one of those obnoxious people who refused to not only hold open a door for the person behind me, but to thank someone for holding it open for me. Screw them and their narcissistic need for a pat on the back! “You’re welcome!” a stranger would reprimand me, only to be met with a cool stare beneath thick black eyeliner.
What was my problem? The usual emotional plagues in my life then: residual feelings of abandonment from a not-so-nurturing childhood, but also predominantly the feeling that I was disconnected from it all—that I was somehow floating in the outskirts of society and living in the margins where the real, worthy activity was to be had. Reading Jayne Ann Phillip’s “Black Tickets” with her disenfranchised characters furthered my cause, as did listening to Ani DiFranco’s Not So Soft, or Tori Amos’s “Never Was A Cornflake Girl.” “Thought There was A Revolution/Hanging with the Raisin Girl...” What did those lyrics mean? Damned if I knew. But one thing was for sure: the lady holding open the door for me at Dunkin Donuts definitely had no idea and that made me…well, superior. All youth goes through this in their own way: youth is its own subculture.
Luckily as I aged, my flaws and limitations were revealed to me, and my superiority complex fell away. The realization that in most ways, I was just like everybody else and would never, for example, become that one in-a-million Olympian athlete-- not with my nine-minute-mile; nor the sought-after Broadway star, seeing as I had the negative-triple-threat—couldn’t dance, sing or act very well. Coming to terms that I would not, after all, have my own talk show just because I thought I was super fabulous—both put me in my place, and gave me compassion for others who had also felt entitled to their own talk show and were let down by their mediocre talents. By my thirties, I was not only holding doors open for my fellow schleps, but now and then, in a charitable moment donating twenty five dollars to Doctors Without Borders, a real humanitarian if there ever was one!
Giving birth would finish my personality overhaul. That initial sense of empowerment—the miracle of my body carrying a baby, the primal strength I summoned to push, the incredible fact that any of this actually worked, connected me to the human species in a primordial way, and also hammered home my perfectly average place among this species: I was not a super power but a very mortal woman with very limited strength. That, and there really is only one Heidi Klum who can bounce back after birth, and she was married to Seal.
In the aftermath of those days, as I sought help from those around me, a line from John Donne’s famous poem came to mind, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...” Never did those words feel truer than when the lactation specialist squeezed colostrum from my nipple. “Pardon Me,” she said. She was pardoned. Hell I would have made out with her if I thought it would help me pump more milk. Was this really supposed to come naturally?
The blows to my ego came in rapid succession after that. Music Together Class, holding the Community parachute thingy together, it was clear, I had merged past the margins. How could I not make cutesy noises and bang together cymbals with gusto when it elicited such joy from my kid. That was the bonus, of course: how the black residue in my heart would wash away with one smile of hers at a time.
Now when I hold the door open at Dunkin Donuts and teenagers don't thank me, I have a superiority complex of another sort (though, in all honestly, most do thank me. I'm telling you, I really was a jerk!): my superiority comes from the freedom of not trying to be superior. Though it might be nice to walk in Heidi Klum’s shoes for a day.