When I was a teenager, the scariest movies to come out were “Jaws,” “It’s Alive,” and “Carrie.” “Jaws” I saw on my first date ever. “It’s Alive” I saw alone when I was eight months pregnant with my first child. “Carrie,” however, I did not see until many years after it was released. In fact, I heard about it from my friends and ended up reading the book before I saw the movie. For those who are unenlightened, the movie/book is about Carrie White, who is about the most tortured, white trashy, nerdy, victimized outcast you can ever imagine. Her mother is an abusive, fanatical Christian. The kids from school never, ever give her a moment’s rest from persecution. Day in, day out, that is Carrie’s life. When she starts her first period in school after gym class, the girls pelt her with tampons taunting, “Plug it up! Plug it up!” She is covered with blood and has no idea what is happening with her body. A sympathetic teacher explains to her what is going on and how to manage it. With the start of her period, she finds that she has telekinetic powers and can move things (hurl things, more like it) with her mind in times of extreme emotion.
One of the girls feels bad for how Carrie was treated on period day and decides to talk her own boyfriend, Tommy, into taking Carrie to the prom. He does and Carrie is delighted and has a splendid makeover that brings out Sissy Spacek’s best features. The other kids rig the election so that Carrie and Tommy win Homecoming King and Queen. The image above is Carrie reveling in the knowledge that she finally made it; she finally has her moment in the sun. Seconds later, a bucket of pigs’ blood is dropped on her. The bucket hits Tommy on the head, killing him instantly. Carrie is covered in sticky blood and everyone laughs (just as her mother told her they would). She goes berserk and uses her mind to burn the school down with all the kids in it. She then goes home and ultimately, her mother dies, she dies, the end.
Of course, the story is actually about female empowerment and basically how powerful and ultimately useless it is. The story was written by a very young man, the famous author, Stephen King, who at the time presumably knew not quite a lot about female empowerment. Although I cannot move things with my brain and have
never not yet had pigs’ blood dropped on me, I am Carrie and have been since the minute I was born. The fanatical Christian was not my mother, but my grandmother. I was teased every single day I ever went to school. I did not have my first period at school, but I got pregnant during high school in an era when that was not as commonplace as it is now.
I have always been the kid on the outside, the last one chosen for any team sport, the one who does not get invited to the other kids’ parties, the one who wore homemade clothing and hand-me-downs, and the one who never, ever fit in no matter how hard I tried. My set up was with the FHA (Future Homemakers of America) girls. Janet Hansen, who had a voice like an angel, graduated and was no longer the song leader. I wanted desperately to belong to something, anything, and even though I could not sing a lick, I auditioned and was completely surprised to find out that I was selected. Long story short, it did not go well and I came away from the experience fully aware of my place in the high school social structure.
I believed that such behavior was confined to high school and was tremendously excited to leave it behind me. Of course, we all know that this is not high school behavior and this is not kids’ behavior, this is people behavior and those kinds of lessons have followed me throughout my life. As the decades have flown past, I have mostly learned how to handle them better. I do not let other people define my worth to me, but I am often sadden when I learn that someone I care about does not share my opinion of my worth. As I have come up in my own female empowerment and found my own ego, I have learned that I am predisposed to overestimating my worth with people.
Like Carrie, I have those moments of believing I am in the cool kids’ group and being shown under no uncertain terms that I am not.
The past two weeks have been a struggle for me because I have gone through one of those times. A part of myself that I hid away for many years for fear of being vulnerable got dusted off and shined up again a few weeks back. I told myself that I had enough self-confidence to fully embrace who I am. Now I debate the wisdom of that move and the seductive allure of hiding away again beckons. The chest in the attic where the real me hides is cozy and safe and never, ever hurts.
Now this sounds like a pity party, but truly, it is not. It is what recovering alcoholics refer to as “a moment of clarity.” It is when the filters of ego and addiction and other mind-altering conditions fall away and you see things clearly for the first time in a long time. You come out of your fugue of self-delusion and get the reality check. The final consensus is that I am not nearly as clever as I think I am, not as sexy as I think I am, not as fun as I think I am, and absolutely not as valuable as I think I am, at least in the minds of some of the people closet to me. It should make me think less of myself, but it doesn’t. It makes me think less of them.
It makes me look at myself more objectively, of course, and find the areas that need work. It makes me know who I can trust and who I cannot. Even though it does not change how much I value myself on any of the levels in question, it still makes me sad that I somehow did not earn the gold star for the day…or the week…or in this case, likely 2014. We all want to be loved and accepted and when it turns out that you invested your gifts poorly, it can’t help but hurt. When you open up to the wrong people and it backfires, man does it sting. Just because you do not think less of yourself does not mean that the fallout doesn’t burn.
So if the time of revelation is now over, I am going to hope for the blessing of healing and moving forward. Better aware of my standing, I will forge different alliances and have new experiences and move through the world as a stronger, wiser person. My heart and my head will eventually stop aching. My wounded pride will heal and I will again greet the morning with a smile. Life..cycles.
Meanwhile, it never hurts to keep in mind that no matter how much empowerment you get, no matter how many people you take down with you when the schoolhouse burns, you still end up pulling down the house on top of you and skewering your crazy mom to the wall with kitchen tools in a mock crucifixion. Life is just like that. Meanwhile, here’s REM!