If you ever meet me, don't be fooled by my RBF (resting bitch face). I just happen to look a little intimidating. Couple that with occasional bouts of shyness and I am often misread.
As self-assured as I may appear to be, the truth is I have as many insecurities as the next person. Perhaps, more. I've learned to carry myself with an air of confidence but what I feel inside doesn't always match up.
As I've gotten older, the gap between the two has lessened, but every so often I find myself in situations where those insecurities rear their ugly heads. It doesn't take much for me to feel myself shrinking.
Recently, I attended a lecture series. People were milling about, some solitary, some socializing, others lining up for coffee. My sugar-addicted self went straight for the donuts.
As I reached my seat, I realized I needed more napkins. Or maybe I was just trying to look busy. Whatever.
I headed back, grabbed a few tissues and turned around to return to my seat. As I turned, I collided with an individual passing behind me. Her elbow clipped my shoulder and a small amount of coffee was spilled. Her companion stepped aside as we addressed the situation. I suppose he didn't want to get coffee on his pristine shoes.
I apologized and proceeded to help clean up. She was already kneeling, laying down tissues on the mess with her left hand. In her right hand, she was tilting the still very full, lid-less coffee cup creating a second puddle.
I gently alerted her to it and went to grab a few more tissues. When I came to help clean the second mess, she popped up and went to continue the conversation she was having with her (cool) companion when we collided. She never said a word to me. Never even looked at me. I might as well have been invisible.
The whole encounter was probably less than 30 seconds, but my mood had shifted. Why? To me, she felt rude and dismissive. Within 30 seconds, I had surmised that this individual was one of them. You know. The cool kids.
A few minutes later my suspicion was confirmed. Before the guest speaker was introduced, the host made mention that the creator of the event was present. This was of palpable interest to the crowd since she doesn't live in the city. There was an audible "oh" as the audience turned to gaze at the founder, who was none other than my coffee cohort.
Weeks later, I thought about why trivial situations trigger this response in me. Then it all came back. The '80s. Junior high. Volleyball team.
I was 12, a lowly grade seven student. She was 14, in grade nine. We'll call her Voldemort. Mainly because I don't know anyone named Voldemort, but also because my 12-year old self needs for you to not like her as I tell my story.
Voldemort was undoubtedly a cool kid. She had a confident stride and perfectly-layered Pantene hair. Plus, she had a beauty spot. She was pretty in an evil sort of way. She was the type you didn't speak to unless you were summoned. She never had a kind word to say -- at least, not to me.
Anyway, we were a highly competitive team. We were used to winning. Long story short, we were in the finals of some tournament, and Voldemort, whose game was usually on, missed a spike. The other team won. She was devastated.
I hated that she blamed herself for the loss. I made the mistake of opening my mouth to speak to her. I told her it wasn't her fault and that she had been spectacular.
Voldemort stopped. Her eyes seared into mine with laser precision anger. I'm still surprised I didn't disintegrate on the spot. I don't remember what she said if anything at all, but I knew better than to say anything else. I had been dismissed. In my 12-year-old brain, I should have known better than to talk to someone who I thought was levels above me.
Looking back, I know Voldemort was only having a bad moment. I just happened to be the recipient of her rage. But I held it with me for decades. Whenever I feel dismissed, I shut down.
See, it's the same story playing out. Except the cool kids now have male pattern baldness and cellulite.
The point is that seemingly insignificant moments can have monumental influence on how we experience our lives. They're the glue that holds together and reinforces poorly constructed, inaccurate self-images. In other words, the crappy stuff is much easier to internalize.
My cool kids complex is nothing but a story I've told myself about myself. It's simply the vestiges of adolescence that I unconsciously continued to build upon. It's way past time for the complex to be disassembled.
I understand that peace is found in dismantling the stories that formed the foundation of who I once believed myself to be. This is where growth lives.
Voldemort, if you're reading this, I forgive your once evil ass. You were just following your own story about where your power resided.
As for my coffee comrade, we'll meet again. Of that, I'm sure but this time an icy dismissal won't matter. No one is cool enough to temper the rekindled fires of a woman who's discovering who she is and who she's becoming.