Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Story Of Worth

Standing against the wall in the back of the banquet room, in my black, blue and grey gingham-esque cotton dress over-top a pair of black stretch pants with a rip in the inner thigh, grey knit boot length socks peering over the top of slightly dirty black pleather boots, I watched as all of the students, donors and faculty, dressed "Midwest fancy", ate a nice catered meal.

It was an awards banquet to celebrate the distribution of the department's scholarships, and because I had a class up until the last minute I didn't think I would make it in time to eat, and I couldn't go home to change or freshen up, so I didn't buy the $7 ticket for dinner. Even if I could have went home to change, what I was wearing was about as nice of an outfit as I had for such as occasion, partially due to the weather, it's still a bit chilly you know, and partially due to not having clothes that fit properly right now.

I find a stack of chairs against the wall of the small room, pick one up, and grab a seat in the back near a corner. I could have went home, my being there wasn't going to affect my getting the scholarship(s), but I felt that it was a duty to at least show up. After all, they were giving me free money.

Watching the students in particular, most of them girls, I imagined what it must be like to be their age, be as pretty as them, which most of them were; to come from families like theirs, with parents who cultivated their confidence, urged them to participate in school activities, drove them, but probably not too harshly, to succeed; parents who saved up money so they could go to college because they knew they were worth the investment. What it must be like to have nothing but the world at your feet after such an upbringing.

Of course I only imagine them to be this way because one of the girls that was at the event is in one of my classes, and I recently had to do two assignments that involved writing about her life. A litany of sports, coaching a shooting team, regular AND Spanish Honors student. She just got accepted to represent the school in a summer abroad program. Her parents are well-to-do farmers, avid church goers. You get the picture. Perfection. And most students in this area that go to college are from families that can afford to send their kids to college. Nice middle-class agricultural-based communities.

How the hell am I supposed to stack up against kids with that kind of potential anyway.

So, they announced all of the awards, one by one the young girls in pretty dresses and high heels, and strapping farm boys in slacks and dress shirts, walked to the front, received their award letter, smiled for the camera, and went back to their seats where the girls picked at the dessert of white cake with yellow filling and all of them fiddled with their cell phones, pausing to clap politely as their peers received their monetary awards.

To be honest, I was shocked that I was awarded anything. I applied on a lark, after urging from a female instructor for one of my classes, who can't be more than six years older than me. I had told myself, that whatever we got was good enough. Every little bit helped.

But then something unexpected happened.

After taking the big group picture, I walked out of the building, two big envelopes in hand, each with a letter and a certificate of congratulations, and I actually felt...ungrateful. The awards were half of what I was hoping for and expecting, given the amount the department had to distribute. It was far less than half of what I needed to cover some of the giant cost of gasoline to get to school, plus books and parking. While I've been cutting back on my drinking to save money, it still remains that I don't spend any money on "going out" to bars, or nice dinners, or clothes for that matter. I just purchased a new pair of shoes that were much needed, but outside of that I have bras that are pushing four years old and in tatters and socks that just won't grow thicker skins. James pays for a date every month or so, but as for "splurging"...we're saving up to go on a trip to Toronto this summer to a Tweetup (the last one we plan to attend), which is doubling as a sort of honeymoon, two years after the fact.

I had no right to be ungrateful. No damn right at all.

It was a rather disgusting feeling.

I couldn't shake it. I got into the car, mind in a bend, gripped the steering wheel tight, and began to drive home. "What the hell is the problem?" I thought as I passed by a gas station. "If we'd won the lottery for the same amount we'd be thrilled."

But then it hit me.

I actually felt like I had little value. That these two small awards, that will cover gas for just about two months of the eight months I have left, were based on my worth to the people who read my scholarship letter. Value based on the accomplishments, peppered with pretty words of self-accolade, that I scraped together...seventeen years after being in a position to compete with the likes of kids who were in academic and sports clubs, who were in positions of leadership and part of student organizations, who were in honors clubs. Value based on my potential and my achievements (sure, I graduated with honors from culinary school...but it's culinary school) as as adult, as someone old enough to be the parent of the very kids I was "competing" against.

To be honest, even in primary education, that is first through twelfth grade, I didn't have that many accomplishments. A funny thing happens to kids from broken homes, that even at the time that they weren't broken were never encouraged to be better than average, that never got pushed or even nudged to be better. That never knew the feeling of confidence.

What follows is by no means at attempt to slag off my parents, what is past is past; but that past is important. Any rational human being who understands child psychological and social development and family interpersonal communication can attest to this. The nurturing and upbringing of a child can have long lasting effects on their personal development and sense of self. Which, as an aside, is a large factor in the personal decision not to have children. There is no part of me that wants to be held responsible for that kind of thing. The margin for error is too large.

My parents were selfish - which is likely a product of having children at a young age, and partially due to the types of people they are personally, and the upbringings they had. They weren't selfish in the way that parents who pressure their children to succeed because they want to live vicariously through them and have them accomplish the things they couldn't. No. They were selfish in the way that, while they surely loved me and my brothers, they did not think to encourage us to participate in things (though in the 6th or 7th grade I did get to play basketball on the weekends). They had their own things going on. Clubs and activities require a devotion of time, as any suburban soccer mom can attest to. As poor farmers, time means chores or field work, and in the mid-80's, those second jobs to scrape by. Even moving past that, when dad moved the kids to the "big city", the mindset remained.

If I picked up an instrument, I could put it down and walk away without any urging to try harder, without anybody saying "I know you can do it". I did it with the clarinet, I did it with the drums. Reading wasn't a promoted activity around the house, though dad read Little House on the Prairie several winters in a row, reading too much wasn't useful. 4-H was the exception, but that club is meant to foster good farm values, and patriotism/nationalism, not to mention homemaking skills, which, I guess, was expected to be the lot in my life. At the very least 4-H was meant as a way of promoting doing barn chores, picking weeds and the various other things kids have to do on a farm, to make them "more fun". 4-H was, and is, a club based in utility. It's useful. Not like those academic, art and sports clubs.

As I often do when I spiral in a rant. I digress. It's the past. It cannot be undone.

But driving the forty minutes home tonight this is what I thought about. How different my life would have been with confidence and worth fostered in me when it should have been. How different things would have been if I had been urged, or pushed to succeed because someone knew I could do it, and could be better; because their confidence is what would have helped mine grow. How different it would have been without the various abuses that broke and shaped my brain at young ages.

So I came to understand that I was not actually ungrateful for the honor of the awards. I was angry because I felt like the awards represented my potential's value, and my potential was based on my achievements, and I feel like I never had the proper opportunity every child deserves, and that that had an affect on everything that came after it. And had those things been different, I wouldn't be a nearly thirty-five year old woman crying about what could have been while driving on the dark backroads somewhere in the Midwest still wondering what to do with her life.

Then I remembered. I have done good things and I get very good grades, and I apply myself. I try my hardest. Trying to be confident in yourself, when few people ever genuinely have been, is a really hard thing to do as an adult. I don't have as much potential as those kids, because I'm twice their age, and they simply have more time for their potential potential to be realized. I can work with what I've got though.

So as I sit here now, on my sofa, with my glass of Gin getting warm from neglect, still wearing the ripped black stretch pants from a long day of classes, I'm thankful for the people who thought I was worth even a small investment. Even if what I received was basically akin to a participation trophy, and I know that I'm worth more.

Thank you for reading.

[P.S. I love you, mom and dad]

~ Frankie


  1. You're my hero.
    Can't begin to word the struggle I'm having where my own sense of value is concerned. Suffice it to say, the possibility of good things means I might disappoint someone and fuck up and walking in front of a freight train seems of more value.
    I needed this. I'll need to read it again when I'm not crying.

  2. I use to be bitter about my older sister pilfering mine and my bother's college funds to purchase heroin, and my parents spending what was left on a family trip to Hawaii for Christmas. I was sure my life would have been measurably better if I hadn't been kicked out of the house at age 18, and forced to live on the streets for the better part of a year. The truth is despite all that I managed to mess my life up all by myself. It's way to easy for me find people to share the blame for my current lot in life with, but in the end it must rest on my head, not theirs.

    With regard to self worth, I deal with the stigma that comes with my low paying job every day. People much younger than I talk down to me on a daily basis because they are "have" and I am a "have not". I'd like to lie and say it doesn't bother me, but the truth is it hurts me more because I actually use to be a "have". At the height of my military career I was bringing in $5,000 a month, had full medical benefits for both myself as well as my entire family (dental included), we owned a house, had a boat, etc. I achieved all that despite any disadvantage set against me by my upbringing. I'm also the one who ruined it, who lost everything and set himself so far back that there's not even enough time left in my life to recover. My wife and I are destined to live the rest of our lives in poverty because of me and the decisions I made about my life.

    This doesn't mean I'm not bitter, I am. I hate most of the people and things in my life everyday. Most of all myself.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hope that me sharing mine helps you in some way as I know it most likely will do nothing for me but pick a scab Lol.

    - Jay

  3. Thank you for sharing, Jay.
    Thank you, as always, for reading.

    P.S. Fuck those "kids", they have not been through what you have been through. xx

  4. Didn't think I could like you more, and then I read this. In the grand scheme of things, you're a keeper, Lady. To the Universe, I mean. I feel like we need you around for a good long while. Thank you for sharing this. ~Jeni