Of Scars and Tiaras
Why I wore a tiara grocery shopping, walked 1,000 miles, and told strangers about my dark past By Angela Giles Klocke
Growing up, we lied a lot. We lied about our home life, and then lied at home about our feelings. All of life was one big story, where we pretended like everything was just fine. I never exaggerated any supposed greatness, because to go beyond fine was to push it, and perhaps because it was a lie I knew I could pull off. People ask how you are and you answer, “Just fine,” and no one presses beyond that. I learned later in life (probably not too long ago, if we’re being honest), people have enough of their own lies to live, so fine works, well, just fine. It requires nothing more than “Me too.” Great, we’re all fine!
And we’re all lying.
I now know, because some of my closest friends have taught me that “I’m fine” is not acceptable. Answer “I’m fine” and they will gently but firmly call you on this lie: “But how are you REALLY?”
The first time I sat across from Liz, my counselor, I wanted to go with “I’m fine.” Blatant lie since most fine people don’t cry out for help. She knew I wasn’t fine. I knew I wasn’t fine. My anxiety was already at such a level that I had canceled our first meeting by claiming I was ill – not fine – and she let me have that lie. Until I confessed, because we also both knew I lied then. I prefaced my contact with her that I have high anxiety and am more likely than not to find a way out of almost anything. So, she knew.
But as I sat with her that first time, knowing I had a million pains, I said, “I don’t really know what to say.” Which was true, too. It’s like having a to-do list with everything ever listed on it, and you don’t know where to start. My past was too big. To start at the beginning – birth – seemed silly, but then again, it did kind of start there. I was staring down at least 22 years worth of hurt and I had no idea where to start, so what I really wanted was to lie and go with just one thing so I could be fine again.
That first session was easy, comparatively. Because once I started digging into all the lies I’d been telling myself to cope and get through – the blanket over my head to hide from monsters – I really, really didn’t want to go back. And I couldn’t stay away, either. I didn’t want to keep living a fine life. I didn’t want to keep living fight or flight (and I’m really good at flight). The anger eating away at my soul had become a consuming fire that I could no longer ignore and pass off as being just fine and okay and happy.
The conflict for me is that on many levels, I still was very happy. I was happy to the degree that I understood happiness. I was content, maybe, until I wasn’t. I realized that as long as life was smooth, I could handle it. But it’s when it got rocky that I panicked and shut down and hid. I’d been doing it for years without really seeing how. Each knock on the door to success in my career was followed by running away before the door could be opened. Ding-dong-ditch, if you will. I wanted in, but I was too afraid to walk through when the door was answered. I sabotaged successful, growing publications and a writing career that was taking off. I sabotaged a potential speaking career. As the offers began to come in, I had a reason why I couldn’t go. A school in Pennsylvania made a generous offer to fly me in, pay me, put me up in a hotel, all just to share my story with their students, and I slammed the door on that one. The only thing holding me back was…me. And that was a hard thing to admit to my counselor, this woman I wanted to impress and seem just fine for, even as I sought her help to guide me out of the hole I was living in. Lying was a lifestyle, and I was good at it because I almost believed every bad word I said.
In the Summer of Not Fine, Colorado caught on fire. One of our favorite hiking trails burned up, and then on my birthday, neighborhoods were lost. In our small mountain town, we were glued to our televisions and phones, waiting for word of evacuation. Some left at the first signs of smoke, having previous experience with the Hayman fires in 2002, but many of us waited for mandatory notices. In short, many of us had nowhere to go, not really. As the hills burned on and threatened us, we scrambled to figure out what was most important to take with us. Ultimately, as the flames began to lick a little too close and rolls of black smoke drove within sight, tinged with red and orange, our most valued possessions were ultimately our lives – family and dogs and cat. When it came down to it, there wasn’t room for the photo albums and things we held most precious. But we also felt very good about our decision to just go, to get out of the fire and save ourselves, even if we lost everything else.
That was the summer I was on fire, too. As the world around us burned on, so did I. I had been smoldering for years, it turned out, and now I was full-blown on fire, anger licking at my heart, driving me on. I needed to get out of the fire, but first I needed to go through it. I had been tossing water over the flames for years, pretending I could just get by, but that year taught me a new story. It told truths that I had long lied about, revealing many small fires that had continued to burn on, anger that smoldered, pain in small embers of my soul. Liz sifted through the ashes with me, pushing aside dead wood, revealing more than I wanted. “Just fine” was the water I kept tossing on a fire accelerated by the fuel of ongoing and deep pain. A mother who wasn’t. A brother who wasn’t. A father who wasn’t. A husband who wasn’t. So many lies that kept me in my place, that kept me living a life of pretend, of stories that were theirs and not mine. When it came time to scrape the surface, so much burned on underneath. It was all consuming, and I burned on.
I also learned through the flames that I was stronger than I ever thought I was. As the lies revealed themselves, as “just fine” became “I am hurt and angry,” I was rebuilt. I was a phoenix, rising from the ashes of those years of hurt and tears, and I was meant to soar. But first I would have to learn how to walk again.
Also see my first book, the story of my painful past — The first 22 years are the hardest
Currently seeking representation. Contact me at: email@example.com