FAITHLESS : 2003 : STEPHANIE.ZIOBRO
Alan called to tell me he was on his way over. Without thinking, I asked him if he would pick up a pack of Parliament Lights for me. Once the words in my head had volume and I heard what I was asking, I immediately took back my request, saying, "No, wait. Donít. Iíll get them," even though I was sick and I hadnít showered and the thought of leaving my house felt like it would feel pretty similar to having my car shoved down my throat and then removing it through my nose.
Because asking a non-smoker to pick up cigarettes for me is like asking my mother to buy me a dildo.
I just canít do it.
Because itís admitting to someone else that Iím flawed and pathetic. Or to my mother that Iím lonely and horny. And I have enough trouble admitting that to myself. So why bring the whole world into it?
But I know Iím flawed. Everyone is flawed Ė itís not really a secret. But not everyone needs to know the specifics. So in order to escape the scrutiny of others, I can admit Iím not perfect, but keep the Whyís out of the light of day. So I buy the cigarettes myself, avoiding the image of Alan going up to the counter, asking for a pack of Parliament Lights, and then engaging in a conversation with the cashier:
Alan: These arenít for me, by the way. I donít smoke. Itís dirty and disgusting.
Cashier: Yeah, I donít smoke, either. I wish I didnít even have to sell them because I feel Iím contributing to the demise of humans everywhere. It makes me feel like a low-life drug dealer.
Alan: Right on sister.
I know this wouldnít actually happen, but I convince myself that itís a definite possibility, and maintaining the most possible non-flawed persona is something Iíve grown incredibly obsessed with. Ever since the time I drove my mother to the post office, and while I waited in the car for her I lit up a cigarette, and an old man using a cane to walk him down the opposite side of the street, went out of his way to cross the busy road, walk up to my car window, pointed his finger at me and said:
"Shame on you."
Shame on me. Yeah. I suck. Iím dirty and gross and I smell. Not that it was any of his business. But it was a statement that planted itself in my head, and anytime I found myself in a situation that could lessen the worldís view of how wonderful I was, it sprouted itís giant Venus-fly-trap head and filled the inside of my skull with numerous degrading statements.
When people start telling you what you are, eventually you start to believe them. Especially if you keep hearing the same statements over and over again. And then the word become bigger in your head and you interpret them as Loser, Pathetic, and Hopeless. You become those words. But it works the same way in the opposite sense. When someone uses a non-flawed adjective to describe you, you want to really Be that Ė no matter how incorrect you think it is. Because if enough people start using that non-flawed adjective, maybe youíll become those words as well:
SKINNY. When I started losing weight, I didnít see it. I still saw myself as "lumpy" and "fleshy." When people started commenting on how thin I was looking, even though I think it was mostly out of concern, it completely boosted my ego. One of my managers had been transferred to another store, and after two months was transferred back to my store, and when I walked in the door on his first day back, he took one look at me, and the first words out of him mouth were, "Look at you, you fucking waif." But I didnít see any of these comments as negative. I had been trying to lose weight and like my body ever since puberty, and the fact that I was now skinny, and the fact that I did it without even trying, well, the thought of gaining weight back, even if it was for health reasons, was terrifying. Any pound I gained after being labeled "Waif" was translated into "fat and ugly." So I continued to drink too much coffee and go for days without eating. I kept trying on clothes that were once too small to see if they now fit. I kept looking at myself in the mirror naked to see if I could count any more ribs. I had to make sure people kept telling me I was skinny, because I didnít think I was unless someone said so.
BEAUTIFUL. No one I know will ever admit theyíre attractive (except Doug, my ex, but heís cocky and self-absorbed.) But I have been told time and time again how pretty I am, and therefore, every time I leave the house, I try harder and harder to maintain what people see. I have to wear make-up, I canít wear sneakers or sweatshirts, if my hair isnít right, Iím physically uncomfortable for the rest of the day. Anything to hear what I want to be, and if I donít hear it, I must look like shit, so therefore, who the hell am I?
SEXY. My friend Lynn and I used to go into New York City once a month to take dance classes. Lynn was one of those people who worked out excessively and had long, noticeable hair; so whenever she walked down Broadway, guys would stare and some would boldly, yet piggishly, whistle. I used to tell her I felt like a tumor walking next to her. I wanted to be noticed and whistled at, as shallow as that sounds. But after I started to be Skinny and Beautiful, I noticed that if I walked past a couple of guys talking in the parking lot of the Laundromat, I would hear their conversation stop and out of the corner of my eye I could see them watching me. Ha! I would think. I know what I am, now! I recall one night when I was going out dancing with a few friends. We met at work, and when I walked in, I was the center of attention. Aaron checked for panty lines and to see if I had my nipple rings in (he was drunk, and he and I only talked about boobs, anyway, so this was expected.) Before I walked in, Johnny Mack had been saying to Mike about how the woman of his dreams could walk in the door at any second, and that happened to be the statement directly prior to my entrance, and so a big show was made of my approach to the bar. My modest embarrassment took a back seat to the elation of being so popular for that moment, yet it wasnít until afterward that I realized Ė if I had walked in wearing jeans and a t-shirt, none of that would have happened. This made me somewhat disgusted in myself, but being Sexy felt better than being Disgusted, so Sexy was a twisted priority. At least it helped me to see who I was.
TALENTED. Ever since I was little, Talented has been an adjective that should have been a part of my name. "Oh, you are so talented!" "Wow, I could never draw something like that!" "I am so intimidated trying to dance next to you!" "You have so many creative ideas!" "What are you doing working as a waitress?" Because being so "Talented" has made me into a Hardball Perfectionist. Nothing is ever good enough, and the fear of failure has made me afraid to take risks. But I keep drawing pictures and going dancing and saying "I should audition," because if I didnít, no one would know I was Talented, and therefore no one would tell me that I was, and therefore, I would lose all sense of Self.
STRONG. When Doug dumped me and kicked me out of the house, what made all of that even more difficult was the fact that we worked together. I wasnít about to quit my job and lose that as well, so I continued to have to face him every day. And one thing that kept popping into my head was Amanda. Amanda was a girl we had worked with whose boyfriend dumped her, and he went off the deep end Ė had to take a leave of absence for emotional reasons, had psychiatric evaluations that deemed her Schizophrenic, and became heavily absorbed in pills and cocaine, and was eventually fired because she was a fruitcake. This was not what I wanted to be compared to. So I continued to go to work every day, and every day, someone would say to me, "I donít know how you do it. I would never be able to work with my ex. Iíd flip out. And the fact that you got kicked out and didnít have a place to live, yet you still come to work every day and do what you have to do. You are so strong." What they didnít know, was that when I got home every night (after I found a home), was that I would lie in the middle of the floor in my bedroom, or crouch in a corner, and scream and cry or bang my head against the wall or cut myself with knives or drink a whole bottle of wine and pass out. For months. But no one saw this, so they didnít know that I actually wasnít Strong at all. To everyone else I was Strong, and maybe that lie helped, because looking back, somewhere along the line I became Strong. Because Iím still here. Because Iím Strong. Because I have to be, because thatís what everyone thinks.
So what does this all mean? I find it sad, really, because I rely on outside information to figure out who I am. If I was the only person left on the planet, I wouldnít know which way was up. Because there would be no one around to tell me about myself. Alone, I have no idea. But hopefully, before nuclear war happens and I do find Iím the only one left, these Adjectives will have become so engrained in my sense of self, that I actually will be Skinny and Beautiful and Talented and Strong. To be honest, Iím more than halfway there already. I hope that doesnít mean weíre all going to be bombed soon, because I want to enjoy who I am before I have no choice.
All of these things that Iím told that I am, and that Iím leading myself to believe, donít always work together. For example, my mother simply cannot know that Iím Skinny or Sexy. Due to this, there is some controversy between my Sense of Self and my Actual SelfÖ
I was home alone one night and feeling rather bored, so I decided to get drunk. After half a bottle of wine, I was feeling rather stupid, so I decided to log onto AOL to keep myself from finishing the rest of the bottle. Johnny was online, so we began chatting. And somewhere along the line, the drunken chat turned into me using my digital camera to take pictures of myself doing things that are only seen on restricted websites.
But I was Sexy.
So Johnny tells me heís going to order me a "Toy." I laugh. But within minutes, Iím emailed a confirmation regarding the order. I sober up for a quick second due to slight panic. But the alcohol rushes back to my brain, and the panic dissipates, and Iím Sexy again.
The next morning, I find myself very intrigued by my little secret. I was Kinky. It was like having a secret life. An escape. A little "quirk" that only Johnny and myself knew about. And being Kinky made me feel Sexy without anyone having to tell me. I knew it myself. And if I ever doubted it, well, I now had the pictures to prove it. It worked in many ways. It was very convenient, actually.
Because she had helped me invest in my computer and graphic software and equipment, every so often sheíd ask:
"So are you using your digital camera?"
Over the phone, it was easy to hide my blush and amused expression and casually say:
"Yeah, Iíve done a few projects with it."
So she comes out to visit.
I always tell her to call before she leaves her house, primarily so I can shower and be dressed by the time she arrives, but also because I need a good ten minutes to scour my apartment and figure out what I need to hide.
The condom on my nightstand goes under my mattress.
The Japanese anime porno that I bought out of pure amusement because it was about a sex therapist who cures his patients dysfunctions by fucking them with his big giant mega-dick, which, incidentally, looks exactly like him (e.g. has a moustache and glasses) goes somewhere in the bottom of my closet.
The books of erotic fiction get turned around so the titles face inward.
The handcuffs and whip, which were legitimately purchased for Halloween, but I take no chances, are shoved underneath all my dirty laundry.
The jar of liquid latex that Alex brought over, hoping he could help me apply it, is where I had left it Ė under the bathroom sink behind Comet, Fantastic, and four rolls of toilet paper.
The kinky section of the Phoenix that I occasionally scan for "adult employment," in case Iím ever completely desperate, just gets thrown out.
Stand in the middle of the living room. Quick scanÖ
Bedroom. A good solid once-overÖ
Bathroom. Nothing detrimental here.
This house is clean.
Mom arrives, and because Iím the good, wholesome, semi-perfect daughter, we have a cup of coffee and talk about work and my sister and how dad still refuses to call Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, even though he has a good chance to be a contestant. Regular, grown-up activities. She had brought a bookcase for me to put in my bedroom, so we go in to rearrange furniture in order for it to fit. Iím in the midst of dismantling my computer equipment when I hear her ask,
"Is this the camera I got you?"
I freeze so only I know Iím frozen. After a moment, I turn around to see her holding my digital camera, flipping it over to see which button to press to turn it on.
Oh my God.
The pictures I sent Johnny were still on there.
Oh my fucking God.
As casually as possible, but with a swift agility that wouldnít be detected by an unsuspecting eye, I reach over and take the camera out of her hands.
"Yeah." Power on. Select frame. Erase. Are you sure you want to delete selected frame? YES. "I keep having to recharge the batteries." Select frame. Erase. Are you sure? Yes. "I guess digital cameras use a lot of juice." Select frame. Erase. Are you sure? Yes. "So I bought rechargeable batteries that came with a charger." Select frame. Erase. Are you sure? How many of these damn things did I take? "I think theyíre charged." Select frame. Erase. Are you sure? OH MY GOD YES. "Lemme, umÖ"
Try not to make noticeable sigh of relief.
"Okay, here. Watch." And I give her a quick demo of how the damn thing works. Sheís satisfied, thinks its cool, and is glad Iím using it.
I hope she canít see the look on my face.
And I donít know if God was trying to punish me or make a point or was just in the need of a good laugh, but He certainly didnít intend for me to get off that easy. But why would He? I was a sinner. So to ensure that I knew He was serious, He let an hour go by, and then chose that afternoon to demonstrate the reliability and efficiency of the United States Postal Service.
My doorbell rang.
Mom was at the stove making stuffed zucchini. (She often took me food shopping when she came to visit Ė to make me fat again.) I got off the couch to answer the door. (I didnít often assist when she cooked. I only used my oven to make the occasional frozen pizza, and even then, I usually used the microwave. Having a frozen pizza with a crispy crust rather than a microwaved soggy one was a once-every-two-months special treat.) I opened the door to see my mailman, who handed me my mail and a large Priority Mail package.
What the hell was this? Did I order something?
(This is the moment in the story thatís similar to when the dumb guy goes down to the dark basement in slasher movies. You yell at him not to go, but you know heís going anyway. Therefore: Hmmm. Whatís in this box?)
Mom noticed the package.
"Iím not sure." I was trying to think back to the last time I ordered something. And from Oregon. I got a knife and sat back down on the couch to slice open the box, and as I turned it over, I felt a heavy thud from inside.
"Did you order anything?" Mom was hollowing out the zucchini.
I swallowed hard.
But Johnny did.
"Are you going to open it?"
Not on your life, Mom.
"No," I said. Oh my GOD, no. I put the box on the floor under the coffee table and started blindly sifting through the rest of my mail.
"Donít you think you should to see what it is?"
"Nah, because if itís something I donít want Iíll just have to pay to have it sent back." Sift sift sift shut up shut up shut upÖ
"But what if itís important Ė like from Triple A or something?"
OH MY GOD MOM WILL YOU STOP!
"Well, if it was from Triple A it would say Triple A on the box, right?" Will you just keep stuffing the damn zucchini?
"Well, why donít you open it and Iíll pay for it if you have to send it back."
She was not going to let this go.
"Iíll open it later and let you know." I figured out-of-sight, out-of-mind, so I picked up the box and put it in my bedroom. I walked back into the kitchen. Change the subject change the subject change the subject.
"So how do you make those?" I asked, standing next to her as she put the stuffed zucchini in the oven.
"Oh itís easy..."
And now I have the Ultra Realistic 8-Inch Dildo in Caucasian by Doc Johnson, complete with Powder Lube stashed under two bolts of pink fur in the back of my closet.
Because even I donít want to know that about me.