Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Roles: Part One

I was the perfectionist who never tried. My grandmother had almost Calvinistically predestined roles for each family member to fill; my aunt Sally was the "sick one" she could baby; my mom was the "dependable one" she could manipulate and exploit; my brother was the "disobedient one" she could take out her anger on; my sister was the "good one" she could show off as an example of her superior parenting; and I was mini-Gig.

It was fairly easy to see the damage she was doing to my brother David. He acted out in his misery and anger, and go kicked out of multiple schools for bringing weapons and building bombs. He would fight me physically sometimes, and I would lose pathetically. But at other times, he defended me from neighborhood bullies and, in his scapegoat family role, he took a lot of the abuse from Gig away from the rest of us.

Likewise, my sister Esther was clearly affected. She was an obvious people pleaser at a very young age, and I remember her crying and screaming the day she got a "B" on her report card in second grade. She vowed to never get another "B" again. She didn't. But for the matter of an odd weighting system, my sister would have been valedictorian of her high school (instead she was a straight A salutatorian). My mom saw my sister's perfectionist tendencies and recognized them as a burden she dealt with also. I think she was able to directly refute some of the messages Gig was giving my sister, and I think it probably helped.

I was the perfectionist who never tried. I was supposed to be supernaturally good like Esther, supernaturally smart like David (who was already fixing home appliances and electronics in elementary school), and be supernaturally spiritual like Gig. As a child I always felt this tremendous pressure, not to live up to my siblings, but to live up to all the adults in my life. I felt like I had accomplished nothing in my ten years on earth because I couldn't contemplate ever being as successful (or more successful) than them. So I didn't try. I could never be as good as Esther, and frankly, the effort to reward ratio looked pretty crappy. Esther didn't get grounded and spanked as often as I did, but she spent hours doing chores or making other people happy, while I largely watched TV and played in the backyard between punishments.

My Christian teen years, I felt so isolated from the other youth group members. None of them had sex, or at least not as young as I did. None of them did drugs, or at least not as often as I did. At the time they looked like prep school elitists to me - there was no way trailer park Angie would be good enough for them. So I found ways to make people like me without being good enough. I was never the friend with a lot of cash to spend in high school, but I had a car and I had big ideas. I could find something for us to do, even if it was just playing "Soup!" and confusing all the pedestrians. But like with my own family and my sister, I felt I could never impress God with my goodness, because there would always be people who wore holier, sweeter, kinder than I was, or else more maternal or domestic or womanly, or more obedient, devoted, and reverent. I was loud, sometimes extremely socially awkward, with undiagnosed mental problems, and a lot of drug use. There's no way I could get on God's good side based on my behavior compared to the ideal of Christian youth I'd been presented with for years by Focus on the Family Brio! subscriptions (the vapid and vacuous teen girl magazine).

The "Ask Holly" section never included real pertinent questions like, "Am I still a good friend if I narc on someone who looks like they might have ODed?" or "My period is two weeks late - what do I do?" The questions were always so theologically simple I could have recited responses in my sleep. "My brother is a jerk sometimes, but I know God wants us to love everyone. How can we get along?" I doubt the girl who wrote that long-ago letter (or more likely the Dobson intern who did) had a brother who karate kicked her in the head or threw her into coffee tables. If she did, then the crappy advice about praying, submitting, and talking things over with her parents probably didn't do her any good.

For all that I was "sinning" my ass off, I voluntarily went to church each week and my mom was largely willing to go with denial as her choice response to my actions.
Because my rebellion appeared contained, unlike my brother's sometimes frightening pain, and because I didn't show signs of overt people pleasing, my mom believed that the close relationship I had with Gig was beneficial. But rebellious and obedient - the two roles my siblings had been assigned - were both obvious when manifested. I spent years desperately trying to figure out what my family assignment was, and finally deduced that I was chosen to be spiritual. Since being spiritual didn't involve being good, for Gig or for me, I didn't have to follow rules. I didn't have to get good grades - I wasn't the smart one. I didn't have to dress the way she likd - I wasn't the pretty one. I figured out exactly how much was required fo me, did that as perfectly as I could, and didn't even try anything outside that scope.

So I became as spiritual as I could, which really means that I believed in as many fairy tales as I could, with the most intensity I could. I believed that demons were at warfare with Christians and that I had been chosen by Gig and God to do battle against them. I believed that I had the power to heal people through my laying of hands and my words of prayer. I thought that if I could just say the right phrase, or the right trigger word, I could get God to move in amazing ways in my life. I spent hours, smoking joints and reading the Bible, trying to get as close to God, as close to Gig, as possible.